It’s the Sophie’s Choice of sun care in our new hyper-informed world: To tan, or not to tan? Of course, we’ve now all had the mantra of no sun, ever drilled into our heads for years now, with the threat of premature aging and cancer looming over our heads like proverbial dark clouds. On the other hand…well, we’re all Vitamin D deficient, right? And, if we’ve ever had a bit of a tan in the past, we know how rested, healthy and er…slim a bit of color can make us look. So, despite our best intentions, many of us can easily fall into the trap of the “just a little color” cheat. Thankfully, the new sunscreens and self-tanners make it easy to protect our mugs, get a bit of a tan and sleep well at night knowing that we aren’t damaging the only set of skin that we’ve got.

To help you decode the myriad of sunscreens and self-tanners out there, we sorted through the best new new picks to find the creams of the crop — and, we organized them by personality, so whether you’re looking for a heavy-duty block to get you through your surfing vacation (consider us seriously jealous) or a self-tanner that will put you on the fast track to a healthy glow, we’ve got  you covered. Click through, and stock up — we promise that those damaging rays will be much less tempting when you’ve already been properly protected and bronzed.

featured image by ozzy garcia

For the Naturalist:  Argan Daily Moisturizer SP: Josie Maran must know how tempting it is for us all to skip daily sunscreen applications, so the eco-beauty entrepreneur created this luxurious, completely chemical-free SPF 47 that’s designed to be used as a daily moisturizer. This light, nourishing blend of argan oil, green tea extracts, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide will leave you perfectly covered, minus the nasties. Or…

Elemental Herbology Sun Kiss: I was blown away by this innovative gradual bronzing moisturizer, which contains a self-tanning agent derived from sugar beets (seriously). It may sound hippie-dippy, but this delightful lotion is anything but — it smells like key lime pie, and lacks that telltale DHA smell as the tan develops. In other words, it’s the opposite of every stinky, streaky, chemical-filled memory that you have of self-tanner. image source

For the Perfectionist:  The Brazilian Bombshell SPF: This overachieving sunblock smooths and blurs imperfections while SPF 30 spares your bod of damaging UV rays and free radicals. (Bonus for those discerning ladies out there: It’s also hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, and fragrance- and dye-free.)

Rapid Mousse & Mini Mitt: If you’re the kind of lady who avoids self-tanner due to fear of streaks and blotches, this high-tech tanning formula will be your holy grail. Use the included mini mitt to apply the foam quickly and easily (streaks are a non-issue, thanks to the quick-drying formula that allows you to get dressed almost immediately after applying). Even better, the nourishing formula is designed to fade evenly and subtly — so, no weird blotchiness to contend with. image source

For the Sensitive Type: Mineral Tinted Creme SPFIf you’ve avoided sunscreen because your skin is so finicky that even the thought of smearing the greasy stuff on makes you feel breakouts coming on, this cream-to-powder formula will be a total game-changer. This mineral-based, hypoallergenic pick is a cinch to apply and leaves your skin smooth and matte, with a subtle hint of tint. But, don’t underestimate this little tube of goodness — It may be gentle, but it packs serious sun protection, and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.

‘Tantasia’ Self Tanner: Even if you’re convinced that all self-tanners make you break out, I’d urge you to give this gentle, citrus-scented formula from mineral-makeup queen Jane Iredale a try. It glides on like body lotion, provides just the right amount of subtle hydration, and is sensitivity tested for use on both face and body (yup, it’s that gentle). image source

For the Luxuriate: Sisley Paris ‘Sunleya’ Age Minimizer SPF: Yes, the price of this super-luxe anti-aging SPF is steep. But, when you take into account that this luxe French formula is treating existing signs of aging while preventing further damage at the same time — well, that’s a decent amount of bang for your sunscreen buck. (The fact that it’s an absolute joy to apply doesn’t hurt, either.) BY TERRY Bronzing Serum: Talk about ingenious: This translucent self-tanning serum contains an active ingredient called Helisun, which boosts your skin’s natural production of melanin — resulting in a totally customized glow. Plus, Vitamin E protects your skin from free radicals, meaning this is the one case in which a tan actually can actually be healthy. image source

For the Low-Maintenance Lady:  Continuous Mist Sunscreen: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the latest offerings from L’Oreal’s sun care line — their formulas always seem much more expensive than they are. This weightless mist will keep you covered with minimal fuss (to the tune of 50+ protection). Simply spray it on and forget about it — the spray dries almost instantly, and will keep you protected from even the strongest rays for at least 80 minutes. XEN-TAN Deep Bronze Weekly Self-Tan: As much as I like having the control of a subtle, gradual tanning lotion, I have to say that the idea of a product that does the job with only one application a week sounds even better. This shea-butter- and green-tea-packed formula includes a higher concentration of DHA (the active ingredient in most self-tanning products), meaning that you can spend less time lubing up and more time actually on the beach. Which is the the point, after all. image source

