Looking Summer Ready: Self Tanner

Let’s talk self tanner.

I’ll admit, I am a former tanning bed goer (I know, I know) and even though I stopped making regular trips to the tanning salon a long time ago, I still love to have a ‘summer glow’.

I did have my fair share of skin concerns and suspicious spots that needed to be removed once I stopped going to the tanning bed and started making regular appointments with my dermatologist.

So in an initial knee-jerk reaction to that, I avoided the sun as much as possible for a while, and slathered on the highest SPF I could find anytime I headed outside.

Now, I fall somewhere in the middle. I do still like to have that tan look. Just without the endless hours spent outside or without baking myself in the tanning booths.

Being in New England, means that most of my skin has been covered and hasn’t seen the sun since our first snowfall in roughly December. I am so pale, I’m basically translucent at this point! So let’s discuss self tanner and the tips for how you can get a beautiful, safe sun-kissed glow!


There are so many options when it comes to self tanner. There are foams, lotions, sprays, oils, in-shower gradual lotions, short term, wash off formulas that give you a golden (or deeper) tan for just one day.

I have tied countless varieties and have found a few guidelines that help me make at home tanning decisions easier. These are the things I look for when I am considering a new brand or type of self tanner and wander into a large beauty emporium or even Target. Here are the three things I look for when deciding to make a purchase:

Is it tinted?

This point is the most important for me, whatever type of tanner I am looking for. I am prone to spotty application and streaks if I cannot see where I’ve already applied the tanner. I opt for a tinted formula every time. It’s one of the first things I look at when deciding on wether I want to a new type of tanner. If it’s not tinted, it goes back on the shelf.

Is it buildable?

I like to build up a gradual tan, so something that is subtle and the color can be deepened over time is ideal for my goals. I have tried the ‘super dark instant tan’ formulas, and I honestly don’t care for them.

Usually I don’t have a few extra hours before whatever event I want to look tan. I am chronically late, so to do all the steps involved, let it dry, and then get dressed and ready without getting it on my clothes etc. It’s just too much. Too time consumptive and there are much easier ways to look tan that won’t leave you worried about staining your clothes or take up your entire day to achieve a tan.

How’s the scent?

This is another one that can be tricky. I am sensitive to smells, and (like many of you I’m sure) I don’t like the smell of self tanner. I try to avoid smelling like fake tan at all costs. Some brands are better at masking the smell than others, and some brands have scents that seem to dissipate after the product dries or after the first shower. I’ll leave it up to your ‘nose’ but if you are sensitive to smells or self conscious about the fake tan smell, it’s definitely something to consider.

I’ll add that ‘length of tan’ is also important, but often if you are trying a new product or new brand, you won’t really know if the tan lasts that long. If you can, try and check beauty reviews or do a quick internet search for reviews. Otherwise, you get to be the guinea pig and try it out! But be sure to report back so the rest of us know if you love it or not. 🙂

Some of my current favorite self tanners:

Pre-Tan Application:

Once I’ve chosen my product, it’s time head home and get ready to tan. The pre-self tanning ritual that works best for me, is to take a nice hot shower, and exfoliate all over. I use exfoliating gloves or a natural sponge loofa to slough-off all the dead skin cells.

Then I shave, and put on a thick moisturizing lotion. I don’t apply self tanner on the same day I exfoliate and shave, because I have sensitive skin and have found this leads to more irritation and a rash. My skin usually reacts like crazy if I try to do too much to it at once.

The next morning, I wake up, shower like usual, and spend just a couple of quick moments gently re-exfoliating my knees and elbows and focusing on any areas where my skin is ‘thicker’. You do not need to exfoliate all over on the second day.

Once you are outta the shower, towel off, and then apply a thin layer of moisturizer like coconut oil, vaseline, or any regular lotion over your knees and elbows. You want to put a little moisture on the recently exfoliated, and dry areas, so they don’t ‘grab’ too much of the self tanner and deposit excess color in the area. This step will make your final result much less patchy and appear well blended.

Now you are finally ready to tan!

Grab your products and your gloves. I like to self tan in my bathroom and often while standing in the tub. This keeps the mess fairly contained, especially if you are using a spray type of self tanner.

I like to start at the bottom and work my way up! I start just above the ankles and head north. Apply the product sparingly around the knees and save your ankles for last. Don’t forget a quick swipe on the top of your feet too!

Repeat the same process with the upper body; applying very sparingly to wrists, elbows, and neck. These are definitely areas where a little product will go a long way. So start with less than you think you need!

You can also use self-tanner on your face if you wish. Some companies do sell a separate self tanner that is specifically formulated for your face. It often contains more gentle ingredients and fewer perfumes than the ‘body’ version. I personally don’t use self tanner on my face. I rely on a slightly darker foundation and some bronzer for an even and glowing look.

When you are all done with application, remove those gloves! I like to also wash my hands just in case anything got through the gloves. 

Final step. Let it dry!

I like to assume a five-point star position while my self tanner dries. You know the one – arms and legs out, looking like a wheel spoke. I don’t want any lines or awkward marks on my underarms or backs of knees so I stand like this for about 10 minutes. Think of it as an arm workout! 🙂 

Then thats it! I usually put on loose, comfy clothing afterwards. Avoid anything overly restrictive. I also don’t shower until the next day, but some products say you can shower after about 4 hours, so check the label if you need to shower sooner than the next morning.

That’s it. See how the tan develops and if needed re-apply every couple of days to deepen or maintain the color.


Tips for extending your color!

Try not to exfoliate or harshly scrub your skin after using self tanner. You will be scrubbing off the tan. The same goes for shaving every day. If you can avoid it, let a couple of days pass in-between shaving. When you shave, you are essentially removing the top layer of skin, along with the hairs you want to remove. This will make your tan fade faster. Moisturize well each day, to lock in hydration and keep your color looking fresh!

There are tons of self tanners available. I’ve linked my favorites above, as a starting point. Don’t be afraid to try a few different kinds, sometimes it takes a while to find the one that best suits your self tanner needs. 

I hope these tips are helpful and can help you get that sun-kissed and glowing tan in no time!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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