BEAUTY // Best Self Tanners and Application Tips

self tannerI’m at that point now where I’m gross pale. Now there is nothing wrong with pale. Some of the most beautiful people and models have very light skin and they are gorgeous (and will probably have a lot less wrinkles when they get older). I however look best with a bit of sun, or sunless sun. I actually prefer spending time outdoors in the real sun, but self tanner will have to do during the winter months. I’m going to give you the low down on self tanner and application from my own experience — and I’ve done it all. I’ve gone tanning in beds (don’t worry that rarely happens anymore), I’ve been spray tanning, and I use self tanner at home. However, I’m not one of those people that over uses it or even uses it each week. I typically hold onto my actual summer tan for several months, so it’s not until the new year that I typically need a little extra help. Even then I usually only use self tanner sparingly, specifically if I have an event or will be taking lots of photos or something of the sort.

I hate looking like I’ve used any self tanner, so I’ve been very picky about the kind I will use. I also don’t like “bronzing” self tanners — which usually means it has a shimmer or immediate bronzer in the self-tanner so you immediately look tan — I stay away from those. I want my tan to be a subtle, natural-looking tan. The three self tanners above I’ve found to be the best for me and here’s why:

CLARINS // This Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel is a little different because it’s a gel not a typical lotion. (The bottle may look a little different like this as I believe the recently redesigned the packaging so this old packaging is still the right product.) This is my favorite self tanner. The price for this tanner is worth it because if you use it sparingly or mix with lotion it lasts a long time. I just add a little to my moisturizer or lotion when I want some extra color. Like most self tanners, it smells like a self tanner, so I try use it at night before I go to bed instead of during the day. It’s probably safe to say that all of the Clarins self tanning line will be quality self tanners, however I’ve only personally used the gel. 

BARE MINERALS // This Faux Tan Body self tanner gives you a quick glow. You do need to immediately wash your hands after application as it is a dark tanner right out of the bottle and will stain your hands if you don’t wash them in soapy water immediately (I wash my hands after using every self tanner). I found the color to be great for my skin. It also comes in a specific face tanner.

NEUTROGENA // This micro mist airbrush sunless tanner is my favorite drugstore option, however it can be hard to find as it sells out pretty quickly. I use the Level 3 because it’s pretty light and gradual color. I love that it is a spray. You can hold this bottle in any direction, even upside down, and it will spray. I found this product in college and have been using it ever since. It’s so easy to spray your entire body front and back with this! If I’m needing a glow that day or the next, I’ll spray it on, then dry my hair, then do another layer. You’ll want to put lotion on first, and then spray your body. I open my shower curtain and spray in the direction of the shower so I’m not getting self tanner all over my bathroom, just something to keep in mind.

With any self tanner you just need to test it on your skin and use it in moderation, or dilute it with lotion to get the most natural-looking tan.

tan towels


A newer type of self tanners are these disposable self tanning towelettes. I’ve used both the Tan Towels and Alpha Beta Glow Pad and really liked both of them. They are easy to use and perfect to travel with!  If you don’t have time to apply the full-out self tanning products, these towelettes are an easy option. Apparently the Alpha Beta Glow Pad is also an anti-ager, so it’s a 2-in-1!

exfoliate with this origins product before using self tanner


There is a system to self tanning to get the most natural-looking tan. 

1. Exfoliate! You want to exfoliate really well before putting on any self tanner. I currently use this Origins Smoothing Ginger Body Scrub. I recently realized putting it in the shower was the easiest way to use it (how did I not realize that before???). Make sure to scrub any areas that typically build up dead skin — knees, elbows, etc. You want to create the smoothest surface for the self tanner.
2. Moisturize. You can either mix the self tanner with your lotion or moisturizer if you want the tan to be gradual, or put your lotion on first, and then use the self tanner. Keeping your skin moisturized will keep your tan looking its best.
3. Wear loose clothing. Just for a while right after application until your skin is dry then you can change (I usually just wear my robe for a little while). I wouldn’t put self tanner all over my body and then get dressed for the day and leave the house. I like to be at home for a while, especially because most self tanners smell. I would be careful with any clothing you wear after applying self tanner and before your first shower after the application… I wouldn’t suggest wearing your favorite white blouse. If you use a self tanner that has a “bronzer” in it (giving you immediate tan or shimmer) it is probably going to get on your clothing.
4. Showering. If you are wanting to keep the glow for a few days, then don’t scrub too hard in the shower after you apply the tanner. However if you feel like you put too much on, that is exactly how you can tone it down a little — a warm soapy scrub. Typically you wouldn’t get in the shower after you apply self tanner, I’m hoping that is an obvious thing. Usually you should wait several hours before hopping in the shower after using self tanner. I like to use it before bed, let it dry for an hour or so before I actually get into bed, and then I wake up with a bit of a tan and no issues getting into the shower.


1. Do a spot test — Test out different types on a part of your body that no one will see so you can see which brand works best with your skin tone.
2. Use testers or test in-store — Test as many as you can on your skin to find the perfect one. If you order or purchase one and hate it, take it back! Typically you need to wait 6+ hours to see how the tan looks.
3. Do your research — Ask friends with a similar skin tone if they recommend a certain self tanner or scour the beauty blogs.


1. If you are getting a spray tan before an event (wedding, vacation, etc.) make an appointment for 3 weeks prior to the event and test it out first. There are different levels to spray tanning, and you want to make sure you like the level before you go get a spray tan the day before the event and it turns out too dark.
2. It’s safer to go lighter. If you didn’t have time to do a test tan and you’ve never been spray tanning or haven’t been to that specific location, it’s always better to wish you had a little more tan than wish you had less. Especially if you are already pale — go with the lowest tan level if you are going right before the event. If you have a few days before the event you can try the medium as it will tone down a little after a few showers.
3. Exfoliate & moisturize before you go!
4. Wear clothes you don’t care about, and you are probably going to smell like self tanner, so I don’t recommend going anywhere where you care about how you look/smell afterward.
5. Don’t wear makeup prior to going tanning. You’ll want the tanner to hit your face evenly.
6. Most places provide some sort of lotion or finger tip covers for your nails. Spray tanner (and self tanner) on light-colored nails, and right around your nails is not a good look.
7. They typically provide a hair cover — use it!
8. Don’t scrunch your face up during the spray.
9. Don’t forget to take off your glasses. Seems obvious but have you ever accidentally gotten into the shower with your underwear on? Maybe not, but if you are super busy, silly things like that happen.

What is your favorite self tanner? Do have a self-tanning or spray tanning tip I didn’t mention?