The perfect tan is elusive. At least it always has been for me. People talk about “making it last” and “evening out tan lines” throughout the summer… Sounds stressful! Particularly because I’m a fair-skinned baby, it’s summer, and I’m feeling lazy. So I’ve decided to give up on the natural glow and go HAM on the fake stuff. June is, after all, National Self Tanner Trial And Error Month. Heading into the holiday weekend, I think I've finally figured out how to game the tan system.
Of course, it wasn't always this easy. I’ve tried self-tanning cream, oil, gel, mousse, wipes, you name it. Once, I tried to mix a self tanner with whatever body lotion I had on hand. It was Amlactin—which is made up of 12% AHAs. The exfoliating power coupled with the bronzing goop brought all the dead skin cells to the surface in a very obvious way. Not cute!
Now that it’s backless/sideless-Reformation dress weather, I’ve established a twice-weekly routine: exfoliate, wash, apply, repeat. (It’s quicker than it sounds.) In the shower, I scrub my body using a rough washcloth and my favorite Kiehl’s Musk Shower Gel (use whatever one you like, but something scented helps mask any tanner odor). Once I thoroughly towel dry, I break out the self-tanner lotion and mitt (mitt is non-negotiable) and work from my legs up, being careful to not apply too much to my knees, elbows, and feet. After three days, it’s time to scrub down and start over. This keeps things looking surprisingly natural. Because practice makes perfect.
But not all self-tanners were created equally. And I can’t recommend just one—different formulas work for different occasions, depending on your color preference, clothing situation, and skill level. Choose wisely and you’ll never look back. Happy tanning!
Best For Beginners: St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
Considered to be the gold standard for self tanners and for good reason. The brown mousse is easy to blend and you can actually see which areas you’ve covered as you go—this is essential. The resulting color is not even remotely orange. Just be sure to use a mitt to save your palms.
Best For Face: Clarins Radiance-Plus Glow Booster
Fake tanning your face seems like a dangerous game. And it was! Until Jessica told me about these. Now several people in the office are hooked and we all glow beautifully at our desks. Add precisely three drops to your moisturizer at night and apply to neck and chest. It works gradually, so you needn’t worry about messing it up—build up to your ideal tan level and enjoy.
Best Natural Fade: Vita Liberata Fabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion
No weird streaks! No transfer to my white sheets! And no more pale legs! My version of perfection in a bottle.
Best Smelling: Clarins Self Tanning Milky Lotion for Face and Body
Fake tan odor is definitely something you can live with...but why do it when you clearly don’t have to? This one has the creamiest, most luxurious texture and the fig extract makes it smell yummy—which is something I can’t say for most of these.
Best For Dry Skin: Josie Maran Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanner
Self-tan oil is a miraculous invention and so bow down to noted bronzed goddess, Josie Maran. She includes a velour mitt that holds on to the product as you swirl it all over your body. If you’ve never self-tanned your entire body (just parts of it), try this stuff. It’ll change your game.
Best For Last Minute: Bliss Hide and Glow Sleek
Not all faux glows need to develop over the course of a few hours. This one is a spray that seamlessly covers skin with a fine veil of body makeup. Shocker of all shocks: Once it dries, there’s no transfer to clothes, chairs, nothing. Use if you weren’t planning on wearing a dress today and then changed your mind at the last second.
Best For Small Areas: Tan Towels
Do not use these all over your body. Repeat, do not use these all over your body. You will mess up, you will be streaky, and you won’t be able to correct it reliably. But Tan Towels are a great product for other things! Let’s say you’re exposing some shoulder, décolletage, or back. Go over the specific area with one of these guys and poof, you’re golden. And if you’re traveling, this is the only feasible way to bring some tan with you. Never leave home without it!
Screenshot via Instagram.
But first: body lotion. Got any recommendations?