Hey friends, happy Wednesday! With Spring (hopefully) here to stay, we’re moving more towards skirts, shorts, and tees, which signals one very important season… self-tanner time! Some people have beautiful, milky skin that looks great year-round. I’m not one of those people, ha! This girl needs color on her legs before showing them in public!
To celebrate shorts season just around the corner, I’m revisiting and updating my tips for using self-tanner! I’ve been using sunless tanning products for years, and have perfected the art of application to ensure an even, natural-looking ‘tan.’
Step One // Prep the Skin
The night before, do a full-body exfoliation, paying close attention to drier areas like elbows and knees. I like this mitt for removing dead and dry skin, and creating a smooth surface surface for application. (It’s also good for smoothing out keratosis pilaris bumps.)
It rinses clean and dries quickly so it lasts for ages. I’ve had the same exfoliating mitt for well over a year and it still works like a charm! You’ll also want to shave, since shaving after application will remove some of the tan.
Follow this up with a lot of moisturizer, especially on heels, elbows, ankles, and hands (I LOVE this one). These steps prepare your skin for an even absorption of the self-tanner the next day. You could apply self-tanner the same day, but wait until all the moisturizer is well absorbed.
Step Two // Body Application
Of all the formulas I’ve tried (and that’s a lot!), self-tanning mousses are the most forgiving with even, streak-free color. The St. Tropez Express Bronzing is my favorite for quick absorption and the most natural, deep tan… but Jergens is a close second and a great, more affordable option.
The key to the most natural application is using this mitt, and applying in small sections at a time. Seriously, the mitt makes all the difference in the world, plus it saves your hands!!
Start at your feet and work in small sections at a time so you can be sure to get even product distribution. I do three pumps of product directly on the mitt, and rub in small circular motions on the lower part of my leg… then three more for the upper leg. Then, rub the leftover product on the top of your foot and around the knee. Repeat on the other leg.
Same process for the arms, but using two pumps for the top half, and two pumps on the bottom half… and remaining product for tops of hands and elbows.
Then I make my way across my chest and stomach, down my sides, and as much as I can reach on my back. Obviously I can’t reach my entire back, so I either ask for help, or just leave it. Unless I’m planning to wear a swimsuit, I’m okay with a white spot on my back.
The last step is using the leftover product on the mitt and buffing the areas that might show a line like the wrists, ankles, and neck. The self-tanner is tinted and wet, so you’ll be able to see and feel where you apply it. If you’re more of a visual person, I made a video sharing my application… you can watch it HERE.
The mousses dry quickly, but I wait about 15-20 minutes before getting dressed. You could speed the drying process up with your hair dryer, too. I’ve never had any issues with it rubbing off on my clothes, but do steer clear of whites on the days I apply it. The products develop quickly, but I usually wear it all day, and shower it off before going to bed.
Of course it has a smell… all self-tanners do… but it’s worth it for the natural, sunless tan!
Illuminating Self-Tan Drops for Face | Sheer Renewal Day Cream (Use code SUGARPLUM20 to save 20%!)
Step Three // Face Application
As for the face, I prefer to use a product specifically for that skin, and my go-to is Tan-Luxe Illuminating Self-Tan Drops for Face. The non-toxic face oil combines a blend of organic ingredients (like raspberry seed oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E) for a radiant, natural-looking tan.
Simply mix 1-2 drops with your favorite face moisturizer and apply evenly to your face and neck. Colleen Rothschild’s Sheer Renewal Cream is my hands-down favorite day cream (it’s super hydrating, absorbs quickly, and leaves skin glowing!), and mixes well with these drops. Once the moisturizer is absorbed, you can proceed with your regular make-up application.
The more drops you use, the darker the tan, but I suggest starting small because it’s a potent formula! I use the ‘medium/dark’ and it only requires 1 drop for the perfect, bronzy tan. (The bottle lasts forever that way, too!)
From April to September, the majority of my tan comes from a bottle!
Leopard Swimsuit (4) | Beachy Pants (XS) | Necklace | Bangles (Use code HISUGARPLUM to save 15%!) | Sunglasses ($11!) | Hoop Earrings
Cavallo Halter (Use code SUGARPLUM15 to save 15%!) | White Skinny Jeans | Bamboo Circle Bag | Scarf | Gold Bead Bracelets | Gold Hoop Earrings | Lipstick in ‘I Can’t Wait’
Sunless Tanner Q&A
What about your sheets?! Does it stain them?
