We all want to look like we’ve found the fountain of youth, and there are many ways to achieve that; starting with procedures, an excellent skincare routine, and taking care of our whole body. But I have one secret that may surprise you since it is so simple yet effective: applying self tanners at home.
Having that sun-kissed look year-round will give you a more youthful and dynamic look; after all, what can be better than constantly looking like you’ve just returned from an exotic holiday? Plus, self tanner has the great bonus of making your skin look almost airbrushed, fading those dark spots or veins.
In this article, you’re going to find out everything there is to know about self tanners, the best ways to apply them for a flawless look, and a list of my favorite products tried and tested. So please keep reading, and elevate your look today with a self tanner!
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What Is an At-home Self Tanner?
Self tanners are skincare products, usually in the form of sprays, lotions, or creams, that gives color to your skin, making it look like you’re tanned. After a few days of usage, they typically give this effect gradually, but some self tanners work instantly.
They are not all harmful to the skin, and they are the only way to obtain a healthy tan (more details about UV exposure and the damage this gives, by the end of this article).
How Does Self Tanner Work on Your Skin?
Most self tanners on the market contain a substance called dihydroxyacetone – or DHA. This is a sugar derived from plants, such as sugar cane or sugar beets. When in contact with skin, the ingredient colors the outer dead cell layer, giving it that specific tanning effect.
This coloring effect was first observed in the 1920s and introduced to the mass market in the ’60s. Since then, it has been approved by the FDA and marked as safe for usage.
Because it only colors the stratum corneum, meaning that top dead skin surface, it will go away in about 7 to 10 days, depending on the dead cells natural shedding. However, it will disappear faster if you use a body scrub or a chemical exfoliant (alpha hydroxy acids, for example) because those take away exactly that outer skin layer.
Another important point is that DHA has a specific smell that may be unpleasant to some, that being the usual complaint people have about self tanners. I’ve created a list for you with the best self tanners on the market, considering ease of application and a minimal smell.
The Best Self Tanners of 2022
While most self tanners contain the same substance, meaning DHA, they differ in terms of concentration and formula. DHA levels within a self tanning product usually range from 3 to 5%, and this can determine the intensity of the result you get (a darker or paler color). Choose the level of intensity, taking into account your own natural tone; for me, light to medium ones don’t do anything since my skin is olive, so I have to go for medium-dark tones.
The formula can be spray, mouse, light lotion, or creams. These can determine the ease in the application (you might find a spray can be the easiest, especially in hard-to-reach places), or the way they feel afterward (some self tanners can feel sticky, making it unpleasant when you put your clothes on right away).
I am a fan of these types of products, so a lot of them were put to the test. The results are in, and I’ve created a list with the best self tanners on the market, considering the ease in application, the smell, and how natural the final result is.
Natural Glow Instant Sun by Jergens
Jergens brings us an excellent tanning mousse called Natural Glow Instant Sun. It’s a very lightweight formula that dries in 60 seconds on your skin. This means you won’t feel it sticky like many self tanners do, and you can put your clothes on immediately, as the mousse won’t stick or stain.
As with other products of this type, you can apply the self tanner directly with your hand or with a special mitt. The latter will consistently distribute the product and keep your hands from getting that nasty orange color.
Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun comes in two different shades – light and deep, and it has a great price, so give it a try!
Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer with Sunscreen by Jergens
If you want that sun-kissed glow, there are products out there made especially for the face. Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizing with Sunscreen is a light lotion by Jergens that comes in two variations of color: light to medium and medium to dark. You will see the full effect in about a week or so.
For a flattering tanned look, you can apply it to your clean and slightly exfoliated complexion. Just be careful if you consistently use an exfoliating acid, such as glycolic or lactic acid, as these make dead skin cells shed. That’s the exact outer layer that the self tanner colors, so your product will fade much quicker with this combination.
Tanologist Face + Body Drops
I also love using tanning drops for my face for a subtle summer glow. Tanologist Face + Body Body Drops are amazing for a smaller surface because you can control the level of tanning you get.
Depending on your preference, you can use two to 12 drops of product, and mix them in your regular moisturizer in your palms. Then apply the mixture directly on your face with circular motions, making sure you distribute it evenly.
I like to use five drops of product in my Eucerin moisturizer, put the products on my face, and bring it down my neck, so I don’t get a harsh line. I let it soak in completely before touching my face, and the color will develop in a few hours.
- My moisturizer is:
Sun-Kissed Radiance, Gradual Tanner & Body Lotion, Natural Looking Tan by Nivea
Nivea comes with a fantastic product – Sun-Kissed Radiance, Gradual Tanner & Body Lotion, Natural Looking Tan. It has barely any smell, which is an important aspect of self tanners, and it has a moisturizing texture.
