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Bronze Goddess: Ultimate Self-Tanner Guide

Think sun-kissed skin is cool? Think again! Skin cancer is the US's most popular cancer, with over 419,000 cases linked to tanning each year. That's more people getting burned by tanning than by cigarettes! Whether you're baking in the sun or toasting in a tanning bed, you're damaging your skin and upping your risk of all types of skin cancer, especially melanoma. Ditch the "real" tan and get a "fake" one instead - your skin will thank you later!

I'm a huge self tanner fan!! Self-tanner is like a magic bottle for your skin, giving you a gorgeous, golden glow without the ouch of real sun exposure. With a little practice, you can rock a tan whenever you want, no beach trip required. Plus, I'm here to share my secret stash of the best self-tanning products to help you achieve that sun-kissed look without the real sun-kissed ouch!

There are 5 Types of Self-Tanners, Tanning Lotion, Tanning Drops, Tanning Mousse, Tanning Gel, and Tanning Spray

Choosing a Self-Tanner

Which type of self-tanner should I use? You will want to consider your skin type & color when selecting a self-tanning product. Each type of self-tanner includes its own benefits.

  • Lotion: Great for beginners, builds slowly

  • Drops: If you are looking for a bronze glow, easy to apply

  • Mousse: Provides immediate color plus develops over 6-8 hours; Great if you are looking for a deeper color

  • Gel: Dries quickly & provides instant, deeper color

  • Spray: Dries quickly & provides instant, deeper color

Self-Tanning Lotions

Great for beginners and dry skin types, because they are hydrating and easier to control during application. Suggested for Beginners: People who appreciate a slow build and people who want to completely avoid the possibility of streaking. I suggest using daily for best results.

My Recommendation on Amazon: Jergens Natural Glow

Self-Tanning Drops (My FAVORITE!)

These tanning drops are ABSOLUTELY the best out there. Simply add to your daily moisturizer or serum and voila - a flawless finish. Suggested for:  Fair skinned people that want a glow but aren't used to a lot of color.

How to apply: Simply add 1:1 - one dropper full to one pump of body lotion (I use Cetaphil moisturizing lotion).

  • Use 1 Dropper full per leg (with 1 part body lotion)

  • Use 1 Dropper full for both arms (with 1 part body lotion)

  • Use 1 Dropper full for face & neck (along with your daily face moisturizer)

Tanning Mousse

Self-tanning mousse offers lightweight texture that is easy to blend, and is ideal for darker skin types that tan easily in the sun.  Suggested for People that Tan Easily: This foam provides a deeper, darker result, and I find it's best on people who typically are easy tanners - those with olive skin tones. I am fair skinned, and I have a hard time getting this product to blend well; although, it is an extremely popular self-tanning product with loyal users. How to apply: Apply self-tanner with a mitt to ensure a streak-free application. Apply in circular motions, blending thoroughly.

  • Apply 3-4 pumps on mitt per leg

  • Apply 1-2 pumps on mitt per arm

Self-tanning Gels

Gels are a good option for oily skin types as they are lightweight and fast-drying. The benefit to using a gel is that it dries immediately! Self-tanning gels work by reacting with the amino acids in the top layer of your skin to produce a temporary tan. Suggested for: If you need your tan to dry immediately.

My recommendation on Amazon: Glow Your Own Way

Self-tanning Sprays

A spray self tanner is a type of self-tanning product that comes in a can or bottle with a pump or trigger that releases a mist or spray of tanning solution. It is a convenient and quick way to achieve a bronzed look without sun exposure. Apply the tanner in a well-ventilated area. Start by applying a light layer of tanner at first and then build up color as needed. The nice thing about tanning spray is that the color shows up instantly.

Suggested for: If you want a deep, instant color that dries fast. Apply using a tanning mitt!

My recommendation on Amazon: Body Drench Quick Tan Spray + Tanning Mitt

Professional Spray Tan

If you are looking for a flawless finish with instant color, opt for a spray tan applied by a professional. The technician uses a handheld airbrush to apply the solution to your skin. This allows for a more customized tan, and the technician can target specific areas, such as your hands and feet.


