Top-Secrets of Self-Tanning

Best Self-Tanners

Self-tanning is probably our least favorite thing about summer, but also necessary in a world seeing melanoma rates increasing, annually. Our trick: approach the process as just another step in your self-care routine. That way, you’re getting in a full-body self-care routine, plus using self-tanner will likely ensure that you don’t feel like taking risks by taking in too much sun.

But, ugh- self-tanning can be as far from stress-free as we are to the moon! We hear you, and we’re here to help! We’ve broken down the best way to prep, apply, and preserve your bronzed glow. We’re also passing along our recommendations for the best self-tanners, with the over-50 skin care in mind. Plus-we’ve stumbled (meaning we panic-searched after screwing up our first application) across a few different options to fix our self-tanning faux pas, which is the origin of 80% of the stress associated with what we consider a fairly high-maintenance activity.


If you do nothing else in self-tanning prep (or life, really) you must start dry brushing. Not only does dry brushing help prep our skin for the application of lotions and self-tanners by exfoliating, it also exfoliates and increases lymphatic processes, which is a fancy way of saying it boosts your immune system. Some even swear it helps with the appearance of cellulite by way of myofascial release. We recommend the Mio Body Brush, $20, for handheld use, or the Wholesome Beauty Brush, $12, for an option with removable handle for harder to reach areas.

Do all other things, like shaving, cleanse thoroughly, and dry completely. It’s a good idea to wait about 10 mins after dry to allow for the skin to soak in any ambient moisture from the shower.

Application Tips:

  • Apply lotion to nostrils, knees, elbows, ankles-other dry spots Avoid Oil-based lotions
  • Have a dedicated “Self-Tanner Towel” ready for any messes.
  • Pull your hair up, away from your face so it’s not bothersome while bending during application.
  • Use a self-tanner application mitt. This is the best way to apply self-tanner, plus it keeps our hands from turning orange or staining our nails. For added reach, put the mitt over a shower brush handle  or even a kitchen spoon. We recommend using the Double-Sided Sunless Tan Applicator Mitt by Ulta, $5
  • Apply self-tanner lotions and mousses one teaspoon at a time, in circular motions from toe to face, as this prevents any weird “fold streaks” as you bend down to do the lower body.
  • Avoid showering or sweating for 6-8 hours.
  • After application, apply talc-free powder to lessen the chance of it rubbing off on clothes.

The Best Self-Tanners: Our Recommendations

First, decide where you’re applying to separate out the options for the face and the body. Next, decide if you need a specialized formula, like one specifically for your complexion tone, or addressing any skin issues like dryness and sensitivities. Finally, decide what the best formulation works for you. There’s a ton of options, from wipes to sprays, so we’ve chosen our favorites for a variety of skin types below.

You will likely want one formula that is easier to apply for getaways and vacations, as well as a more time-intensive application process like lotions or mousses, that may have better staying power, while picking a ‘quickie’ formula for touch-ups or for extending the longevity of your long-term formulation.

For the Face

Coola Face Serum

Coola, Organic Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Face Serum, $54

Chock full of hyaluronic acid (aids in moisture retention, and overall plump of skin) and vitamin C. It promises it won’t transfer off onto your pillow, and a streak-free, gradual tinting. Reviewers who love it use it daily, by including it in their night-time skin care routine.

Clarins Self Tanner

Clarins Liquid Bronze Self-Tanning for Face and Décolleté, $40

Dries quickly, and doesn’t leave your skin feeling sticky. Also smells more like hairspray, than self-tanner. (Who knew that something smelling like hairspray would be a good thing!) Reviewers love this product, pointing to it’s tint being far-from orange, as well as saying that the formula is miraculously streak-free.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, Alpha Beta Intense Glow Pad Self-Tanner for FaceDr. Dennis Gross Skincare, Alpha Beta® Intense Glow Pad Self-Tanner for Face, $38

This product has the power of anti-aging properties and vitamin D for skin health. It both exfoliates and self-tans! They’ve played with the way the DHA (the tanning agent) is delivered, to help keep the application streak-free, while also providing the glow, tightening pores and fading sunspots. It is also vegan.

Best for Lighter Complexions

Progressive tanning lotions are your best bet if you’re very fair-skinned. They’re easier to remove in an ‘oops’ situation, and you can see the color building, so you control when to stop adding color. These are also great options for the self-tanning-phobic. We have a two different formulations we recommend:

Neutrogena Build a Tan

La Mer Gradual tan Lotion

Soleil de La Mer, The Face & Body Gradual Tan Lotion, $100

Best for Darker Complexions

Despite what you see on beauty shelves in stores everywhere, yes, women with darker complexions want a healthy glow, too. Luckily there’s been some strides in the beauty industry embracing all skin tones, but it still isn’t as easy to wade through which ones offer the widest range, much less which products who offer the range actually know how to pull off bronzing a deeper complexion. Here’s a few we recommend:

Vita Liberata Body Blur

Vita Liberata, Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish, $45

St Tropez for Dark Skintones

St Tropez, Dark Bronzing Lotion, $44

Best for Sensitive/Dryer Skin:

Aging skin can be tricky, right? Here’s a couple formulas that are great for soothing the skin, while adding a glow.

