There are a few tricks to looking (and smelling) good in self-tanners! The problem is self-tanners naturally stick in the thicker areas of your skin like freckles and knees. They also dry out your skin and the active ingredient has a funny mayonnaise-like smell. I still love self-tanners and will take them over sun-damaged skin any day.
Self-tanners stain the outer, dead skin cell layer. This highlights how thick and dry this layer is. Your skin needs to be exfoliated and moisturized BEFORE you apply self-tanners. You’ve also got to be apply much less product on the thicker areas of your skin like your knees, elbows and feet.
3 Steps For Self-Tanning Products So You Look (And Smell) Great
1. Prepare Your Skin First!
Exfoliate your skin in the bath or shower and moisturize immediately after toweling dry. Physical exfoliation is where you scrub off the extra dead cells using something rough. The most effective products for this are the Body Buf Puf or Salux Cloth. Other options include a luffa sponge or an exfoliating body polish.
Scrub gently, but use more pressure and scrub longer over the thicker skin areas of your knees, elbows, the back of your hands and tops of your feet.
Immediately after toweling dry (within three minutes — no more), apply a rich moisturizer. Ideally your moisturizer should contain an alpha hydroxy acid for additional exfoliation. There are two really good options.
- The first is a light-textured moisturizer great for hot weather and humid environments. It’s in my Ultra-Fast Body Smoothing AHA Kit.
- Another good option has a heavier hydrating feel, ideal for dryier climates. This product is Glytone Body Lotion (which is in my AHA Body Skin Care Kit).
2. Know When And How To Apply Self-Tanners
Apply self-tanner immediately after toweling off from your bath or shower. You can apply it before, or in place of, your moisturizer. Don’t put the tanner on if you haven’t just bathed because you’ll get an alligator look.
Apply very little product over areas with thicker skin. Using your leg as an example. Put some product in one palm, rub your hands together and then smooth the product over the thinner skin on your lower leg and thigh, but avoid touching your knee or foot until you have almost no product left on your palms. Then very briefly rub your palms over the back of your foot and the front of your knee. Because the thick skin in these areas picks up more product, they can look much darker than the thinner areas of your skin. This gives a dirty look.
Always wash the product off your palms entirely when you are done. If you don’t, your hands will look dirty. Your palms qualify as areas of thick skin and will stain darker than the rest of your skin.
Lighten overly dark areas by physically exfoliating them. If you still find some areas are darker, lighten with a light physical exfoliation using the Salux Cloth, Buf Puf or a body polish.
3. Be An Artist
Refine your technique to get a natural look. Apply more product over the parts of your skin that would naturally be darker if you had a sun tan (meaning the tops of the arms should be darker than the under surface). This can be done by applying more product the first time, or doing a second application.
If you don’t intend to apply the tanner to your entire skin surface, then feather it in to those areas by gradually applying a thinner layer. Don’t stop abruptly, leaving a big color difference. Self tanner application is a lot like painting and you can dial in the color.
There are tons of options available. I prefer a thinner product that allows you to put your moisturizer on top without feeling heavy or greasy. My favorites:
- Avene Moisturizing Self-Tanning Lotion My new favorite! It has a light feel, no heavy fragrance and a relatively hypoallergenic base that’s perfect under my AHA Body Lotion.
- Clarins Gelee Auto Bronzante Express. Clarins consistently gets high ratings for its self-tanners. I used this product for years and it, too, works well under moisturizer. The fragrance is subtle and the color is good.
- L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Spray. This is a great way to apply tanner to your back! I’m not fond of the fragrance, but the spray is brilliant.
- Jergens Natural Glow and Neutrogena Summer Glow (this may no longer be available). These good products are a little too heavy to use under a moisturizer. This means you’ll get the best results if you use them every other day alternating with an AHA moisturizer on alternate days to avoid the dry alligator look.
Self-tanners work beautifully to give you great looking bronzed skin…without the wrinkles and age spots you’d get from the sun. With proper application, you can rely on self-tanners to give you a tan look whenever you want.