Our search for the perfect self-tanner

Our search for the perfect self-tanner abeautifulmess.comSummer is on its way here! Unless you are one of those lucky ducks that lives in warm weather all year round, you've probably been dreaming about shorts and beach attire for the past six months, and you're itching to pull your spring and summer clothes out of storage. In anticipation of pool parties and picnics, we wanted to hunt down the perfect self-tanners and get a jump on some summer color. Here at the office we have some people with really fair skin as well as others that like a richer and darker color, so we wanted to find a good option for everyone when it came to their perfect idea of a summer glow.

First off, you'll want to exfoliate your skin before applying the self-tanner. Exfoliating will remove the top layer of skin that is just about to come off, so your tan will last longer. With any self-tanner that you use, you'll want to moisturize your knees, elbows, ankles, hands, and feet before applying self-tanner. Quickly gloss over knees and elbows with the tanner and fade a small amount of the color onto the tops of your hands and feet so the color doesn't just stop suddenly. This will help give the tan a more natural look. Oh, and make sure to shave at least 24 hours before using the tanner to give the pores a chance to open back up again (otherwise it may be a bit splotchy).  Our search for the perfect self-tanner abeautifulmess.com

Nivea Sun-Kissed Radiance: This is the perfect self-tanning lotion if you have fair skin. Just apply the lotion as you would ordinary moisturizer, and you'll see a subtle change in color with each use. You'll also get the added benefit of soft skin since it's got a lot of the same moisturizing properties as regular lotion. Just make sure the lotion has fully absorbed before getting dressed, and wash your hands after application. 

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Airbrush Self-Tanning: This is another great option for light-skinned individuals. It takes a few minutes to get used to the spray feature (if you aren't already a spray painting genius), but the key is to keep the sprayer moving back and forth at all times and start farther away when you start the spray, and back off as you stop. It smells great, feels light, and it only takes about 10 minutes to dry. Plus, it's really affordable and you can easily find this item at your local drugstore—perfect!

St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse: We love this mousse for achieving a natural, even, medium glow. I would definitely suggest also purchasing an application mitt when using a tanning mousse. You can use it several times and it saves your hands from darkening. Just pump a squirt of the mousse onto the mitt and apply it in small circles (almost as if you were buffing a car). This tanner has a bit of a "self-tanner smell," but it's not very strong, and once you rinse off, the faint smell fades away. If you apply the tanner at night and plan on rinsing off in the morning (you should wait 4-8 hours before getting wet), I would apply it at least two hours before climbing into bed. I don't see the tanner on my light grey sheets, but I sleep on my side (with my arm under the pillow), and a few spots rub off if I apply it too close to bedtime.

Sun Laboratories Overnight Tan: We liked this lotion a lot. If you consider yourself the type of person who does get a decent tan throughout the summer but you're currently at ground zero (a.k.a. the winter-pale-leg-blues), we'd highly recommend giving this lotion a try. Apply a small amount of the lotion to your skin, rubbing the lotion in until it's completely absorbed (we suggest wearing latex gloves to keep your hands from becoming too dark). You'll be able to tell a difference after one application, but for a deeper tan you can apply another layer a few days later (up to three times within the first week). Do not rinse off or shower for at least a couple hours after applying this lotion.

Tanwise Dark Bronzing Sunless Mousse:  This is the darkest of our favorite tanning products. The same rules apply as applying the St. Tropez mousse, but you'll get a darker result once you are done. Tanwise also has a gel for your face and neck that produces an even tan with a great cherry/almond smell. You don't even feel the need to wash your face once it dries (which is pretty quick)! Our search for the perfect self-tanner abeautifulmess.com  Take care of your tan by:
-Choosing a soap-free moisturizing body wash. Soap will strip your tan from your skin faster, so look for a soap-free body wash (it should say it's soap-free on the packaging) that will moisturize as well. 

-Exfoliating every day. Even though this does take a little bit of the tan off each time, it helps the tan fade more evenly (instead of fading in patches).
-Moisturizing daily with lotion. This will hydrate your skin, keep the top layer of skin from coming off too quickly, and will also fade your tan more evenly. 

I personally was pretty skeptical of self-tanner before this challenge. I did an airbrush spray tan at a salon last year in a quest to get out of the sun, but even though it wasn't streaky or orange, it smelled pretty bad, felt sticky, and it was too expensive to maintain for very long. Now I have several products that I like, and I can use them at home in the middle of our Missouri winters—yes! Just having more color this week has brought out the spring fever and summer longing in all of us. Hope you find your perfect glow as well! xo. Laura

Credits // Author: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Laura Gummerman & Elsie Larson. Photos edited using Stella from the Signature Collection.  

