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How to Apply Self-Tanner Like a Pro, According to Experts

Ditch Oompa Loompa vibes for good.


by Jessica Toscano April 10, 2022

Young woman tanning
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It’s around this time of year that summer begins to feel like it’s about a million months away, and many of us start to daydream about warm days and a healthy glow. If you want to look like you just came back from a month-long stay in the Caribbean without the dropping a ton of cash, hopping on a plane, and damaging your skin bit, the good news is you have options. Sunless tanning products darken skin almost instantaneously and have seriously come a long way since self-tanning agent dihydroxyacetone (DHA) was first approved for external use in the late ’70s by the Food and Drug Administration.


If you’re ready to up your skin’s color saturation IRL, read on.


Seek formulas that are hydrating.


With ingredients like hyaluronic acid, coconut oil, and glycerin, formulas now are more hydrating than ever, which according to Sophie Evans, St. Tropez skin finishing expert, is one of the keys to maintaining a flawless faux tan. Self-tans fade when dead skin cells shed, she says. When the skin’s really dry and dehydrated, these cells shed more quickly. Applying self-tanner to skin that’s freshly exfoliated and has great moisture levels will make your tan look flawless, last longer, and also fade more evenly. That’s why it’s important to make a purchase that’s clinically proven to hydrate skin. Evans recommends St. Tropez’s Classic Bronzing Mousse, which she says moisturizes for 24 hours.


You also want to search for brands who are open about the process in which they derive DHA, which can be extracted naturally from beets or sugarcane, or chemically with formaldehyde. The latter speeds up the process but makes the DHA lower quality and drying to the skin, says Evans. Not to mention, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Before purchasing, review the brand’s label or website for verbiage that says its DHA was naturally derived.


Find the medium best for you.


When you’re greeted by lotions, serums, mousses, sprays, and more, choosing the right self-tanner might seem overwhelming. Thankfully, Evans assures there is no one medium that’s better or worse than the other. “It’s all about preference and what time of the day you are applying,” she says.


Lotions and serums can be applied super-fast, so they’re great to use if you’re running short on time. They also tend to be the most hydrating as well as soothing and are ideal for colder months when dry skin is most prevalent, or if you normally have dry or sensitive skin. Alternatively, mousses and sprays are the most lightweight and perfect for hot climates, especially if you w