My Tips on How to Apply Self-Tanner

  • Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate! Exfoliate your skin 48–72 hours before applying self-tanner to help it apply evenly and prevent patches. In the bath or shower, exfoliate your skin to remove dead skin cells that could cause streaks. Focus on thicker skin areas like knees, elbows, the back of your hands, and tops of your feet, using more pressure and longer scrubbing times.

  • Moisturize: Apply a rich moisturizer to dry areas like elbows, knees, and ankles as they tend to absorb more self-tanner and can appear darker.

  • Sunless Tanner Application: Apply the self-tanner immediately after toweling dry from your bath or shower. Use minimal product on areas with thicker skin, like knees, elbows, feet, and the backs of your hands. Start at your legs and feet, then move to your stomach, chest, and arms. Blend well around your ankles, heels, knees, and elbows. Wash your hands after each section.

  • Use a Mitt: Overall, using a tanning mitt can significantly improve the ease and quality of your self-tanning experience. Using a tanning mitt to apply self-tanner offers several benefits, including providing a streak-free application, keeping your hands clean, allowing an easier application and giving better control over the application, allowing you to apply the product more evenly and precisely. 

  • Wash your hands! Always wash your hands thoroughly after applying self-tanner. If you don't, your palms will likely stain darker than the rest of your skin, as they also have thicker skin.

  • Touch-up dark pots: If you notice any overly dark areas, you can lighten them with gentle physical exfoliation using a Salux Cloth, Facial Exfoliating Sponge, or a body polish.

  • Dry before Dressing: Allow the self-tanner to dry completely before getting dressed or doing anything active. Put on a robe and wait 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes if you are wearing light colored clothing.


What to Expect when using Self-Tanner

  • How long does the color last? Self tanners typically last for about 5-7 days, but this can vary depending on the product and your individual skin type.

  • Will the color transfer? Yes. You will want to wait at least 30 minutes before putting on your clothes and extend up to 1 hour for light colored or white clothing. Wait this same amount of time before jumping into bed. I also recommend switching to darker colored towels.

  • Tanning your hands: Washing your hands after application is a must to clean your palms. But it also takes all the product off the top of your hands too and sometimes can create splatter that results in little lighter circles on your forearm. HOT TIP: To avoid this, leave out the water completely and just use a little soap...

  • What if I sweat? All self-tanners are a temporary stain for your skin. If the self-tanner is not completely dry or you sweat, it will rub off and/or transfer on clothes & towels (recommend switching to colored towels). Sweat in your sleep? If you must apply self-tanner before bed, give your color the maximum time for the color to develop, then hop in the shower for a quick rinse right before you climb into bed.

  • What if I want to wear white? I recommend applying your self-tanner 24 hours before you need to wear white clothing.


Need an Instant Tan?

Use Bronzing Makeup for a Sun-Kissed Look

Makeup can also be your friend in achieving a bronzed look. Here are some tips:

  • Bronzer: Apply bronzer to areas where the sun naturally tans your face, like your forehead, cheekbones, and nose. My recommendation: YOUNIQUE TOUCH Matte Bronzer

best face bronzer

best face blush
  • Highlighter: Apply a tan colored highlighter to your cheekbones, brow bone, and cupid's bow to create a dewy, summery glow.My recommendation: YOUNIQUE TOUCH Fusion Highlighter

Bronzed Beauty with a Healthy Glow

With a little self-tanning magic and makeup know-how, you can achieve a beautiful, bronzed look without compromising your skin's health. Remember, a tan is temporary, but healthy skin is beautiful and lasts a lifetime!

xoxo - Melissa


Melissa Petroelje is a master hair stylist and hair colorist in Grandville, Michigan. Beauty Mark Salon by Melissa is a private, boutique salon in Grandville, Michigan by Melissa Petroelje, hair and makeup artist. Her Grand Rapids salon also specializes in permanent hair smoothing.  Looking for a new Grandville salon or Grandville hair stylist? Book Now!

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