How to Self Tan

Dom de Luxury insists that I get a tan each summer, which is not the easiest task she has ever given me. I'm a fair maiden and burn instantly on exposure to sunlight. Despite this, I have always gotten a lot of compliments on my tan, so I thought I would reveal my secret: It comes from a bottle.

How Self Tanning Works

All tanning agents use a chemical called "DHA." DHA interacts with the dead cells on the surface of your skin and darkens them. That's why self-tans don't last - they slough off as new skin cells replace the old, dead ones that you dyed with DHA.

Bottle Tanning vs. Spray Tanning

I've never had a spray tan. I know people who do, and they look great. Spray tans work the same as bottle tans - both use DHA. If you have a good technician, you can be sure of an even application, which is important. If you have a good technician, spray tans probably look better. They certainly cost more.

Products I Use.

I've now tried three::

  1. SUN Self Tanning Lotion in Dark (around USD 29)
  2. Tanceuticals Self Tanning Lotion in Dark (around USD 28)
  3. Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam in Dark (around USD 21)

I liked them all. The Bondi Sands product gives me a better tan and is easier to apply than the others. I like products with a 'cosmetic' color, so I can see where I put them, and Bondi Sands has that. The downside of cosmetic colors is that they can come off and stain your clothes or bedding. All of these products gave me a nice, authentic-looking tan.

Every summer, they come out with new tanning products. You can torture yourself by looking for the latest and greatest. I don't get excited that excited since they all work pretty much the same. If you have found one that works for you, my advice is to stick with it.

Other stuff you will need

I recommend a hairdryer. Having one helps speed the process along since you need to be dry both before you put the lotion on and after.

I have tried various solutions to the dark palm problem. Washing hands and using plastic gloves make it hard to tan the backs of your hands. I don't have a good solution, as evidenced by my dark palms. Please let me know if you have a good way to do this.

I like to use a tanning mitt. It seems to help the lotion go on more smoothly. Bondi Sands makes a decent one.

You will need something to get the solution on your back. The best thing I've found is a "body buddy" Body Buddy, about USD 28 from Amazon, which is a wide strap with two handles. You squirt some lotion on the strap, hold it behind your back, and apply and smooth the lotion. It's a good idea to check your work in a mirror since your back might be more concave than you realize, and there are places it can miss. It washes off and is 100% reusable.

If you don't want to buy a "body buddy," a long strip of plastic wrap works almost as well. Take a foot or two of plastic wrap, roll it up into a strap a few inches wide, and use it as I describe for the Body Buddy.


Here's how I do it. It works for me, and people think I've been to the beach! I am very fair, so I find the best tan starts a couple of days before I want to look my best.

  1. Shave, wax, or epilate your skin anywhere you intend to apply the tanner.
  2. Shower and exfoliate. Exfoliating is impotant!
  3. Allow plenty of time to dry off. At least an hour. A hairdryer can speed this part up.
  4. Some people moisturize at this point. I think you are crazy if you do that, but it's up to you. I don't recommend it.
  5. Apply vaseline to your eyebrows unless you want them to go crazy dark.
  6. I also apply a very slight coating of vaseline to my knees and elbows. I have a lot of dry skin in those locations, and, as a result, they just soak up the tanning lotion, resulting in super dark spots there.
  7. Start applying. It's best to apply in sections. The exact order doesn't matter, but be consistent, so you don't forget a body part. Work the lotion into the skin using circular motions and blend between all the sections! Here's my order:
    1. Face, neck
    2. Legs
    3. Chest and back
    4. Arms
    5. Top of hands

I do my hands, feet, and knees last and don't add any extra lotion to the tanning pad - use what's left on it. Also, ensure you blend between sections, especially where the neck joins the head and the body. If you are using something with a cosmetic bronzer, don't freak out if it looks "streaky." That's just the cosmetic part, and it will wash off.

When you finish the application, dry yourself with the hairdryer and wait as long as possible before putting on clothes. Put on loose clothes and go to bed.

The Next Morning

Wake up, tanned for the gods! Hopefully. If you have areas that are too dark, you can try scrubbing them or using a little lemon juice on them.

Other considerations

If you wear makeup, you'll want to adjust your foundation to a darker shade to account for the tanning. I also wouldn't shy away from using bronzer. Being tan is fun. Enjoy it!

That's it. Let me know how this works for you and if you have comments, send the nice ones to me!