Self tanner 101: best self tanner and how to apply it

March 5, 2019

I love a good summer tan, but I really love a good summer tan year round! So self tanner is basically my BFF. Some of the most frequently asked questions I get are about self tanner. Which one is the BEST? Which one it the BEST for your face? What is the BEST way to apply it? So today I'm tackling all those questions in one post so you can slay that beachy vacation glow all year long and protect your skin from sun damage! WINNING!

STEP 1: Exfoliate, exfoliate, EXFOLIATE!! Seriously. Do not skip this step. At least 24 hours in advance (if I can) I soak in the bath for at least 20 minutes. Longer if I have a really good book or podcast I'm into!! Then I use these charcoal exfoliating gloves that I totally love. Just go to town and exfoliate everything from the neck down super duper well!!

There's a lot of sugar scrubs and salt scrubs out there that do a fantastic job of exfoliation, BUT they also leave an oily residue on your skin. This is not the best base for applying a tan, because the oils act as a barrier and the tan has trouble sticking! If you know you're showering in between your exfoliation session and tan application then you're good, if not I would avoid these scrubs.

So charcoal gloves + bar soap without any oil in it to wash and exfoliate and then rinse it all off. This is going to give you your very best body base for a spray or self tan.

STEP 2: Exfoliate your face. Charcoal gloves would be like way harsh to use on your face. Ouch! I wash with this Tatcha Deep Cleanse Exfoliating Cleanser and exfoliate with ExfoliKate scrub or I do my weekly PMD treatment which is prob my favorite way to exfoliate! We have a pretty incredible discount coming at you guys soon but if you can't wait, you can use code MINT20 for 20% off site-wide.

STEP 3: It's tanning time! But first…get some lotion and put it on your elbows, knees, knuckles, ankles, heels, the backs of your knees -anywhere you're prone to drier skin- so that your tan doesn't end up double (or triple) strength in these spots where dry skin will soak up self tanner more than your normal skin! Yikes!

We own a professional spray tanning gun at our house but I also bought this spray tan a while back to test it out and I think it works REALLY well and it was about half the price of my professional machine. So if I could go back and do it again, I would probably just get this one!

I also found this spray tan gun on amazon and it looks almost identical to the one I paid $500 for and it has good reviews (only 6 people have reviewed it though…) but you could try this!

As for normal self tanners, my favorite lately has been this 2 hour express dark self tanner. You can buy it here or here! I LOVE that I can use it and get a decent tan in 2 hours if I forgot to self tan the night before something where I want to be tan or if I just wake up and look at myself and realize I'm looking pasty haha. I do love leaving it on overnight though and waking up and showering – I feel like it's even better if I can do that!

TIP: If you're doing a spray tan at home it's important to stand on a towel so that when you walk around and change positions you're not getting spray tan all over the bottoms of your feet!

STEP 4: Stay dry! You don't want to shower or get wet for at least 4-6 hours after applying self tanner or getting a spray tan. 24 hours is even better! This includes dishes, bathing littles or doing a really sweaty workout. Just Say No! A lot of times for me with 3 little kids the most practical way for me to pull this off is to do my spray tan right after the kids go to bed, and then wake up and shower it off the next morning.

TIP: If you're worried about a tan rubbing off on your sheets or linens you want to apply at least an hour before bed, if possible, so it has some time to set in. Last night I applied this self tanner and then let it “dry” for about 30 mins and hopped into bed and my bed sheets were fine the next morning!

STEP 5: Moisturize like crazy! Once you've showered it's all about extending that gorgeous tan. This in-shower moisturizer is really good. This Brazilian bum bum cream is also insanely amazing!

STEP 6: Maintain that face tan, girl! I use some type of self tanner on my face every few days so that my face stays as tan as the rest of my body! Because we all know the face tan is the first thing to go. Read up on all my personal recommendations for best facial self tanners here.

If my moisturizing game is on point I can typically make a spray tan or self tan last a week before I'm ready to do it again!

St. Tropez Pro Light or ​Spray Tan Airbrush Machine or 2 hour self tanner
Deep Cleanse Exfoliating Cleanser 
Exfolikate or ​PMD personal microderm (20% off w/ code MINT20)
Charcoal Exfoliating Gloves
Clarins Liquid Bronze or Facial Tanner towelettes
Wet Skin Moisturizer
Photos by Arielle Levy

Thirsty for more self tanner goodness? See all my favorite facial self tanners and application tips here! And a roundup of my favorite self tanners at every price point here! Are you into that endless summer tan? What are YOUR favorite products to use?

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