It might if I went to bed soon after, but that’s why I apply in the morning… so I can shower it off before bed! You could sleep in it, but you run the risk of getting it on your sheets… and honestly, I just don’t like the idea of sleeping in the smell!
How long do you wait to shower after application?
The St. Tropez is a rapid developer, so you could shower after just a few hours. I like to get maximum tan (without having to apply it again), so I leave it on all day and shower before bed.
Colorblock Swimsuit | Packable Hat (A-Khaki) | Sunglasses ($11!) | Bangles (Use code HISUGARPLUM to save 15%!)
How long does the bottle last?
Obviously it depends on how often you tan, but I’ve had the same bottle for almost a year. Unless you’re using it every few days, I think it would definitely last you several months.
Do you put self-tanner on your face?
I’m pretty fussy about what I apply to my face, so I mix a couple of Tan-Luxe drops (like these or these) in to my morning moisturizer for a subtle glow and to better match my body.
Can you apply after a shower, or do you need to wait?
You could apply same day, just make sure your skin is dry and fully absorbs all the moisturizer.
How long does the tan last?
That all depends on how you treat your skin! I avoid shaving as long as possible and keep my skin well-moisturized, and my tan will last around a week! Shaving and exfoliating removes the tan faster. And lots of moisturizer helps your skin hang on to the color.
Positively Poplin Roll Tab Shirt | Playa High Waist Short (Use code SUGARPLUM15 to save 15% on both!) | Miller Sandals | Straw Hat | Rattan Bangles | (The tie around my hat is from the Blissful Blouson Dress!)
How often do you tan?
In the spring and summer months, I tan every 7-10 days. In cooler months, I just do it when I’m going to be taking photos, or when I need a mood boost. I just always feel like I look better with a little color!
Do you follow these steps every time?
Yes! Dry, dead skin will grab the tan more, creating darker patches. So it’s important to exfoliate and moisturize well between tans. It’s okay if some of the previous tan remains on the skin, as long as you’re smooth.
What about sun protection?
These sunless tanners don’t contain SPF, so you absolutely still need sunscreen when you go out!
What color do you use?
I always choose the darkest shades… that way I use less product, and have to re-apply less often. Basically, it’s more bang for your buck!
One Shoulder One Piece Swimsuit (4) | Bangles (Use code HISUGARPLUM to save 15%!) | Jean Shorts (26) (Other options HERE) | Hat | Sunglasses ($11!)
Do you add tanner to your armpits?
I add tanner to any area that naturally gets sun.
Do you wash your hands after?
The mitt protects the palms of your hands, so there’s no need to wash after. Just make sure you rub product over the tops of your hands and fingers. Washing actually creates streams of water on your wrists and arms, and leaves streaks! That’s one of the genius parts about using the mitt!
Do you protect the floor?
The mousse stays on the mitt and your body, so there’s no dripping or sprays! You can apply it anywhere! (Anywhere you’re comfortable being naked, anyway!)
Camden Elbow Sleeve Top (Use code SUGARPLUM15 to save 15%!) | White Jeans | Gold Bead Bracelets
Is it okay to shave your legs later?
You can shave, but you’ll be taking a thin layer of tan with you every time. I usually try to wait as long between shaves as possible (on my legs).
Do you wet the mitt with water first?
No, I use it dry and just let it air-dry between uses.
Swimsuit | Packable Hat (A-Khaki)
Does it wear off in pools or hot tubs?
The tanner actually ‘stains’ the skin, so it doesn’t wash off… it has to wear off through exfoliating, shaving, or natural shedding. The only issues I ever have with pools is the chlorine drying out my skin, creating darker spots in some areas. But it’s not anything that noticeable nor does it bother me. No one is looking that closely at you!
Does it smell?
There’s no avoiding a smell completely with self-tanners… but the St. Tropez is much milder than the Jergens.
Seashell Scoop Bodysuit | Positively Poplin Roll Tab Shirt (Use code SUGARPLUM15 to save 15% on both!) | Jean Shorts | Straw Hat | Double Strand Necklace | All-Weather Bangles: Gold & Champagne (Use code HISUGARPLUM to save 15%!) | Sunglasses | (My belt is the tie from the Blissful Blouson Dress!)
Is it sticky?
Both formulas dry fairly quickly, but you can use a hair dryer to speed drying on stickier areas. Again, the St. Tropez dries quicker and is less sticky than the Jergens.
What if I want it darker?
I’d first wait a full day after showering (the product still continues to darken a little), then just apply another layer. No need to exfoliate again because your skin is still smooth and you don’t want to remove any of the first day’s tan.