You will see some results within two days of using this Nivea self tanner, but the more you apply, the more visible it gets. So this is another amazing product from the drugstore that I found works very well.
Body Drench Quick Tan Instant Self-Tanner
The Quick Tan Instant Self-Tanner from Body Drench comes in a spray form and it’s very easy to apply. I like to spray it directly onto the skin, then spread it out evenly with a mitt, using circular motions.
The tanning effect is instant, so you can see immediately what your final result looks like. This is a great product if you have to go to an event, and need an instant glow, or just for a night on the town. The great benefit is that it doesn’t transfer onto your clothes, so you can get dressed immediately, and go about your business.
Even though I got the medium to dark option, the tan is pretty subtle, making this product a good choice for those who fear to be too obvious. The Body Drench Quick Tan is an amazing starting point, if you’re trying self-tanner for the first time, or just need a subtle summer glow.
This next self tanner is a high-end product, but one well worth it! I am talking about Vita Liberata, one of the most popular self tanners on the market. It comes in a mousse form, and it just gives you the most beautiful effect instantly. The skin gets that deeper shade, but also a gorgeous glow, and an almost blurring effect.
It comes with a very practical mitt that you can use for an even application. Vita Liberata is a more pricey option, but the bonus here is that the effect lasts 2 to 3 weeks so that you won’t go through it as fast as other products.
St. Moriz Instant Self-Tanning Mousse
St. Moriz Instant Self-Tanning Mousse is a cult classic, and a very popular product for good reason. This comes in an airy mousse form, and it’s very quick and easy to apply. It develops over the course of four hours, but you can see some darkness on your skin right away.
I apply the mousse to my skin with a special mitt, and massage it thoroughly in circular motions, for an even glow. There are many color options, and the results are very visible. The product doesn’t transfer on your skin, and you can get dressed immediately after applying it.
Bondi Sands Aero Aerated Self Tanning Foam
This mousse from Bondi Sands is called Aero Aerated Self Tanning Foam is, as the name says, light as air, and very pleasant to apply. Like many tanning mousses, this too has a color guide, meaning the product is pigmented, so you can see if you put too much or too little in different areas.
This Bondi Sands mousse has a little green tint, but don’t be alarmed by that. It looks great on the skin as it develops over the course of the next four hours. It is streak-free, and transfer-free, so you can get dressed right away. You should shower after six hours with warm water alone, and pat the skin gently with a towel (don’t scrub because you might rub the product off).
The lovely coconut scent helps disguise that specific self-tanner smell, so this is overall a very pleasant product to use.
b.tan Forever + Ever Self Tan Mousse
B.tan Forever + Ever Self Tan Mousse is a very long lasting bronzing mousse. It lasts up to 11 days, incredible for this type of product, so ideal to use when you are going away on holiday, and want a healthy bronze (a fake one!).
The mousse applies evenly with a special mitt with circular motions, and the results are visible. Like all b.tan products, this mousse is vegan, cruelty-free, and no parabens, always a great bonus in my opinion.
Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops
The following product is truly something special among self tanners. Self Tanning Drops by Isle of Paradise is a liquid in a spray bottle that you just spritz directly onto your skin. I actually like to spray it on my mitt and then rub it in, for a guaranteed even application every time.
This self tanner has no smell to it, which is so rare in these types of products. It also gives a beautiful color to your skin that now has a glow and youthful look. Self Tanning Drops comes in three variations of colors – light, medium, and dark, so choose what’s right for you, depending on your natural skin tone, and desired result.
b.tan Tanned AF Bronzing Mist
B.tan brings to us another amazing great product, but this time in a bronzing mist. Tanned AF Bronzing mist is a lightweight spray that goes on like a dream. The result is a beautiful bronzy-glow that shows up instantly, but also processes more over time.
The product is vegan, and cruelty-free, and the price point is unbeatable, especially for such a quality product. It dries instantly, it has a pleasant smell, and there’s no transfer onto your clothes.
Airbrush Sun by Sally Hansen
Another favorite of mine is Airbrush Sun by Sally Hansen. It’s a moisturizing lotion that gives the most beautiful glow to the skin while slowly building the perfect color intensity. This doesn’t have a strong smell, so the application is all the more pleasant.
This self tanner comes in two variations of color – light to medium and medium to tan (the one I’m using). The producer says to apply every day until achieving the desired intensity of color.