For the Speed Demon: Instant Mineral Powder SPF: Raise your hand if, despite your best efforts, you’re the kind of woman who always seems to be in a rush (I feel ya, girl). If you constantly find yourself sprinting out the door in the summertime only to realize five minutes later that you completely forgot to apply your SPF, this mineral powder is about to be the most valuable item in your bag. Simply whip it out and dust over any exposed skin liberally — the super-fine, talc-free powder will impart major protection with no cakiness. Rodial Brazilian Tan: For busy ladies, self-tanners in aerosol sprays — like this gardenia-scented winner from Rodial — are total no-brainers. Simply spray with abandon while standing nude in your shower, and wait for it to dry (with these fine-mist sprays, it should only take a few seconds).  Get dressed, and get moving — seriously, it’s that simple.

For the Athlete: Hang Ten Classic Sport SPF: Specifically designed for California surfers, this water-resistant, broad-spectrum spray offers serious protection for outdoorsy types — plus, the non-greasy formula will ensure that you don’t slip while you’re catching a wave. Sun Laboratories Self Tanning Mist: Just because you’re more likely to choose beach volleyball than lounging doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate a nice, even bronze as much as the next beach bunny. This no-nonsense, tinted micro-mist delivers an instant dose of color in addition to a self-tan that develops within three hours, thanks to its unique sugar-derived active ingredient. Because hey — nothing complements your hard-won six-pack like the perfect (faux) tan, right? image source

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Comments (10)
  1. 1
    alexa July 1, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I’m the sensitive type. 😉 Thanks for this great rundown. I am always stumped. Every summer. Haha.

  2. 2
    Gap July 1, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Great advise!!
    XOX, Gap.

  3. 3
    Lily July 1, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    This is such an awesome collection — I think I fall under “perfectionist” hehe…

    x Lily

  4. 4
    Vanessa @ Living in Steil July 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Great post! I have sensitive skin and am always nervous about using a sun block that is heavy and greasy. It’s good to know that some of them have natural ingredients and work well on sensitive skin.

  5. 5
    Silvana Di Ravenna July 1, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Sisley products are great! Alexa Chung swears by them.

    Also, nice to see Tara’s article here (I love her Refinery29’s beauty columns)

  6. 6
    Belle July 2, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Love the range of options, but I’m wondering have ya’ll come across any recommendations for darker-skinned women? I’m curious what SPF is even appropriate since some sun protection is needed (I assume?) but maybe not as much? I’ve never found a concrete recommendation, not even from my doctor….

    • Tara Rasmus July 2, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Hi Belle!

      That is a fantastic question — I’m going to reach out to a dermatologist who will hopefully be able to enlighten us on this subject! Hold tight!


    • Tara Rasmus July 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Belle,

      My apologies for the delay. Below is a comment from Dr. Michael Shapiro, medical director and founder of Vanguard Dermatology ( I hope this helps!

      “Darker skin, like all other skin types, are just as prone to skin cancer. Skin cancer rates among Caucasians have been climbing steadily over the last decade, but so too is the incidence in darker skin. At the core of the problem is the erroneous belief that darker skin is immune from the sun’s carcinogenic rays. While darker women may naturally have higher SPF protection in their skin, it is still essential to wear proper sunscreen to prevent damage. A broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher should be worn all year round to ensure that the skin is protected from harmful UV rays. While some sunscreens can tend give dark skin a grey appearance after application, newer liquid formulas can provide darker women with protection without changing the way the skin looks. New clear zinc formulas are also great to try, since they are harder to see on the skin after application.”

      “The milder form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, is predominantly found among Caucasians, Hispanics and Asians. Individuals from the African American and Asian Indian communities more commonly develop squamous cell carcinoma. This form of skin cancer has the capacity to metastasize to other organs quickly. Basal cell carcinomas occur primarily on parts of the body that receive the most UV exposure. Squamous cell carcinomas show up in exposed areas too, but also present on legs and in the anogenital region on African American skin. Pay close attention to any lesion that bleeds, oozes, crusts, or won’t heal over the course of a few weeks; in those cases seeing a dermatologist is vital.”

      “The bottom line here is that is it imperative that everyone (no matter their color) wear SPF daily as well as receive a skin check at least once a year.”

  7. 7
    arielle July 2, 2014 at 11:13 am

    love all of these suggestions. especially your ‘for the athlete’ recommendation. too often, sweat and sea make sunscreen efforts seem futile.

    love, arielle
    a simple elegance

  8. 8
    Emilia Jane July 2, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Camille, I’m honored that you like this photo enough from my personal photo shoot with Ozzy Garcia (slide 5) but I would prefer if you wouldn’t use it to advertise a product that I’m completely unaware of and have never used.