  • ‘Dove Summer Glow’ is another great one! It’s lovely to applicate, it has a nice even effect (if you follow Laura’s instructions to moisturise and exfoliate) and it smells fantastic! 🙂

  • definitely agree!!! Check out my blog post about it! Best self tanner i’ve ever used http://beautyjunkiezz.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/how-to-get-the-perfect-self-tan/

  • I just bought it this week and started using it. So far I really like it too!

  • I am not sure if you have Dove in the US. They have a really good self tanning lotion. I only use it on the legs as they seem to get a tan last. I first use a normal lotion to moisture the skin and then use the tanning lotion right after that. Works like a charm. I use it for a while until my legs catch up with the rest 😉

  • Great post! And perfect timing too. I’m going on vacation soon but have been feeling super pale and am embarrassed taking blog photos in shorts due to the major paleness factor. Will definitely be trying the Nivea for a subtle glow…

    xx Martyna

  • I wish this would work for me! I’ve tried basically every tanning product in existence and I am allergic to them all. Add that to my pale skin from a british background that simply doesn’t tan and I am destined to be a ghost forever!

    Boooooooooooooo! 😉

    – Taryn Elise xx

  • Super post! St. Tropez products are my personal favorites 🙂


  • I have porcelain colour skin so natural looking fake tan is a must have for me. I’ve tried so many brands and have to say the St Tropez Bronzing Lotion comes out top for me. It applies really well, dries fairly fast and I feel it is better than the St Tropez Bronzing Mousse as it doesn’t leave your skin scaly. The colour is great too, not orange at all, it just looks really natural which is hard to achieve when your skin is so pale! 🙂

  • Reducing exposure to the sun is great to help prevent cancer, so in that regard self tanners can be great for those who would like to have more of a tan, but slathering oneself in a bunch of toxic chemicals is hardly a great alternative. I suggest checking these products at http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ The Environmental Working Group has set up this great database of cosmetic products that they’ve tested for levels of toxic chemicals. I have slowly switched over most of my cosmetics (any product that goes on your body, not just make-up!) to less toxic alternatives. It’s taken a few years, but I think it’s worth it!

  • Try Tanceuticals! It was ranked the #1 self tanner for 2014 by www.selftanning.com 🙂

  • Great options! If you want to go all natural you can mix equal parts coconut oil and coco powder! It really works well! You can see my results here www.nicole-blissfullyblessed.blogspot.com
    Love your blog!!!

  • I’ve never really been one to fake tan before but I may give the Nivea one a go if I can find it! It sounds like its very subtle and I won’t just turn orange when I use it 🙂 Thank you for making this post!

  • Okay so having owned my own airbrush machine, etc….I am totally wanting to run right out and buy the Sally’s version (and reading the other blog post that someone posted here).

    What was your favorite when you consider ease of application, cost and color?

  • I’ve been loving the Nature’s Gate gradual self tanner because it’s a little more natural, and even thought it’s supposed to be scentless, it has a nice, fresh smell. It’s also even and I am that girl who thinks she’s found her perfect foundation shade when it’s “01 porcelain” and it’s STILL too dark.

  • You really need to add Xen-Tan to your list! Xen-Tan is more of an olive undertone. Not that orange look many self tanners can have. And the scent is yummy!

  • WAIT you forgot Jergens Natural Glow new unscented formula! SO cheap and SOOOO good. I have tried ALL and this is my fave. Check i out here.


  • I was using Jergens Natural Glow until I noticed the big orange stain on my white sheets where my legs go, ugh. I’d rather be pale.

  • I heard the L’Oreal one is really good, though I never tried it myself.
    Have an amazing day 🙂

  • I have the same frustration, Jenna! I’m in search for a good all-natural option!

  • Thanks so the advice, I commented earlier about the same thing! I’ve always heard about Chocolate Tan but it seems like it has a million steps! I’ll try this for sure 🙂

    Emily St. John

  • Looking for an all natural, naturopath formulated, castile soap? I’ll hook you up Elsie and Emma! 🙂

  • Black stockings solid tint from Lush is my absolute favorite tanner. It looks really natural, smells amazing, and is super moisturizing. Only downside is that it washes off (maybe a plus if mistakes are made?) and it doesn’t work as well on the squishier parts of your body (stomach versus arms and legs) because it’s solid and you have to kinda rub it in.