I will continue with a special category which is more self tanning body makeup products than classic self tanner. The difference is that the product itself has a tint to it, so the result is instant, and it comes off in the shower. This is an excellent idea for when you have an event and need your skin to look flawless instantly. Here are my top choices:
BB Body Perfecting Skin Cream by Jergens
This product immediately gives your skin a flawless finish, just like a normal BB cream would, when used on your face. Jergens BB Body Perfecting Skin Cream is a moisturizing formula that feels great on the skin without leaving a residue. It has a tint to it and makes your skin airbrushed.
I use it when I am in between tans or just started to use a slow developing one. It creates that beautiful rich color I am trying to achieve instantly, giving that blurring effect and hiding minor imperfections, marks, or spots.
Vita Liberata Body Blur
The Vita Liberata Body Blur is a higher-end product, but one that you will find deserves every penny. It’s body makeup, so the effect is instantly noticeable, and it is a thing of beauty! It’s like butter for the skin, and it makes it look blurred like the name says, smooth, and just perfect.
If you have somewhere to go, maybe a night out in the summertime, and have a dress that exposes arms and legs, but this body makeup on, and you’ll get an instant glow.
True Color Sunless Tanner by Tan Physics
This product by Tan Physics already has a strong color to it; it is a brown lotion, but the formula is not very moisturizing, but it does absorb very quickly. It develops a deep color instantly, but I did find most of the color fades in the shower.
So I will include this one on body makeup as well, since the effect seems to be temporary and last a lot less than regular self tanners. It’s a good option if you need instant color on your skin, maybe if you are going to an event and want a quick pick-me-up for your look.
How to Self Tan Properly for Glowy, Streak-Free Skin (Beginner-friendly!)
Applying self tanners to give your skin that sun-kissed look is excellent and so handy these days. But there’s nothing worse than getting that streaky effect that almost looks muddy. And who wants to be stuck with orange hands for days?
Have no fear, my quick tips and tricks can save you a lot of trouble and give you everything you need to know for a flawless look.
For a full tutorial on how to prep the skin and apply self tanner the right way, please check this video:
Apply a Body Scrub
Before applying self tanners, you need to know how they work. As stated above, self tanners cling to the stratum corneum, meaning the top dead skin cell layer. It’s that layer the self tanner will color, but in areas with excess dead skin cells, it will grab unevenly. So this is where you will get that streaky effect that’s not at all flattering.
A body scrub applied regularly, especially before the actual self tanner, will work wonders. You can find them in lotions or a thicker paste form, and they have particles that will provide mechanical exfoliation. Rub them on your skin in circular motions, in a firm but gentle way; doing this will eliminate that excess dead cells and leave a smooth surface for an even application of the self tanner.
You can find many products on the market, so you have a lot of textures and fragrances to choose from. One of my favorites is Warm vanilla sugar foaming scrub by Bath and Body Works, because it leaves the skin very smooth, and I love that vanilla scent.
Another great option is First Aid Beauty’s Bump Eraser Body Scrub with 10% AHA. This is not only a gritty body scrub, but it also acts by exfoliating the dead skin layer with a gentle acid. I apply it in the shower, especially on the rougher areas where the self tanner tends to accumulate, like elbows or knees.
Use a Dry Brush
You can eliminate the dead skin layer with a brush with dense bristles. This can be even more comfortable to use since it’s always there, with no need for an additional product. Buy one with natural bristles, but make sure they’re compact ones for a sound effect.
You can use a brush on your dry skin or in the shower, using your favorite body wash to give it a little slip. Go in with circular motions and give more attention to rougher areas, such as elbows, feet, or ankles, because they tend to be very dry and accumulate more dead skin cells.
Apply an Exfoliating Face Mask
Body scrubs are very effective, and great to use before self tanning. But when it comes to our skin, my advice is to go for something more gentle. The skin on our face is more sensitive than the skin on our body; it can also become more fragile because of various treatments we are applying, such as retinols, exfoliating acids, or acne lotions.
A scrub would be much too harsh for your complexion, so try using an exfoliating mask instead. I love the Beekman 1802 Milk Glaze Clay Mask – a deep cleansing mask that is suitable for sensitive skin. The ingredient list includes 10% lactic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid that will gently exfoliate the dead skin layer), purifying clay, goat milk, and probiotics.
You can apply this mask before taking a shower, and keep it on for 15 minutes, then rinse it clean. It feels very cooling and soothing to the face, and you will be left with a very clean complexion, prepared for an even application of self tanner.
Put On a Mitt
We’ve all had the horrible orange hands, from applying self tanners with bare hands and forgetting to wash or properly clean them. Putting on this type of product with just your hands isn’t the best idea anyway, because it tends to distribute the self tanner unevenly, and you never know what result you’re going to end up with.