Exfoliating Mitt | Applicator Mitt | Sunlass Mousse Tanner | Illuminating Self-Tan Drops for Face
Okay, hopefully that answers all your questions and the video was helpful for getting your own safe and sunless tan at home! Do you have a self-tanner you swear by? I’m always open to trying new formulas and products, so let me know! Now bring on the shorts and sundresses!
It’s a little too early in my part of the country for shorts or crops, but I’ll keep these tips handy. I haven’t sunbathed in decades but once upon a time I’d use a sunbed before a trip to Maui … ‘to lay down a base tan’. Basically starting my sun damage early. I’m paying for it now, just got a biopsy on a suspicious spot on my back and am waiting for results.
So don’t ‘bake’. ‘Fake it’ instead!
Fake it instead… that’s my suntan motto!! Prayers for a benign spot as well, Patricia <3 xoxo, Cassie
Hi Cassie! Do you have any tips for sunscreens that work well over tanning products like these? I’m worried about picking the wrong sunscreen and getting weird splotches 🙂
Hi Laura! Once the tan has set, you’re good to go! I use a range of sunscreens and they’ve all be fine! xo. C
I began using the Jergen’s mousse last year at your recommendation! I love it! I notice that you mention the Deep Aruba shade… How do the “Deep Aruba” and “DeepTahiti” compare to the light bronze and deep bronze shades. I am seeing them both listed for sale online (but not the Jergen’s site) and wondered if maybe the names had just been changed! Any insight from the faux tan guru? Thanks for representing a healthy model for us pale gals!
I think I’ve tried the deep tahiti…it was a good color! Not sure about those other shades! I’d check out the reviews to see what others say, those are usually really helpful! xo. C
Thank you so much for your tips! My pale skin can always use a good self-tanner! I love the romper in the your video. Can you share where its from and size reference, please?
Here is the link to that romper, and I’m in a Small! xo, C
I was just searching on your site to find the old post last week! Thanks for the update!
Just in time!!! xo, C
Great information! I use the Jergens mousse and I love it. But I’ve never self tanned my face. If I did would I have to change to a darker foundation color to match?
Depending on how much tanner you use, you’d likely just go ahead and change to the color you likely already use for summer! xo. C
Great tips! Totally agree on the mitt to apply. I just got one with a new brand I tried and it’s a game changer!! I got Coco & Eve Bali Bronzing Foam in Dark. They also have facial drops to match but I didn’t try those. Another brand I like that has a shimmer and comes in travel size is L’oreal Sublime Bronze Medium. I use that for touch ups when I travel, mostly for my legs. Lastly I like the Norvell Bronze airfoam mousse but prefer the smell of Coco & Eve.
Oooh, all good info here Courtney, thank you!!
I bought a bottle of St. Tropez mouse in February and it’s sitting here on my counter waiting for me to work up the nerve to try it! I don’t know the reason I’m so scared of the process but your tips make it seem easy and doable, I’ll give it a try.
Yes Jeannine! You can do it! It’s (obviously!) temporary, so if you make a ‘mistake,’ it’ll come off!!! xo, C
These are great tips! Thanks! Any tips on face application? Similar prep I’m guessing? Any special treatment for around the eyes?
Hi Kathy! I have a face application section in the post!! Mix 1-2 drops of the face tan drops into your regular moisturizer. xoxo, C
Hi Cassie! I’m newer to your blog but I’ve quickly become OBSESSED! Love all of your fabulous content! Thanks so much for these great tanning tips. I’ve ordered the products you recommended and I’ve done a couple of trial runs in preparation for an upcoming beach trip. I’d definitely like to get the tan darker, but I’ve been hesitant to leave it on longer than the 3 hours it states for a “dark tan (I’m using the St. Tropez). I know you mentioned you leave yours on all day. How many hours typically? Have you ever had it get crazy dark? Thanks for your feedback!
Hi Audrey, welcome!! Thanks so much for joining me in this little corner of the internet! I haven’t ever timed it, but I mean… 8 hours or so?? It’s never crazy dark! Check my latest Dressing Room Diaries and Amazon Hauls to see my tan!! xo, Cassie
I love your blog and appreciate this timely post! Do you put any tanner on your fingers and toes? If so, how do you do it? How to you avoid lines, and does it tint your toenails? ….so many questions! 😬
Hi Meg! I use the fit to run the excess product already on the mit over the tops of my hands, down to about the second knuckle on my fingers, and also over the tops of my feet to my toes.