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  • Melissa

Self-Tanning



Pale people rejoice!

As someone who spends their time on the lower end of the foundation spectrum among the "porcelain" "ivory" and "vanilla" shades, I really appreciate a good tan.

As someone who is well aware of the risks of sun exposure, I know better than to get within 5 feet of a tanning bed or lay out in the sun without sunscreen.

So even when I'm tan, I'm still very much a "light" on the "light/medium/deep" spectrum. But like many people, I think I look ten times better when I'm tan.

I have never gotten a spray tan but in the past few years, I have experimented with self-tanning products and they are AWESOME! Never before have I been able to wear my tan foundations in January but with self-tanner, anything is possible!

Okay, before I get carried away with my love affair for this sunless form of tanning, let me explain the technical stuff. The formulas I've tried are mousse formulas, but there are also creams and lotions. I've found the mousses work great and they're fairly easy to apply. Getting a good formula will be the difference between an easy application and a tanning catastrophe (a ca-tan-strophe, if you will).

Self-tanners can develop darker on areas of skin that are rough and dry. To ensure that this doesn't happen, you're going to want to exfoliate and moisturize regularly to keep your skin soft and smooth. It is also recommended to exfoliate, shave, and shower before applying the tanner.

Exfoliating can remove some of the dead, dry skin from your body so that the tanner doesn't look extra dark and patchy in these areas. Most products recommend doing so before applying your tan. But use caution- I use a homemade body scrub consisting of sugar and coconut oil and the lingering oil on the skin may affect the application of your tan. Most scrubs and exfoliants on the market shouldn't give you any issues though.

Shaving before applying tanner is not so much of a precaution as it is a way to prevent the tan from fading quickly. Having hair on your legs will not make the tan apply unevenly or dye your hairs darker. However, once you apply the tanner, exfoliating or shaving will strip off the top layer of your skin where the self-tanner is most pigmented, thus dulling your tan.

Showering will remove any dirt and oil from your skin so that the tan can adhere properly. On that note, you don't want to apply a lot of lotion all over your body before applying the tanner. If anything, just apply a light amount to really rough areas of skin like knees, elbows, ankles and hands.

The tanner can get messy and stain materials if you're not careful so don't apply it anywhere where you don't want to stain carpets, furniture, etc. The bathroom would be ideal, but I apply it in my room with some old towels laid on the floor so that I can look at myself in a full length mirror while applying it.


I recommend using a tanning mitt to apply self-tanners so that you don't stain your hands and so that you get a smoother application. I use the Loving Tan Deluxe Applicator Mitt which is made of velour so it's super soft and applies the product beautifully.

Once my skin is completely dry, I pump some of the mousse onto my tanning mitt and massage it into my skin in circular motions. I typically use 2-3 pumps per section of body. The more product you use in a concentrated area, the darker the tan will develop. I usually apply it in 9 sections:

Left lower leg and foot

Right lower leg and foot

Left upper leg

Right upper leg

Front of torso

Back of torso

Neck and chest

Left arm and hand

Right arm and hand


Because my feet and hands tend to be more dry and rough than other body parts, I only apply a little bit to those areas. For example, I pump out a pump of mousse onto my mitt, massage it into my whole arm and then when I'm done, I take whatever is remaining on my mitt and massage it all over my hand. This allows me to use hardly any product so I can lightly coat the skin and avoid dark and/or orange hands.

It is very difficult to tan your own back so if you live with someone, try to have them apply it for you. If you live alone or don't live with someone you're comfortable being half-naked around, you can purchase applicators specifically designed for applying self-tanner to your back like this one I bought on Amazon (not sure if they still sell it, but it was from the brand Skinerals):




I wish I had gotten one where the handle folded up so it would be easier to store, but this one was cheaper so I'll deal with it.

I personally choose not to tan my face because I have a lot of dryness, texture, acne, and broken skin at any given time (the struggle is real) but you can apply it there as well. I plan on trying it at least once and will surely update this post with my findings.


Once you apply the tanner everywhere, make sure it is dry (wait a minute or two) and then you can throw on some baggy clothes. Depending on the formula, you may have to leave the tanner on your skin anywhere between 2-8 hours. Typically the longer you leave it on, the darker you will be because it gives the product more time to develop. I like to apply tanner before bed so I can sleep in it and then wash it off in the morning. I've never experienced the tanner rubbing off on my sheets but if you're afraid of that happening, you might want to keep a separate set of sheets for your self-tanning nights.


