Think outside the beauty box



June 15, 2022

Self-tanner 101: get your best tan ever

Photo of woman sitting in a lawn chair reading a book

Credit photo: Apostolos Vamvouras


Self-tanner can be an absolute game-changer when it comes to confidence and feeling great about yourself. But it can also be an unmitigated disaster. Although tanning products themselves have come a long way over the last five years, prep and application techniques are crucial to getting a streak-free natural glow. As well as tanning products themselves, applicators, moisturizers, and even erasers all play a part in getting the best possible sunless tan. We’re sharing our go-to tanning routine so you can look and feel like a perfectly bronzed babe this summer.


Tanning products

Much like natural skin tones, tans vary widely in depth and undertones. Finding your perfect tan shade is somewhat like finding the best foundation shade: it’s tricky, but once you’ve found it you just know your whole look will come together perfectly. You can even use tanning products to color correct any specific skin concerns you have, particularly when it comes to neutralizing red undertones.

Best facial tanning product:

Lux Unfiltered No. 12 Bronzing Face Drops


Lux Unfiltered No. 12 Bronzing Face Drops

These facial tanning drops are as versatile as they come: add a couple to your daily moisturizer to give yourself a healthy glow, or add 5 drops or more for a gorgeous deep tan. The lightweight oil-based formula blends effortlessly with your regular moisturizer, simply giving it a slightly thinner consistency. Apply it with your fingers, making sure to spread the mix evenly over your face, neck, and decolletage to avoid any tan lines. Wash your hands thoroughly to make sure you don’t get tanned palms, too! You can use the drops several times a week to build up your tan, or leave it until you need to reapply (usually after five days or so). 

Best “treat yourself” self-tanner:

Dior Bronze Self Tanning Water Sublime Glow


Dior Bronze Self-Tanning Water Sublime Glow

This newly re-formulated self-tan spray gives a skin a natural-looking glow all while nourishing and moisturizing it. The tanning milk is scented with signature Dior fragrance to create an elevated and enjoyable tanning experience, free from the off-putting smell of traditional tanning products. To apply the product, you can either spray the mist evenly over your body or spray it into the palm of your hand and rub the product into your skin. 

Best budget self-tanner:

L Oreal Paris Self Tanning Water Mousse


L’Oreal Paris Self-Tanning Water Mousse

A light water-based mousse, L’Oreal’s tanning water is a go-to if you’re looking for a good tan on a budget. You can layer it up to create a deeper tone by re-applying it several times over 24 hours. Apply the tanner with a mitt, and leave it to dry completely before you put on any clothes. Try to wear loose-fitting clothes to get the best results. The best time to apply it is before bed to give it time to develop overnight, and the product shouldn’t come off on your bed sheets.

Best self-tanner to take on vacation:

Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body Intense Glow

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pads for Body
When space is at a premium and you want to avoid having a fake tan leak all over your luggage these Glow Pads will be your perfect ally. They're small and easy to pack, while still giving a perfect tan on the go. Formulated with soy protein and encapsulated DHA, the pads offer a natural-looking glow, while lactic acid hydrates, along with AHAs and BHAs remove dead skin cells to avoid any darker patches from tan sticking to older skin. The tanner itself is drip-free so you can apply it without having to worry about making a mess either.

Best over all self-tanner:

St Tropez Self Tan Classic Mist

St Tropez Self Tan Classic Mist

This cult classic tanner has remained popular for years. Its easy application, natural-looking result, and inoffensive smell all make it one of the best-selling tanners year after year. The bottle is designed to make application easy, with a 360° nozzle. The tan develops over eight hours, so again, applying before bed is your best option. Once developed, your tan should last for around a week, at which point you can exfoliate and reapply.

Best makeup-style tanner:

Isle of Paradise Tanning Waters


Isle of Paradise Tanning Waters

Available in three shades, Isle of Paradise has created tanning waters that not only help you tan but also work to balance out your skin tone. It comes in peach, green, and violet, with peach being the palest and violet the deepest. The peach and violet tones both work to even out natural variations in your skin tone, while the green water actively counteracts red undertones. 

Best tanning lotion:

Clarins Milky Self Tanning Lotion


Clarins Milky Self Tanning Lotion

Suitable for both your face and body, the Milky Self Tanning Lotion does exactly what it says on the label. Its milky texture makes it easy to apply with minimal streaks, even on your face. The lightweight formula doesn’t clog pores, and can be layered to create the exact depth of tan you want. Unlike mousse, it can be a little more complicated to apply, so be sure you blend the areas well. Consider using a brush to make sure you remove excess from areas like your knees and elbows for a natural look.

Tanning accessories

Finding the perfect tan to suit your skin tone and your tanning routine is just one part of getting your tan on point. Being able to apply it without leaving streaks or tell-tales patches on your elbows, knees, and fingers will make sure your tan looks natural and glowy. It can be tempting to just put on tanning lotion in the same way you would any other moisturizer, but finding the best mitts and applicators will make the task a whole lot easier. 

Best tanning applicator:

Isle of Paradise Shape and Glow Blending Brush


Isle of Paradise Shape and Glow Blending Brush

Designed to make applying your tan more like applying makeup, the Blending Brush is designed to be used after you have applied your tan all over your body. Use it to buff out areas that need a little extra attention including your neck, hands, elbows, and ankles. You can also apply extra product to the brush and use it to contour areas such as your shoulders and neckline. Simply leave the brush to one side when you have finished, and rinse it with soapy water once you have let your tan dry.

Best back tanning aid:

Bondi Sands Back Applicator


Bondi Sands Back Applicator

Reaching your back can make DIY tanning feel impossible, but the Bondi Sands Back Applicator makes even the trickiest spots easy to reach. Apply your product to the applicator sponge, and rub the applicator across your back in circular motions. For the best possible results, stand with a mirror in front of you and another behind so you can easily see what you’re doing. 

Tan erasers 

Sometimes your tan just isn’t the one, or you despite your best efforts you end up with a streaky patch. Or it might just have become blotchy and it’s time to start the process again. Whereas in the past exfoliating with a body scrub and textured mitt would have been the go-to, there are now skincare products designed to make the process effortless. Relaxing, even. 

Best tan eraser spray:

Tan Luxe Glyco Water


Tan Luxe Glyco Water

A two-in-one product that can both prep your skin before tanning by removing dead skin cells and to remove unwanted tan remnants. Spray the water onto dry skin and gently rub in circular motions. Leave it to sit for a few minutes before washing it off. Your skin will feel smooth, free from dead skin cells, and comfortably hydrated. The perfect tan needs healthy skin as a base, and this is a great way to give your skin the care it needs ahead of your next tanning session. 

Best tan eraser soak:

Tan Bomb Tan Eraser


Tan Bomb Tan Eraser

Making removing your tan as relaxing as possible with the Tan Eraser bath bomb. The soak is formulated with a host of relaxing ingredients to help you chill while the bath bomb gets to work. Run a bath at your regular bathing temperature, and pop the bath bomb in. Leave it to dissolve before getting in the bath, and soaking for ten to 20 minutes. When you get out of the bath your tan will simply rub off, without the need to spend time exfoliating. Skin is left feeling hydrated and ready for your next tan.