The Best Self Tanners for Pale Skin, That Won’t Make You Look Streaky

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!

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!

body self tanning mousse

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.

face tanning lotion

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.

self tanner lotion

Vita Liberata

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.

self tanning mousse

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.

self tanning water

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:

self tanner

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.

body makeup

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.

body makeup lotion

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.

self tanning lotion

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.

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.

body scrub

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.

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.

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.

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!

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