With summer in full swing and UV rays beaming down, gaining that always desirable glow has never been easier. While lying out in the sun is not for everyone — and, according to experts, is harmful in the long run — the self-tanning process is a safer, practical alternative. And with a bevy of DIY hacks and at-home products on the market, achieving the perfect color is just a few quick steps away.
While self-tanning may seem daunting — no one wants their bronze glow to turn orange — and a tad messy at first, mastering the process means you can have a sun-kissed glow any time of the year. Read on for our favorite self-tanning products as well as pre- and post-tan care, according to experts.
How to apply self-tanner
When it comes to self-tanning, having the proper canvas is equally as important as choosing the right product. One day before the tan is applied, any waxing or hair removal should be completed in order to ensure that the tan applies evenly. Experts also recommend exfoliating the skin where the tan is going to be applied.
Applying a non-oil-based body lotion to areas like the back of the heel, kneecaps, elbows and wrists will help to make the tan appear natural — these areas often develop darker than elsewhere on the body.
“I recommend a gentle, dry exfoliation. This should take place after showering or just prior to application,” says celebrity tan expert Jimmy Coco, who has tanned the likes of Heidi Klum, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian and more. “This ensures your skin is free of any soap, lotion or shave gel residue. These act as a barrier and can compromise the application process, resulting in streaks and/or even an unnatural, uneven result.”
For those unsure of what product is best suited for their skin type, our experts propose a swatch test prior to full-body application. “Select two or three products and apply a small amount of each to an inconspicuous area of your body,” Coco advises. “Allow the areas to develop, then rinse, and the one that appears most natural to your skin is your best choice.”
“You will need all your tanning essentials, including a non-oil-based moisturizer to use as a barrier and to dilute the self-tan,” St. Tropez skin finishing expert and celebrity self-tanner Sophie Evans — who has worked with Ashley Graham and Halsey — notes. “[Also] an applicator mitt to prevent your hands from staining and make application a breeze and cleansing wipes to remove self-tan from nails or palms.”
For a streak-free self-tan, Coco prefers using the soft side of his Buff N’ Glow mitt, which is a 3-in-1, double-sided exfoliation and application mitt. He recommends tanning the legs first and then working in sections, applying roughly two pumps of tanner per limb.
“When applying the product with the mitt, use long sweeping motions [and] avoid applying directly to your hands and feet,” Coco says. “Instead, use the residual product in your mitt — after applying to arms, legs and other areas — and buff gently onto your hands, feet and ankles. This will help to ensure a flawless finish.”
When it comes to maintaining a self-tan, the pre-application steps — hair removal, exfoliation — will prove beneficial in the long run. Also, our experts recommend using a nourishing moisturizer daily to ensure that the tan remains even.
“Hydration is key, as the active ingredient in many self-tanners can dry out your skin, especially in cold climates,” Coco explains. “Apply lotion daily [and] avoid lotions containing skin renewing properties like alpha-hydroxy acids, as they tend to break down your tan. I recommend the Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion.”
Self-tanners for beginners
For those starting out, St. Tropez’s bronzing mousse is a foolproof product that adjusts to each user’s skin tone and will last up to 10 days with an even and natural fade.
“A good self-tan will turn the color that suits your skin and pigmentation and [will] work off your own personal body chemistry,” Evans says. “For someone with very fair skin, this is a good first-time tanner. It dries instantly and feels super lightweight.”
$9 at Amazon
Beginners looking for an affordable option should try out Jergens’ tried-and-true self-tanner. The tanner is infused with collagen and can be applied daily for a natural-looking tan that will both bronze and moisturize the skin.
$41 at Nordstrom
“A self-tan should be chosen based on the depth of tone you want,” Evans explains. “The formula should be chosen to suit your skin type and lifestyle.”
Those seeking a beginner-friendly product should check out Clarins’ Self-Tanning Instant Gel. The gel is nongreasy and quick-drying, and it’s ideal for those wanting a sun-kissed, natural glow.
$19 at Ulta
In addition to choosing the proper shade and product for your skin type, experts suggest self-tanning products with nourishing properties that won’t dry out the skin. Bondi Sands’ tanning milk boasts a dual-action formula that will both nourish and hydrate the skin with aloe and vitamin E while providing a natural tan that is easy to apply and control.
$30 at Amazon
Those wanting an alternative option to the regular lotions and gels should consider the Tan Towel Full Body Classic. The disposable wipes are ideal for fair to medium skin tones, and one towel provides an even application throughout the body. Our experts recommend targeting areas like the arms and legs first and then working toward the face, wrists and hands at the end of the process to achieve the ideal gradual tan.
Self-tanners for pale skin
$19.95 at Amazon or $19.99 at Vita Lebrata
Vita Lebrata’s gradual tan lotion is the perfect choice for pale skin, as its slow-building formula allows the user to control the type of tan they want. The lotion is also packed with ingredients like aloe vera and glycerin that will nourish the skin and help restore elasticity.
“The Self-Tan Express Bronzing Mousse is formulated with a light-guide color, [a] built-in bronzer, that will show you exactly where you have applied,” Evans explains. “The best part of this self-tanner is that you can customize the color you want by how long you leave the express tan to develop. Tan and shower off after one hour to achieve your light tan, two hours for a medium tan or leave for three hours to achieve your darkest tan.”
$38 at Tanning Club
Tanning Club’s Royal Tanning Balm is crafted with UV-absorbing botanicals, making it the ideal choice for those with pale and sensitive skin. The balm is free of harmful mineral oils and parabens and helps nourish and protect the skin while providing a subtle and natural-looking glow.
$28.95 at Amazon
Bali Body’s buildable mousse is formulated with color guide technology that helps achieve the perfect tan for every skin type. The mousse is lightweight and easy to apply, though our experts recommend using a tanning mitt or glove to apply mousse, foams or lotions.
$36 at Sephora
Drunk Elephant’s bronzing drops double as both a bronzing product and a nourishing serum. The drops help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and they provide a bronzy glow, perfect for all skin tones.
Self-tanners for the face
$32 at Amazon
While tanning the face at home may be daunting, these drops from Isle of Paradise are the perfect solution. The product has over 4,000 5-star ratings and is available in three shades: light, medium and dark. The drops can be mixed with a daily moisturizer and are safe to use all over the body.
St. Tropez’s face mist takes all the stress out of tanning the face. The facial mist is vegan and cruelty-free and features a lightweight, tropical scent.
“A face self-tanner that you cannot go wrong [with] is the Bronzing Water Face Mist,” Evans says. “Simply pull the hair back, apply lotion if the skin is dry and mist the clear bronzing water over your face — spritzing downwards, covering the front and each side profile, and then letting the mist hit every area for a super-natural, hydrating face glow.”
$9.49 at Amazon
Jergens’ face moisturizer is formulated with SPF 20 and UVA and UVB protection to ensure that the skin is protected while getting a sunless glow. The moisturizer has over 12,000 5-star ratings and provides a natural tan for all skin tones and types.
$34 at Ulta
Though the easiest way to apply tanners to the face is a mist, experts also suggest using the hands or a foundation brush on the face. Clarins’ golden glow booster can be mixed with any moisturizer to achieve an even tan — just be sure to wash your hands afterward to avoid streaks.
$13.99 $12.20 at Amazon
Another cost-effective option is L’Oréal’s self-tan drops. The fragrance-free product is crafted specifically for the neck and face and can be combined with any moisturizer or serum. The drops are customizable — adding more drops will result in a darker and longer-lasting tan, while using less will offer a lightly sun-kissed appearance.