  • This is super helpful and perfect time of year for self-tanner! I’ve been really into the self-tan towels. I really like the tan towel brand!

  • The Nivea one looks pretty good! Ive always been too scared to attempt self tanning, but that one seems gradual and even lotion like! Thanks for sharing 🙂


  • Agreed! Million Dollar Tan is the best self tanner I have ever used. I love the face lotion.

  • This only reminds me how pale I am from winter…I better work on this!

  • Unfortunately, my utterly light skin doesn’t allow me to take these kind of risks 🙂 I’d love to try one of your lighter suggestions, though! X

  • Yay, glad you like it! It’s the Tanwise sunless mousse 🙂


  • Just rub an exfoliating scrub all over your body and rinse off, you should be able to find them at any drug store/wal mart/target. Also, there are lots of soap-free options for body wash, just google it and you’ll see all the choices 🙂


  • thanks for posting this! I’ve been wanting to buy a self tanner but I’m always nervous about buying a product that might make me look streaky or orange.
    Dana Kay

  • I’ve got really pale Irish skin, I’m totally pasty and I never tan. I’ve tried so many self tanners and my favourite by far is Vita Liberata. It doesn’t smell like a lot of the other ones, and gives a really natural glow. It’s more of a sun-kissed look than a deep tan, but you can build it up. It’s also organic, a bit pricey but definitely worth it in my opinion.

  • Ha! Your hands look so white in that last pic though. You should check out this post from one of my favorite makeup blogs: http://www.maskcara.com/2014/03/18/the-perfect-tan/

  • I use St. Tropez at night before bed and haven’t had any issues with it rubbing off on my sheets or pillows. But I absolutely love it. I love that it’s paraben free and a mousse. I find that it blends really well and looks really natural. Right now, I use the medium tone but I could see myself using the darker mousse in the summer months.

  • I love self tanners at this time of year! What is the tan you have used on your legs in the photos? It gives your legs just the right amount of color and glow? Xx Elle

  • Im always so nervous to try self tanners. I might have to give it a try now

  • Just wondering, did they use this technique on their face at all? I always feel weird about have a tan body and white face.


  • This seriously came at the perfect time! I was just staring at my legs in that wary, should-I-even-try-to-expose-these-things-to-the-public way. I don’t really care for the tanning bed or booth and I really like the option of a self-tanner, but it’s so hard to find one since there are a ridiculous amount of options!

    How do you normally exfoliate beforehand? Also, what soap-free body wash do you use/suggest?


  • This is great… thanks!

    Sorry for the request, but could you make a DIY on how to dye converse, with out dyeing the inside 🙂

    Thank you.
    You two are such an inspiration.

  • Great post Laura! I’ve had such a hard time finding one that doesn’t streak or smell funny. Definitely trying your tips. 🙂

  • This is all really interesting to know! I love having the pale skin I do have, but it would be nice to change it up every now and again!


  • I absolutely needed this! THANK YOU! Off to buy a few as we speak…

    Sara | www.late-afternoons.com |

  • You should try Nature’s Gate Glow Lotion. You can pick it up at almost all Whole Foods stores or on Amazon. It’s completely fragrance free and it works better than any other self tanner I’ve tried (even the non-organic ones). I swear by the stuff.

  • Okay, I think it’s time I jump on the self-tanner bandwagon. I try to be really careful of not getting a *real* tan, but I went to the beach the other day and the paleness is getting a little out of control (definitely not the best when you live in San Diego!). Have you ever tried any all-natural self tanners? I only use all natural products, so I’m thinking about trying Chocolate Sun because I’ve heard good things. Hopefully it works just as well! Thanks ladies 🙂

    Emily St. John

  • I saw a professional make-up artist put on a self tanner with a make-up brush once and thought it was a BRILLIANT idea. I’ve done that ever since and it works great. I just rinse off the brush with some liquid soap and it’s good to go the next time. Hands are streak-free.

    Great blog topic – thank you!

  • My biggest frustration is the lack of organic sunless tanners!

  • St. Tropez is my absolute favorite! It dries super fast and changes your color immediately.

  • very interesting. I always have a hard time finding the perfect one xx


  • The Jergens Natural Glow products are awesome and no longer had that funny smell it did a few years ago. I was very surprised not to see it on your list. Check it out.

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