The game-changing self-tan infused with retinol

James Read has brought out a self-tan with retinol

As a huge fan of fake tan, it’s always extra exciting when a tanning formula is released that also serves another purpose. A product that can successfully incorporate sun-kissed colour with skincare benefits is the holy grail. And that’s exactly what the James Read Overnight Tan with Retinol promises to do.

I don’t usually get on with gradual tanners or moisturisers with tan in them – I find they don’t show up on my medium, yellow-undertoned skin and so are generally a little bit pointless. The exception to this is the Tan Luxe and Isle of Paradise Drops, as you can customise your colour, which I love.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll know the issues of a love affair with fake tan. You have to carefully balance your tan application with many other aspects of your skincare routine. Just tanned? Can’t use glycolic acid, it’ll take the colour off in a big way. Just done a hydrating face mask? If you wanted to fake tan, forget it, it’ll slide right off your face.

And the sames goes for retinol. It’s a bit of a wonder ingredient, lauded to do everything from diminish signs of ageing and pigmentation to fight acne. Usually I wouldn’t use retinol after fake tanning for the same reason I wouldn’t use glycolic acid – they are both natural exfoliators, removing dead skin cells and taking off the top layer of fake tan with it.

How does a fake tanning cream with retinol work?

A brand new release, the James Read Overnight Tan with Retinol claims to give your skin a healthy glow by fusing skincare ingredients with gradual tanning agents. Brand manager for James Read, Georgia Papapanagiotou, says that the treatment is ‘designed to work as a multi-functional face cream’, as it also has incredibly moisturising ingredients including hyaluronic acid, floral nectra and prodizia.

She goes on to explain that the seemingly opposing ingredients work due to the Encapsulated Retinol Complex, which ‘protects the retinol from degradation, increases its stability, and improves delivery to the skin’. This, she says ‘allows for a steady release, ensuring a prolonged effective action overnight’, meaning the retinol won’t break down the fake tanning agents in the same way topical application usually would. ‘It even helps your tan fade more evenly’ she adds.

First impressions

The instructions say use once a week, and then build up use to two to three times a week when your skin has built up tolerance to the retinol. I already use retinol, but still did as advised (always approach new skincare with caution, as strengths can be different, plus an ingredient that’s fine for you in one combination might be less so in another).

Full disclosure – at first, I wasn’t blown away. My expectations were high, and after one use, I wasn’t seeing any colour in my complexion, no noticeable glow, and my skin felt just okay. I carried on using it once a week for three weeks, and although my skin looked good, the results were a little bit too subtle for me to really see a difference. I was almost ready to call it.

But then, I decided to increase my usage before throwing in the towel, as that’s what the instructions say to do (and who I am I to ignore tanning guru James Read?). And you know, it turns out instructions are there for a very good reason. I upped my usage to three times a week and, after about four applications in this shorter time frame, began to notice a real difference. Waking up, my skin felt smoother and looked fresher first thing, and I finally saw that promised ‘glow’ coming through. The tanning agents gave my winter-dull skin some depth, and a subtle touch of colour.

Six weeks on and this has become a frequent part of my evening skincare routine. After using retinol for almost a year, I actually prefer this gentler dose, finding it dries out my skin less (this could also be down to the incorporated hyaluronic acid), while still delivering the benefits – I’ll continue to use retinol on it’s own, but more in specific areas to combat breakouts and scarring for now. The tanning agents are an added glowy bonus, and I love waking up with both sun-kissed and fresh-looking skin.

Who is it for?

If you have fair skin and have no or little experience of retinol, this would be practically perfect for you. It’s a super-gentle formula that you can build up, and if you are looking to pre-empt the first signs of ageing, this is a great way to do it. Plus, the colour pigments would develop more noticeably on fairer complexions.

If you are a more seasoned retinol user and have fair to medium skin, you can build up a glowy, natural-looking tan without having to give up the benefits of other skincare, and actually combine them into one product.

Alternatively, if you have a deeper skin tone but haven’t used retinol before, this product will help your skin adjust to small amounts, while the other hydrating ingredients ensure the balance of your skin isn’t upset. Meanwhile, the tanning agents will take away any dullness or ashyness in your complexion.


The beauty of this product is how customisable it is. It’s so versatile that you can play around with it and find the best way it works for you. Some may use just once a week to get the glow-giving benefits; in my case I found that more regular use was key.

However you decide to use it, the genius of James Read’s Overnight Tan with Retinol can’t be denied. He’s found a way to incorporate this amazing skincare ingredient (plus several others) into an overnight gradual tanner, making it a product I will be keeping firmly at the front of my bathroom cabinet.