I’ve Used Self Tanner For Half A Decade & These 3 Formulas Are The Best

Plus expert tips for a streak-free summer.

Originally Published: 
Kelsey Stewart
Kelsey Stewart
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I’m 50% Scottish, 25% Irish, and 25% Italian — so, needless to say, I’m pale. Like, very pale. But, that’s never bothered me. In fact, I’ve actually always liked my fair complexion. However, come summer, I do strive for a tiny bit of color in order to make it look as if I went on a tropical vacation and didn’t spend a gross amount of hours binge-watching Criminal Minds in my Brooklyn apartment. Because I don’t get tan naturally (nor is it good for your skin), I’ve been relying on self tanner to give me a natural, subtle-looking glow every summer for the past five years.

To be honest, I don’t stay too far from my favorite St. Tropez self tanners. I’ve gone through countless bottles of the brand’s Classic Bronzing Mousse and Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist over the past few years. In addition to St. Tropez, I’m a fan of Tan Luxe’s selection of products. The particular one I like to keep in my collection is its THE WATER Hydrating Self-Tan Water. Note: Even though the color is clear, it will show up on your skin not long after you apply it. (I learned this the hard way.) When I first used it, I was thrown off by the clear color and applied way too much, resulting in my arms looking like a streaky hot mess.

Similar to Tan Luxe’s water formula, I’ve tried Isle of Paradise’s Glow Clear, Color Correcting Self-Tanning Mousse. I find that this product gives me a natural-looking tan, without any noticeable streaks. Plus, it’s infused with moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil, chia seed oil, and avocado oil.

To improve my self tanning skills (I’m far from being an expert), I tapped St. Tropez’s ambassador Sophie Evans. The faux tanning expert walked me through the best approach to applying the products and a few things to avoid doing during your self tan session. Below, find out what she had to say in order to get a gorgeous faux glow.

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Prep The Skin Before Application

Before you even apply a drop of self tanner to your body, you’ll want to first exfoliate so that you’re applying the product to smooth, even skin. “You want all [previous] self tanner, deodorant, makeup, and perfume off [your body],” Evans says. By doing this, she says, your tan will last the longest and look its best. My new favorite exfoliator that I use before my session is Ouai’s St. Barts Scalp & Body Scrub (which allows me to also convince myself I’m at a tropical resort).

Prior to applying the self tanner, Evans also recommends putting moisturizer on your elbows, knees, hands, and feet — anywhere that can get dry quickly. For this, I’ve been pulling out Fenty Skin’s new Butta Drop Whipped Oil Body Cream. For these specific areas, because the skin here is thicker and the tan develops faster, Evans says they go about seven shades darker than the rest of the body. To avoid that, the moisturizer helps to prevent too much color from soaking into the skin.

Use Enough Product & Work In Sections

I’m no stranger to self tanner streaks (just ask my friends), so luckily, Evans gave me the low-down on how to best avoid this common tanning mistake. “You get streaks by not using enough product,” she says. “People are really paranoid of using self tanner, so they put a tiny amount of product and drag it across a large area.” However, she says to think of a self tanner like a paint. “If you keep dragging and stretching it on your body, it is going to break and cause a streak.”

Therefore, you need enough product to be able to smooth it around the skin easily. As it turns out, she says it’s always better to use more product than less because your skin can only absorb a certain amount anyway. If you happen to apply too much product to your mitt, dab off the excess and then work the remaining product into your skin for an even finish. Working in sections should help you avoid this — and you’ll learn the right amount the more you practice.

Pump-wise, she recommends generally two pumps per limb. For reference, a limb would be considered from your knee to your ankle. Then, do another two pumps for your thigh. For your arms, she says you can do two pumps for the top of the arm (your shoulder down to your elbow), and then another two for the bottom of the arm (the elbow down to the hands).

Grab A Self Tanning Mitt

In addition to your self tanner formula, consider picking up a mitt, which will protect your hands from the product (and avoid those tell-tale orange palms), as well as assist in keeping your hand flat to smooth on the product. “A mitt is your secret weapon,” Evans says. If you don’t have a mitt, you can use latex gloves. I’m an advocate for St. Tropez’s Double Sided Luxe Tan Applicator Mitt, which I find lasts me months.

Buy A Separate Product For The Face

While, yes, you can use your body self tanner on your face, Evans says you’ll have to dilute it with moisturizer because the face gets darker than the rest of the body because the pH levels are higher. Thus, she recommends using a self tanning spray on the face. The only self tanning spray I’ve tried is St. Tropez’s Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist (which I really like), however, I have my eye on James Read’s H20 Tan Mist. According to the tanning expert, it’s better to spray the product on at night so it can develop properly and allow you to wake up with a glow (just allow it plenty of time to dry before going to sleep). If you find you want a darker tan, you can spritz on more in the morning.

Before applying a face self tanning mist, cleanse and exfoliate your face. “If your skin is really on the dry side, put on your normal moisturizer, but wait a few minutes for it to absorb in,” Evans adds.

Self Tanner Aftercare

Once you’ve applied the product, stay away from the gym and your shower for at least eight hours. Then, after you take your first shower, you can put on a basic moisturizer every day to maintain your tan. “Try to avoid oils [like face or body ones] because oils will degrade the life of your tan.” Evans says a good self tanner should last you a week or up to 10 days. However, your face and hands will come off the fastest, so you’ll likely need to apply the product to your face and hands every two to three days.

To make your self tanner last as long as possible, Evans says you need to be gentle with your skin. “Moisturize every day after taking a shower, pat your skin and don’t rub it, and don’t wear tight clothing,” she explains. Otherwise, get ready to go about your day with a gorgeous faux bronze glow.

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