So yes, your next step would be to rinse off the tan. Once you've let it sit for the recommended time, you can hop in the shower and rinse your skin. Lightly pat your skin dry and you're good to go!

Before you hop in the shower, you'll probably think "Whoa! That's a deep tan!" or you might even think "Do I look green?" but once you rinse it, it will most likely be fine. I know that was the case with all the formulas I've tried.

Also, try not to get your skin wet while the tan is developing. I once went for a run first thing in the morning before rinsing it off (knowing that I was going to shower right after anyway. Just trying to save water, ya know) and ended up with streaks down my neck from sweat. Luckily, those streaks didn't stick around once I rinsed it off, but I really scared myself with that one.

My tan will slowly fade every day (just from showering and such) but it lasts for about a week before I start feeling like my old skin tone again. You'll be able to notice the difference by which foundation shade fits you best. When my tan shade starts looking dark on me again, I know I'm almost back to my normal color.

I don't fake tan every week, mostly only for special occasions. There are definitely people who do it every week so if that's something you want to do, go for it! It is definitely a great, safer solution to the pale, winter blues.

Now, onto the most important part: using a good formula. This is not an area of expertise for me because I've only tried three formulas, but let me break it down for you anyway:

St. Moriz Instant Self Tanning Mousse, Dark ($12.99): A good overall mousse. Applied easily with a mitt, never developed too dark so I never had patchiness or any issues with it. Very affordable as well. I thought I looked a little green before I rinsed it off so don't be alarmed, you'll look normal once you rinse it.

Loving Tan 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse, Dark ($39.95): THE BEST. Oh, how I love this mousse! It applies smoothly and even when it looks like it might be clinging to dryness, it never looks patchy when I rinse it off. It is made from all natural ingredients and actually smells pretty good which is uncommon for tanning mousse. I like the tone and the darkness of the color. It gives me a realistic-looking tan with no weird undertones. Sometimes it gets a tiny bit patchy when it fades, but not enough to make me stop using it. I noticed this most on my chest from working out in sports bras, so I guess sweat + friction from clothing = exfoliation. This 2HR Express is ready to wash off after 2 hours, but I still sleep with it on overnight.

I know, you're like "What is going on in this collage?"The swatch pics on the left were the only sort of before and after pictures I could find.


Skinerals Californium Sunless Bronzer ($25.99): Ok so recently I got obsessed with everything in my life being free of harmful chemicals and totally forgot that Loving Tan is already made of natural ingredients soooo I bought this one on Amazon and it was good! Not quite as good as Loving Tan but it was a nice, even tan and smelled pretty good. I think Loving Tan just shows up a little darker.



Lastly, some honorable mentions in the skin-tone-enhancing department:

If you don't want to use self-tanner, there are other even more temporary options.

Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Leg Makeup ($12.99): This applies like a regular lotion but smooths out the look of your legs, covering any veins or marks. Think of it as foundation for your legs. If you're going out and wearing something leggy, this is a perfect, low-commitment option because it washes off completely in the shower. Beware of it rubbing off onto furniture or clothes, however. I have not worn it enough times to notice when or if it completely dries down. I feel like if you rub hard enough, it can come off on other surfaces so just be careful. This product comes in a lotion bottle and also a spray can. They are hardly any different because it's not suggested to apply the spray directly to your legs. You spray it in your hand and then apply it to your leg like the lotion. They also come in different shades and depending on your skin tone, they can also give your legs a bit of a tan.

Left Picture: Left leg is bare, Right leg has Airbrush lotion

Right Picture: Left leg has Airbrush spray, Right leg is bare


Vita Liberata Body Blur, Latte ($45): This is a really nice body makeup that I use to make my neck and chest glow and appear slightly tanner. Sometimes if I finish my makeup and think my foundation is a little darker than my body, I apply this to my neck and chest to help it all match. Most of the time, I use it for special occasions to even out my skin, blur imperfections and give my body a subtle glow. It's super pretty if you're wearing something strapless or with some chest exposed. I never tried it on my arms or legs but I'm sure it would work anywhere. I do find that it rubs off onto other materials though. I had a tote bag with white straps that turned brownish where it was in contact with my shoulder. I would suggest using a tiny bit and really blending it into the skin so it dries down well.


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