VIchy Self Tanner

Vichy Ideal Soleil Face and Body Self-Tan Milk, $20

This formula provides a tan after one hour, and is packed with vitamin E to help soothe skin, and boost the formula’s longevity. Reviewers love this product for paler skin tones, as well and they say the smell isn’t so bad, nor is it greasy.

Sienna X Gradual Self-Tan

Sienna X Gradual Self Tan Lotion, $16

This progressive formula will develop over 6-8 hours, and contains cocoa butter, sweet almond oil, and aloe vera to soften and soothe skin.

Mousses, Sprays, Wipes and Clear Formulas

The Future is now! While most formulations promise to not also tan your bed, or couch, or clothing, these clear formulas take into mind the new-to-self-tanning newbies. The clear formula isn’t the only thing going for the selections below. Wipes are pretty new to the scene, and offer another great option, many of which are clear formulations.

On the other hand, the future is yesterday, insofar as mousses and sprays are concerned. When they exploded onto the scene, they offered the best coverage and they can often be the easiest way for most to apply self-tanner. They work just as well (if not better) with tanning mitts, and often are “stained” to allow visibility while you’re applying. They are a great option for times you need an “instant” boost. We’ve picked a few formulas for those who prefer this application method.

Vita Liberata Phenomenal Tanning Mousse

Vita Liberata, Phenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Mousse, $54

This self-tanner develops in 4-8 hours, but it’s formula is one of the longer-lasting ones available. It’s also infused with aloe vera and cucumber for skin conditioning and added hydration. There’s absolutely no odor with this formula, either. They have a video online to help you get the application down pat.

Tan Towels

Tan Towel Wipes, $29

This clear formula is great for dry/sensitive skin types. Promises to be stain-free, but it will take a few sheets, and has the classic self-tanner smell. Apply at night, since it won’t stain your sheets, and wake up a golden goddess. It is available in 3 different “colors” for various skintones.

Coola Sunless Tan Dry Body Oil Mist

Coola, Sunless Tan Dry Body Oil Mist, $46

This is great for all skin types, and has a ton of ingredients, like vitamin C and antioxidants to help with uneven skin tone, dryness and loss of firmness/elasticity. Reviewers who love this product include women over 50, as well as women who are very fair.

Josie Maran Liquid Gold

Josie Maran, Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil, $39

Incredibly moisturizing, this formula is made from argan oil, and it absorbs faster than you’d expect from an oil. The DHA (the tanning agent in self-tanners) is plant-based, so it’s a good vegan option, as well. Since it’s DHA is from an organic source, there’s no chemical smell with this self-tanner.

Tips to Preserve the Tan

Since it can be a bit of an undertaking to get your golden glow, it’s only natural that we need to preserve the ‘tan’ as long as possible. Here’s some tips to help you compliment and maintain your self-tanning sessions.

  • Use a gentle cleanser, like Aveeno Body Wash.
  • Do not use products with retinols.
  • Keep your skin hyper-moisturized to keep it from drying out and revealing patchy self-tan spots, but be sure it is oil-free.
  • Using one of the progressive formulas listed above as a ‘tan extender’ for any of the other products available. This also helps hide any streaking that may have occurred, although we have a few tricks to make those disappear, altogether.

Tips for Quick Fixes

The truth of it all: even if your self-tanner isn’t perfect, every woman who sees that will look on in compassion, because we have all been there. Here are a few tips that will help even out your self-tanner, remove streaks and other common problems:

  • To remove steaks or uneven spots, rub half a lemon on the area for about 2 mins, then ‘buff’ your skin with a towel (remember that ‘dedicated self-tanner towel’ tip, above? This is one of those scenarios).
  • To tone back the golden-factor a bit, you can make a mix of your usual body scrub and a drop or two of a body oil to apply head-to-toe. You can do this multiple times in severe cases (be sure to check if you’re buying the right “color”, as some formulas do offer fair-to-dark options).
  • If you don’t feel like you can reach your back, other areas, then a spray formula is likely your best bet, or you could use in tandem with another product to help with coverage in hard-to-reach places.
  • If all else fails, reach for Isle of Paradise’s ‘Over It Magic Self-Tan Eraser’ and call it a day.


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