What is 'Tantouring?' Why Dermatologists Warn Against this Harmful Tanning Trend

Whatever you do, don't do this.

We get it, an effortless, sculpted glow during the summer (or even all year round) is super enticing. So you may already be familiar with the term 'tantouring,' a colloquial way of describing the process of contouring your face with self-tanner rather than bronzer to create a sculpted look that won't wash off as easily. Well, one TikToker has taken tantouring up a notch by using sunscreen instead.

Tantouring with sunscreen

Skin care blogger Talia James shared a video of this viral TikTok on their Instagram, choosing to keep the creator anonymous, with a huge disclaimer: "Just no!!...don't do this." The TikToker in the video has applied two sunscreens, a base sunscreen of SPF 30 and another with an SPF of 90 to her forehead, cheeks, and chin, claiming "haters will say it won't work" and "you'll look snatched all summer."

A portmanteau of tan and contouring, Beyoncé's makeup artist Sir John Barnett originally touted the trend back in 2016, recommending even lower levels of SPF to create the purportedly long-lasting contoured effect. But according to two dermatologists, the practice is inherently flawed and potentially dangerous.

"Not protecting yourself uniformly against the sun is not a good idea," Mona Gohara, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Yale, tells Health. "You're gonna leave your skin with an uneven pigment that can take months or years to go away."

Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, describes the practice as "ludicrous," and a sort of "Sophie's choice," where you pick and choose what parts of your skin you're prepared to damage or potentially lose to skin cancer for the sake of a makeup-free contour. "Tanning is always a sign of sun damage. It's a sign of a mutating effect trying to take place on the skin and the skin trying to protect itself," Dr. Nazarian tells Health. "As far as SPF, you have to reapply every two hours or even more if you're sweating, exercising, or in the water, so to even achieve a nice enough, perfectly-aligned contour is really hard."

Can I tantour safely?

According to Dr. Nazarian, there is no such thing as a safe tan, because any unprotected sun exposure can put you at risk for skin damage, hyperpigmentation or even skin cancer. "If you want the bronze effect, it's not the smartest to get it via radiation," Dr. Nazarian tells Health. "You're gonna pay for it, either through skin cancer or wrinkles, sun spots, or losing elasticity in the skin. It's not worth it."

However, Dr. Gohara considers using the self-tanner method is a "cute hack." Celebrity makeup artist Archangela Chelsea "tantours" with her favorite bronzing mousse or self-tanning lotion using a kabuki makeup brush, applying it to her cheekbones, forehead, nose, and jawline for a natural-looking sun-kissed glow.

"When you find a product, try the color first on your hands and see whether it's the right color for you," Chelsea tells Health. She recommends picking a color that's 2-3 shades darker than your natural skin tone for the right effect.

Can I reverse tantouring skin damage?

If you've already tried tantouring with SPF, we won't judge. Dr. Nazarian and Gohara have just the recommendations for dealing with tantouring-induced discoloration.

  1. Apply the same level of SPF (at least SPF 30) all over your face daily, reapplying every two hours.
  2. Use a brightening serum as directed to help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Both doctors are fans of vitamin C for its pigment-lightening and antioxidant effects.
  3. For more intense skin repair, Dr. Gohara recommends using retinol, a highly concentrated form of vitamin A, at night to restructure your skin cells and reduce the appearance of sun damage and wrinkles. Use caution since retinol is known to cause irritation for new users.

At the end of it all, both dermatologists encourage you to embrace your skin regardless of its color. It's all you've got. "Whatever skin you're born in, love and respect it," says. Dr. Nazarian. "Be educated and know how to treat it better."

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