Try instead using a special mitt. It’s usually made out of fiber, and it will distribute the product in a much more consistent way. This will hold no matter what product we’re talking about, whether in a lotion, cream, foam, or spray form (if you have the latter, you can spray it directly onto the mitt, then continue with your application as you usually would).
Some products come with a special mitt – I have mine from the Vita Liberata mousse, but I also use it with other products.
Use a Dry Brush to Self Tan Your Back
If you like using self tanner on a regular basis, I’m sure you know how annoying it is to try to get to those hard to reach areas. The worst one is probably the back where no one can reach properly, and maybe your partner doesn’t always want to help you with all that.
I have a great hack for you using a dry brush! Just take your brush, put your tanning mitt over the bristle end, then secure it at the bottom with a hair elastic. Taking advantage of the long handle, now you can apply self tanner on your back, then spread it evenly with your mitt covered bristle.
Use a Mini-Mitt or a Black Beauty Blender for Your Face
If you don’t want to get self tanner all over your hands, and possibly be left with orange fingers, try using this hack. Buy a small mitt or a black beauty blender for applying self tanner on your face.
The usual method is rubbing the bronzing product in with your fingers, but you have other options. If you are afraid of using your regular beauty blender sponge because the self tanner will stain it, just buy a black one, and nothing will show up.
Moisturize on a Regular Basis
That rough skin comes from dead skin cells that accumulate and don’t shed fast enough, but it also derives from lack of hydration or moisturizing products. Put in a basic way, our skin needs proper exfoliation, removing those dead skin cells, hydration, attracting water within the deeper layers, and moisturizing agents to soften that top layer of the skin.
Using a nourishing body lotion regularly will make your skin smoother, softer, and with a better bounce and elasticity. This will help a great deal with the application of self tanners because a smoother skin will absorb this product a lot better. The overall result will be glowing and even-looking skin that seems to be sun-kissed.
I like Jergens Skin Firming Body Lotion because it is deeply nourishing without leaving a greasy feeling. It contains collagen and elastin, and it tightens and firms the skin. I use it daily after my shower all over my body, and the difference is visible.
I also like to put some body lotion on my knees or elbows right before applying self tanner. Usually you are not supposed to do this because the self tanner won’t grip to the skin. But this is exactly why I put it on in areas where it tends to cling too much and look stained.
Always Choose Self Tanning Over UV Rays Exposure
We never want to go back to those troubled days of the 80s and 90s, when staying in the sun all day long was all the rage. I think the sun damage and dark spots we got from the body oil, iodine, or reflectors of that period, were enough to drown the nostalgia.
Please remember there is no such thing as a healthy natural tan.
UV rays cause oxidative damage, which can modify the DNA within skin cells, leading to many problems. The sun is a big concern in itself, but tanning beds produce up to 100 times more UV levels, so all the more dangerous.
The only healthy way to get that sun-kissed look is to use self tanning products. But please note having a self tanner on does not influence your sunscreen application. Be sure to put on enough SPF on exposed skin every day, especially when spending a lot of time outdoors.
Sun or tanning bed exposure can cause:
- Premature aging (free radicals from the sun cause oxidative damage to our skin; this breaks down collagen and elastin that hold the skin’s structure, so we see sagging, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity);
- Hyperpigmentation or dark spots (sun exposure triggers a defensive reaction within our skin which produces melanin, a substance that gives that tanned look. It’s the body actually trying to protect itself from getting skin burns. But sometimes melanin is excessively produced, so you get dark spots; the skin keeps producing more pigment in those areas every time you expose it to sunlight again, making it very hard to get rid of hyperpigmentation);
- Melanoma (the oxidative damage from UV rays can start to modify the skin cell’ß DNA; this is when cells can grow out of control, including melanocytes, the ones that give the skin’s pigment. When this happens, melanoma, a dangerous type of cancer, can develop);
- Other forms of skin cancer (there are many other types of skin cancer that can be heavily influenced by the changes UV rays cause);
- Allergies or skin rashes (repeated sun exposure can cause an immune response from your body that can be seen on your skin; whenever staying in the sun, you can develop symptoms like rashes, itchiness, bumps, and the skin becomes very red).
Get a Healthy Tan Glow!
Applying a self tanner is the only healthy way of getting that glowing, island-glow look that will contribute to a more youthful appearance. And let’s face it, who among us girls in our prime don’t want that?
Taking steps for a more full life is always a great thing, and how confident and beautiful we feel is a big part of that. So small tricks like this are always welcomed, and can make a world of difference in how we present ourselves to the world – hopefully with a pep in our step, and feeling like a million bucks!