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 managed to get 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 that is 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 the bottle tans - both use DHA. If you have a good technician, then you can be sure of an even application, which is important. Spray tans offer no advantage over DIYing it yourself from a bottle, so if you enjoy the experience and have the money, go for the spray, otherwise, DIY like I do.

Products I Use.

I've only tried two:

  1. SUN Self Tanning Lotion in Dark (around USD 29)
  2. Tanceuticals Self Tanning Lotion in Dark (around USD 28)

I like both of these. I currently favor the Tanceuticals brand, but I have a little of the SUN product left, and I'm finishing it up quite happily. At least on my skin, they both give a nice, authentic-looking tan, and that's the main point. The biggest difference is that the SUN product has a cosmetic 'bronzer' that lets you see where you are applying it while the Tanceuticals product is transparent. Having a 'cosmetic' color added to the tanning lotion is nice because you can see if you missed any spots. It's not so nice because it comes off on your clothes and bedsheets. It doesn't stain them permanently, but it's still not great. I'd also say that the Tanceutical product has a nicer "look," but not so much I would cry big tears if they stopped making it and I had to go back to SUN.

Every summer they come out with new tanning products. You can torture yourself looking for the latest and greatest if you want. 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.

You'll also want plastic gloves. It is often recommended to wash your hands frequently, but why bother? Just put on some plastic gloves. You do not want brown palms, that looks so fake!

If you are a single girl like me, you will need something to get the solution on your back. I use something called a "body buddy" (about USD 26 from Amazon), which is a wide strap with two handles. You squirt some lotion on the strap, hold it behind your back, and smooth it on. 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 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 always start the procedure the night before I need to look tanned.

  1. Shave, wax or epilate your skin anywhere you intend to apply the tanner.
  2. Shower and exfoliate
  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 get a lot of dry skin on those locations and, as a result, tanners love those spots. I end up with gross dark spots on my knees and elbows if I don't do that.
  7. Put on your gloves and 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 make sure to blend between all the sections! Here's my order:
    1. Face, neck
    2. Legs
    3. Chest and back
    4. Arms
    5. Top of hands

You want to blend down across your ankles and onto your feet and likewise from your wrists onto the back of your hands and top of your fingers. Also make sure you blend between sections, especially where the neck joins the head and the body. If you are using something like SUN that has a cosmetic bronzer, don't freak out if it looks "streaky." That's just the cosmetic part, and it will wash off. You want to get the tanning lotion EVERYWHERE and putting a little extra here or there won't make your skin darker in those spots. The only thing that controls the darkness is the number of dead skin cells in the areas of your skin.

When you are finished with the application and have blended your heart out, dry yourself with the hairdryer and wait as long as you can 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 which are too dark, you can try scrubbing them or using a little lemon juice on them.

Other considerations

If you are wearing 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. To do that, you can