The last time I used self tanner, I was 13 years old.
Needless to say, I didn't do a masterful job applying it. But I dedicated myself to having bronzed legs for a solid 6 months, to the detriment of all my school uniform khaki pants. I distinctly remember one of my legs being darker than the other and applying a "thin" layer to my other leg, only to end up with it being roughly the color of balsamic vinegar. It was a mess. At the time, I used the Neutrogena Sunless Tanning Foam, which was a new product at the time; my mom had been a Jergens sunless tanner user for years.
All tanners back then smelled absolutely terrible. And honestly, they all looked so orange. But if you couldn't afford a spray tan and wanted to avoid sun damage, it was the only way to go.
Thankfully, things have come a long way and there are a ton of great sunless tanners on the market now.
Why Sun Free Tanning is the Way to Go
While I truly think most of us know better by now, the truth is a lot of people still aren't educated on the effects of sun damage--or what really constitutes sun damage.
I'm in a beauty group and every few days lately, someone asks about base tanning. Base tanning is the idea that you lie in a tanning booth, get a small tan, and therefore are protected from burning on vacations. This is incredibly irresponsible and has been disproven by multiple sources.
If your skin changes color in any way, you are damaging your skin, whether it is a burn or a tan. And starting with a tan won't stop you from burning or from getting sun damage. In fact, your skin doesn't even have to react to have sun damage. I've never been sunburned or tanned on my face, but according to my dermatologist, I have sun damage on my face.
There is no safe tanning when it comes to laying out or lying in tanning booths.
Sun damage can cause a multitude of skin cancers--all of which are preventable by using sun protection. As well, sun damage causes accelerated aging, wrinkles, melasma, and more. Protect your skin & go sun less when it comes to tanning. And always, always wear SPF and physical protection when spending lots of time in the sun! (I'll cover SPF later in this post as well.)
1. Invest in your tanner.
You can purchase a tube of sunless tanner at Target for less than $8, universally. But I highly encourage you to take this opportunity to go a bit more high end.
On Mother's Day, I popped in to Ulta to treat myself to a gift and got the NKD SKN Tinted Tan Mousse in Medium*. It's $19.99 for a tube, more than I would really ever spend on something like this, but I'd heard good things about the brand. There are many high end sunless tanners these days though; St. Tropez is a tried-and-true brand as well.
I was very nervous to try this tanner--my experience in middle school had left some scars, clearly--but from the get go, it was so nice. It doesn't smell at all and goes on so smooth and evenly. I put on one layer to start and it dried instantly. No stained sweatpants or sheets. The next morning, I took a shower and while the top layer did rinse off, I was left with a really great, light tan look. Not super dark, not super orange. It's very natural!
So while $20 felt like an absolute luxury, I wouldn't ever pay anything less now.
NKD SKN also has a Gradual Tan Daily Moisturizer that i am very interested in.
*As a note, NKD SKN is a vegan and cruelty-free brand!
2. Use a mitt.
The best way to apply a perfect tan? A mitt! How did I never know about mitts before!? I'm convinced these are a new invention. I bought the Double-Sided Sunless Tan Mitt from Ulta Beauty for $9.99 (they were buy one, get one 50% off) and quite like it. Funny enough, St. Tropez sells a cheaper mitt for $5.99--and it actually looks nicer! There are also some great sunless tanner kits that include mitts, like this one from Fake Bake for $30 and this one from Tarte Cosmetics Braziliance for $39.
A mitt helps you keep your application from streaking. It also keeps your palms and fingernails from getting stained orange! If you're planning to do a full body tan as well, a mitt helps you reach all those tricky spots--especially if you have to ask for help from your partner!
3. Exfoliate & moisturize.
It goes without saying that the smoother and more moisturized the surface of your skin, the better self tan goes on. The instructions on NKD SKN say not to moisturize immediately before. I had exfoliated and moisturized my legs earlier that day, so I just applied some moisturizer to my knees and ankles (to prefer going too dark in those dry spots) and it worked a charm. My ankle did end up a bit blotchy that first time, but a bit more moisturizer next time will do the trick. I did the same thing with my elbows and wrists when I did a full body application.
4. Wear SPF.
Keep your skin safe! When you've got the perfect summer tan, you know that taking care of your skin is important. Look for a high SPF to wear all over your body, as well as a separate facial SPF. I've used Sun Bum's SPF 30 for years and love it. If you spend a significant portion of the day in the sunshine, you need to reapply sunscreen every 45-60 minutes, covering your entire body and face; you should realistically use 1/2 to an entire bottle of sunscreen every 8 hours you spend in the sun.
For facial SPFs, my favorite of all time is Coola's Mineral Face SPF 30. (And don't forget to put sunscreen on the part of your hair!) Coola also makes an amazing SPF 30 lip balm that's perfect for sunny days; your lips are particularly vulnerable to sun damage!
Now, what about wearing make up? Good thing for us, there are now SPF setting sprays we can carry outside with us to keep our makeup flawless and our skin protected. Using a foundation with SPF, like Wet'n'Wild's Cushion Foundation with SPF 15, can give you good base coverage alongside using an SPF moisturizer like Coola's. I really like Ulta Beauty's SPF 50 Rose Water Setting Spray and Coola's Classic SPF 30 Setting Spray with Green Tea and Aloe.
Look flawlessly tanned and protect your skin!