How to Self-Tan: Tips & Products That Really Work!

The sun may be setting on our summer, but it doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to beautifully bronzed skin! Take it from me, someone who just does NOT tan no matter how many years I’ve tried and burned; you can have that summer glow even without the sun!!

Not all self-tanners are created equal - trust me when I say I have TRIED THEM ALL!! In my late teens and early twenties I abused my skin trying to force rosy, pale skin to become golden like my friends, and all I got were burns and freckles to show for it 🤦‍♀. Thankfully, when I turned 30 I saw the light, and started taking care of my skin. I swapped the sun for SPF and tanning beds for self-tanners. Some smelled awful, some gave me a lovely, orange glow, others ruined my clothing and sheets when it rubbed off.

After lots of trial and error I feel confident to say I’m pretty “experienced” on this particular topic. 😉 Porcelain skin is beautiful as is every shade thereafter, and this is in no way a post to say you have to tan. I say, do what makes YOU happy! Personally, I just like having a bit of bronze…maybe it’s the wanting what you don’t have, or the silly belief that it makes me look “better”, who knows, but I enjoy it and if you do too then here’s what I’ve found works for me.

First, and DO NOT Skip!

Exfoliate and Shave! I exfoliate with this great Dove drugstore exfoliating scrub that is my favorite, and then shave in the morning before I plan to self-tan that evening. Yes, it takes a little planning ahead, but if you’ve had trouble with your tan being uneven or not lasting, this will help a ton! Also, giving your pores time to close after shaving before the tanner is applied will help avoid the speckled spots on your smooth legs where the tanner can accumulate.

For razors, I swear by the Billie Razor. It’s the best razor I’ve ever used! It’s high quality and the convenience is amazing, sending me replacements each month for only $9. Such a great deal!

I also moisturize in the morning, especially my knees, elbows, and hands - places where the tanner can intensify.

At night before bed, I rinse off in the shower, dry off completely, and apply moisturizer again only to those areas that can over darken (knees, elbows, hands and feet.)

Now for the product! I have 3 favorites, depending on what you are going for!!

For a subtle, gradual tan, I love the L’Oreal Sublime Bronze in medium. It is a great drugstore find, smells like coconuts, is a clear foam that won’t damage clothes or bedding, and you can re-apply as often as you want to intensify the color. It is super affordable and easy to use so I highly recommend it!

For another gradual option that’s easy to take with you anywhere and has great skin benefits, I love the Isle of Paradise drops! They have hyaluronic acid which moisturizes the skin. You apply the drops directly to the skin and rub them in; quick and easy and you can add more or less depending on the desired color.

But my #1 recommendation is the Loving Tan Express Dark Mousse! It does have a slight smell, but the color is almost instant and fully develops within 2 hours. The foam is brown, unlike the clear Sublime, so you can see where you are applying which helps with an even application. I make sure to allow 5 minutes to fully dry before putting on clothes or going to bed, when I do this I haven’t had any issues with damaged fabrics.

Once you pick a product, here are my tips!

  • - Exfoliate & shave 8-24 hours before.

  • - Moisturize areas like elbows, knees, hands, and feet before applying self tanner.

  • - Work in small areas at a time, the lower leg, upper leg, left arm, right arm etc. I use 3 pumps of the foam on this mitt from amazon. It is super affordable, great quality, and comes with an exfoliating mitt and another applicator to reach your back.

  • - Apply in circular motions covering every area well. Keep blending even when you think the product is gone - the mitt will help even everything out.

  • - Once done with all sections of the body, I use the residual on the mitt to lightly tan my face. You can use a specific “face tanner”, but I’ve never had any issue with just using the body version on my face. The little bit of product that’s leftover on the mitt seems to be the perfect amount to give a little glow without overdoing it.

  • - An old makeup brush also works great to cover the tops of your hands, sides of your fingers, and tops of your feet and toes, places many people forget.


Orange palms are a tell-tale sign of self-tanner mishaps. Most products recommend you wash your hands immediately after use. The problem is, you then wash off the product on top of your hands too and you have tan arms and white hands! My tip is to use a baby wipe and make sure to rub the bottom of your hands thoroughly with the wipe to remove any excess product. This allows the top of your hands and fingers to still develop the color. Works like a charm!

**** If you do get tan on your palms or miss a spot, NO worries, it’s happened to us all. Grab some baking soda and water, make a paste in your hands, and rub. It’s a great exfoliant and will help remove the unwanted color. Something else that works is grab a MAGIC ERASER - yep, the cleaning sponge - wet it and rub the area and it will take the color off right away!! I can’t explain why, it just works!

Most products say to leave on and avoid getting wet or rinsing off the product for a few hours. Personally, I sleep with it on to allow the color plenty of time and fully maximize my efforts. 😉 I then shower in the morning to rinse off the excess product.

To maintain your tan, be sure to moisturize daily! I love the Palmer’s Body Firming Lotion. Keeping the skin moisturized daily helps the color last. I go about a week between application, then I exfoliate, shave, and do it all again!

For a little added bronze, moisture, and shine, I love the Coppertone Glow sunscreen. It has SPF which is a plus and the subtle shimmer and is a great. This is a great, inexpensive dupe for the much more expensive Fenty Oil.

And to really show off your hard work for a special occasion or fun night out, the Elf Retro Paradise Oil has a great shimmer and a little temporary color to even out your tan. No SPF, but it’s a fun, inexpensive product to have around and a little goes a long way so it will last a long time!

I promise after a time or two you’ll get the hang of this process and will find that it is quick and easy enough to do on a regular basis if you want and also nice to know you can pull off with confidence for any special occasion. These are all products I actually use and keep on hand all the time, they are just that good!!

I hope this was helpful, let me know if you try these out and what you think! Also share your favorite products below, I’m always on the hunt for new things to try! Happy Tanning!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

You may also like

View all
Example blog post
Example blog post
Example blog post