Self-Tanners and Application Tips to Try this Spring

by Jessica Pigza

We all know how damaging the sun can be to our skin, but it’s not uncommon to want just a little more color especially this time of year. That’s why self-tanning lotions have become a very popular way to deepen our skin tone without spending hours laying out in the sun. I admit it, I was totally guilty of going to the beach and slathering my skin with baby oil and letting it bake. Then eventually, I switched over to a tanning oil with something like 7 SPF in it and thought I was doing “responsible tanning.” Um no! Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser I never leave the house without at least a 15 SPF and when it comes to the pool or beach I go with a much higher SPF. I love to protect my face with Supergoop! PLAY Everyday Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50.

This demand for a safer tan has lead to the development of so many different kinds of self-tanners that it can be hard to know which ones will give you that desired golden, sunkissed glow instead of Oompa Loompa orange. But from what I’ve learned, it’s not just about what products you use but how you prep your skin that plays an important role in the overall look. So before we discuss any self-tanners, lets first look at skin prep.

Skin Prep

Even the best self-tanner can turn out blotchy if you don’t prep your skin beforehand. It can sound intimidating at first, but most of it can be done in the shower and then after it’s just a matter of remembering a few simple steps.

1. Exfoliate

Exfoliating is the first step to glowing skin. Not only is this good to do anyway to remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover, but it allows for a smooth application of your self-tanner. Using a washcloth, loofah or even your hands, apply an exfoliating wash like Tree Hut’s Shea Sugar Scrub or Dove Exfoliating Body Polish all over. Be sure to pay extra attention to areas where the skin is thicker such as your elbows, knees and feet. Once you’re done in the shower or bath make sure you dry off completely.

2. Apply in Sections

When applying your self-tanner it’s best to do it in sections and apply in a circular motion. Not only will this help you keep track of the areas you’ve already done, but applying in a circular motion will help to avoid streaks. It’s best to start at your legs, working your way up but save your torso for last. Also, remember to wash your hands with soap between each sectional application! This helps to eliminate overly tan/orange hands! You can use a self-tanner application mitt to keep the lotion off your hands.

3. Blend and Dilute

Blend – When you get to your ankles and your wrists, it’s best to blend out the self-tanner to create a more natural look. Take whatever you have left on your hands and lightly feather it out instead of adding more. Dilute – When you get to the body parts that bend, elbows, knees, ankles, you’ll need to dilute your self-tanner as those parts tend to absorb more and will appear darker if you don’t. The easiest way to dilute your tanner is to add just a bit of lotion to it before applying it to those areas. If you’ve already applied, you can simply rub some off with a slightly damp towel (don’t use a good towel because it may stain.)

4. Let it Dry

Now that you’ve taken the time to exfoliate and carefully apply your self-tanner you have to take the time to let it dry completely. If you don’t all that hard work will be for not and you’ll end up with marks and streaks from where your clothes hit. Wait a minimum of 10 minutes before getting dressed and even after that it’s best to wear loose fitting clothing and avoid sweating for up to 3 hours after application.

5. Moisturize

Depending on what self-tanner you use will determine how long it will last and how often you have to do it to achieve your desired darkness. To help prolong the life of your tan be sure to moisturize daily to keep skin soft and glowing. And of course, don’t forget your sunscreen! I love using Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion with SPF 15 for daily use and then when I’m planning a day in the sun I’ll use Kiehl’s Activated Sun Protector™ Water-Light Lotion For Face & Body.


So now that you know how to prep your skin, what are some good self-tanners to choose from? Below are my top five self-tanner recommendations based on reviews and personal experience.

1. Neutrogena Micromist Airbrush Sunless Tanning Spray

Just like you guys, one of my first questions when compiling my list of self-tanners is, “What does Alison use?” The answer, Neutrogena Micromist Airbrush Sunless Tanning Spray in Medium. Why does she use it? Not only does it take her skin up a few shades, but it’s also super easy to apply, budget-friendly and easy to find online or in store.

2. Rodan + Fields Essentials Foaming Sunless Tan

Personally, I like using Rodan + Fields Essentials Foaming Sunless Tan. It doesn’t have a bad smell and the foam makes for a nice and smooth application. The color looks natural and doesn’t take too long to appear. I usually apply it after my shower at night and so far I haven’t had any issues with it staining my clothes or sheets. One drawback is the color only lasts about three to four days so if I want to keep my tan I need to reapply a little more often.

3. Tanceuticals CC Self Tanning Body Lotion

If you want to go more than just a few shades darker then you need to try Tanceuticals CC Self Tanning Body Lotion. According to is one of the top-rated self-tanners, easy to apply, dries quickly and the color lasts about a week. They have multiple shades so you can pick how dark you want to go as well as a separate tanning lotion for your face. You can also find this product on Amazon which always makes for easy ordering.

4. St. Tropez Tanning Essentials Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse

If you want some color in a hurry then try St. Tropez Tanning Essentials Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse. You can control how dark you want to get based on how long you leave it on. For a lighter tan, shower an hour after applying, for a darker color, wait three hours to shower. Everyone is different and your time may vary so it may take a little trial and error to figure out the best amount of time to achieve your desired color. St. Tropez has an extensive line of fantastic self-tanners that can both give you instant or gradual color, as well as products to help maintain your color.

5. Jergens Natural Glow

Jergens Natural Glow makes two products I absolutely love! They are super easy to use, require little prep work and will take my color up a few notches. First is Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer which comes in two different color levels. I simply apply it after my shower and within a few days the color will start to appear. Second is Jergens Natural Glow Wet Skin Moisturizer + Firming. This allows me to moisturize and apply tanner all while in the shower and anything that saves me time is a keeper. I’ve only used the Jergens Wet Skin for a few weeks and while I like the color it’s giving me, especially for those areas that will never see the sun, the jury is still out on its firming properties. For both of these products, I will say the color is not quick and it’s not intense, but for ease of use, it’s perfect for my busy life. Just remember to still wash your hands with soap after use to avoid overly stained hands.

Your turn! What’s your favorite self-tanning lotion? Do you have any tips or tricks you use for applying your self-tanner?