Self Tan 101

I’ve had a bad self tanning experience (or two). But my orange, streaky messes have taught me some useful lessons. So many formulas were orange when I first started using them, and I had to learn proper application the hard way. When I was younger, I thought a tan would hide my freckles. Now that’s not the goal. I just like a self tan to even out my complexion, and my freckles don’t need to be hidden. Through lots of trial and error, I’ve found techniques and formulas that work for me.

Let’s start with skin prep. Doing this is ideal, but I’ll admit I don’t always do it, and not every formula requires this exact routine.

Step one: exfoliate. To get the most even application, it’s best to exfoliate before applying self tanner. This sloughs off any dead skin that might make a tan patchy.

Step two: shave. Shaving further exfoliates skin and also prolongs the time to shave again. After applying a tan, I try to limit things that will create extra exfoliation.

I’ve been using this set this summer. I saw Jessica Braun recommend it, and thought it’d be perfect for self tan prep. The exfoliant is nice. My favorite exfoliant is from Eminence, but since they are professional grade, it’s harder to get my hands on their products. This is the first shave oil I’ve used, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it would feel like my favorite Neutrogena oil, but this one has a more gel-like texture. It’s almost slimy. It gives a close shave, but the closest shave I’ve ever had is when I use conditioner. My conditioner these days is too expensive to be used shaving my legs, though.

Ideally, I do these steps the evening prior to applying my tan. I don’t usually have the time to do the entire process all in one night, and a lot of my exfoliants have some kind of oil that I’m afraid would inhibit my tan going on evenly.

Step three: moisturize. I use lotion on any dry places. My heels, ankles, knees, and elbows always get a layer. I use this unscented lotion from CereVe. For some reason, I never use scented lotions when I self tan.

Step four: tan. I want to go through the different formulas and tools I use when self tanning. Time constraints and the look I’m going for varies, so I like to have a couple options.

Natural Glow: this was the first ever tanning product I used. The smell takes me back to high school, and, for those of you wondering, the smell hasn’t changed. I use this formula after the dead of winter. It’s the one I have in the back of my drawer that I grab when the forecast shows it’s going to be warm enough to wear a skirt or dress for the first time in a long time. This one I just apply like regular lotions, but make sure to wash my hands thoroughly after. It doesn’t have intense pigmentation, so I don’t stress too much about streaking

St. Tropez Gradual Tan: I bought this one thinking it’d be a better smelling Natural glow. It is better smelling, but it’s not exactly what I expected. This one gives darker tan than natural glow. I have the best results when I apply with a mitt. It doesn’t have a color guard, so when I use my hands to apply I always have some streaks. I like this one because I can put it on right when I wake up, let it dry while I do my normal morning routine, and then go on with my day. The self tan smell is present after awhile, but not terribly so. I would feel fine going to work while it develops. This is the one I’ve been using this summer. I haven’t gotten much sun, so this one really just evens my skin tone nicely. It creates a golden tan and moisturizes.

St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Mousse: This is the first deeper self tanning product I ever purchased. A local salon used this brand for spray tans, and I wanted to try the at-home version. For this one I watch the application video, use a mitt, and go in with an old makeup brush for my wrists and ankles. After I apply, I use a makeup wipe to really clean my fingernails and toenails and wash my hands. It’s a dark tan, so I like to take my time. Something about it feels heavy, so it’s not the most comfortable to sleep in. It has a dark color guard and self tan smell, so I shower before going anywhere after this tan. It gives off a golden color as well. This one doesn’t look as natural on my skin tone, but would be very pretty on someone with warmer undertones.

Fake Bake Coconut Tanning Serum: This is my favorite formula for a darker tan. I use the same, lengthy process as the St. Tropez mousse. It has hyaluronic acid in it and really moisturizes, so it’s comfortable to sleep in. It also has a dark color guard and tanner smell mixed with coconut, so I shower it off before leaving my house. I like the red-based tan this one develops because it looks the most natural on my skin tone.

Step five: maintain. When I want a tan to last I do these things. While showering, I’ll try to use patting motions instead of scrubbing with my loofah. My favorite way to moisturize is by using the Neutrogena oil in the tub because it recommends air drying and not using a towel. If I do use a towel with a self tan on, I’ll pat dry. Then, use a good, moisturizing lotion.

This results in a nice, even application. Since I’m usually looking to just even out my complexion, I don’t notice the tan fading in weird patches.

What are some of your favorite tanners or tips?