As we’ve learned, the sun is bad for our skin.
No one looks worse with a little glow, though, and I am a self-proclaimed spray tan queen.
The good news? It’s not 2005 anymore. Formulas have vastly improved since the days of your orange fake bakes. There are tons of products that will give you a tan in just hours, but it’s all about the technique. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way for faking the perfect glow without ever stepping into the sun.
Prep is important
There are so many times I hear people say that all at-home tanning products are streaky and splotchy, but it almost always depends on the prep. No matter what you choose to self-tan with (spray, lotion, oil, foam), your skin needs to be prepped and ready.
When should you prep? There are two schools of thought when it comes to tanning: to exfoliate/shave the day before and to exfoliate/shave the day-of. If you are doing it the day-of, you want to wait a few hours in between prep and tanning. Everything from water temperature to not-fully-absorbed moisturizer can mess up your tan. If you don’t want to prep skin the day before, at least wait 4-6 hours after showering/shaving/exfoliating.
Exfoliation is the key to most of your skin care life, including self-tanning. Sloughing away dead skin clears a path for the tan to stick. You know I love exfoliating gloves for this job. They’re cheap, they’re available at any drugstore and they’re mess-free. You want your skin as soft as possible when you exfoliate and shave so soak in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes prior or do it at the end of your shower. Hot water feels great, but it’s super drying. Once your skin is soft, wet the gloves, coat them with a gel body wash, cream can leave a residue (I like Love Beauty & Planet Coconut Water & Mimosa Refreshing Body Wash) and use up-and-down motions all over your body to get rid of any dead skin.
Shaving is next. Use a brand new or super-sharp blade. Dull blades can cause irritation and razor burn as well as ingrown hairs. Don’t go over the same spot too many times to curb unnecessary irritation.
Then, moisturizing. I’ve heard of people not moisturizing before a spray tan, but my tan comes out insanely uneven if I’m not smooth and hydrated. I prefer to use a light, gel-cream moisturizer like The Body Shop Almond Milk Body Yogurt.
Pick your tan
“Know thyself” is my beauty and skin care motto. You have to know what works best for you and what fits into your life. You can find tanning mousse, oils, lotions or sprays just about anywhere from Sephora to Target. Tanning mitts typically are used to administer mousses or foams, but I would pick one up anyway. Use these soft mitts to help even out splatter or streaks. As far as my preference, sprays work best for me (I love SalonBronze Airbrush Tanning that I pick up at Sally Beauty.) Check out my list of favorite at-home tanning products below.
Mind your face
The skin on our faces is a little different than the skin on our bodies. While some tanners might work great on your arms and legs, they might cause breakouts or irritation on your face. I recommend Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Drops to give your face a nice glow without undoing all of your skin care’s hard work. It’s made to be mixed with moisturizer for a subtle glow or a deep tan. I mix about a half-dropper of the medium shade with a dollop of moisturizer (again, a light gel-cream such as The Inkey List Peptide Moisturizer works best) and apply it to your face.
Find a buddy
This isn’t a necessary step, but it might be worth it to have someone help you with hard-to-reach spots. I’ve been out one too many times with stripes across my back, and it’s not cute. If you don’t have someone to help, try a handy tool like Bondi Sands Self-Tanning Back Applicator to get all over your back and in between shoulders.
Another tip: don’t forget to get ALL of you — including armpits — to avoid unevenness.
Wake up like this
The best time to apply a self-tanner is before bed. This gives the product time to develop without any threat of streaking, running or getting rinsed off. Apply your tan and let it dry for at least 15-20 minutes before getting dressed. To avoid bronzed sheets, cover your whole body with pants, socks and long sleeves. Wake up looking like you’ve spent a weekend in Key West.
Give it a rinse
Both me and my BFF Gina swear by the after-tan rinse. The color that comes out on your skin when you first apply your tan is the guide color — that’s not the actual color the product will turn, but a way for you to see what you’re doing. (This doesn’t apply to clear tanning waters, however.)
The day after self-tanning (or AT LEAST 12 hours after applying), rinse your body in the shower under lukewarm water, but don’t use any products as they can disrupt the new tan’s barrier. This will rinse off any excess residue and guide color, leaving you with a gorgeous, even glow.
Fix your mistakes
There definitely are things that can go wrong with self-tanning. For streaks or patches, use an oil-based sugar scrub or a depilatory cream (be careful if you have sensitive skin) to even out areas where there’s too much pigment. You also can buy a tan eraser such as Isle of Paradise Over It Magic Self-Tan Eraser to keep on hand for any mishaps.
Make it last
A body care routine throughout the week will extend the life of your tan. You worked hard for that glow, so keep it fresh by not using hot water and with gentle exfoliation and moisturizing after every shower.
My favorite at-home tanning products
Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Water in Medium (also comes in light and dark)
Isle of Paradise Clear Self Tanning Mousse in Medium (also comes in light and dark)
Salley Hansen Airbursh Legs Tanning Water (In-store only; Target, CVS, Rite Aid)
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT