The 5 Best Self Tanners for Face and Body

Anyone else struggling to accept their pasty white skin in the dead of winter? Something about having just a little color makes me think I look a thousand times healthier – and more confident. In this post I’ll tell you my top 5 tanning products and other essential tips for how to get the perfect fake bake.

​I’m a pale girl. I have a lot of Irish blood, which means I’m paper white in the winter and, during the summer, my skin tends to fry before getting a tan.

Of course, as a middle schooler and high schooler I experimented with a few drugstore tanning lotions from Neutrogena and Jergens, but I couldn’t stand the smell and they left me with orange streaks along my ankles and feet.

In high school, I didn’t care so much about being tan during the cooler months. I was at boarding school in upstate Connecticut and everyone else was just as pale as I was. (However, looking back at prom photos, I wish someone had convinced me to get a spray tan).

When I got to college, I was amazed by how many girls actually used tanning beds or got spray tans each week. I’d never done either, and only went on to get spray tans before big events like formals or sorority recruitment.

When a friend introduced me to St. Tropez tanning mousse my freshman year, I was instantly hooked. I started out using the classic formula and couldn’t believe how natural it looked. Applying with the mitt was mess-free and the color guide helped ensure I didn’t miss any spots. After a few hours there was always a bit of a smell, but nothing I couldn’t manage. I stained so many sheets wearing this stuff to bed, but I don’t regret it one bit. It really works.

Now that I’m a seasoned professional in the world of self tanning, I recommend the St. Tropez Self Tan Express Advanced Bronzing Mousse. It works just as well as the original, but gets the job done in about three hours versus the standard eight. I would apply this after class and be ready to shower it off before getting ready to go out for the night. This is my all-time favorite body tanner.

Just remember to apply it with a mitt! Most of the mitts I’ve found all cost around the same amount, so I buy these from St. Tropez as well. I’ve been tanning for 5 years and usually make one mitt last a couple years. I’ve only gone through 2 or three. I like to wash them in the shower when I’m rinsing the tan off – just a little bit of body wash or shampoo does the trick.

The St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse is another great option. Even on my fair skin, this tanner gives me a beautiful deep tan that never looks orange. St. Tropez has a green undertone, which is even more prevalent in this formula (plan to stay home unless you want to look a bit sickly out in public). This one has to be left on a bit longer, though, which is why I prefer the express mousse.

Many self tanner brands have recently released “water” versions of their classic tanners, which work similarly to any other mousse but go on clear. I was a bit skeptical to pick one up because I wasn’t sure how application would go without any kind of guide color – what if I missed a spot? Last summer, I received a mini version of the St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Mousse and was shocked by how much I liked it. The self tanner scent is far less prevalent in their purity formulas, but I was still left with a beautiful golden tan. I found this formula a bit less olive-toned and definitely not as dark, but it’s beautiful nonetheless and won’t stain your sheets or your clothing.

When I picked up the full size Purity Bronzing Water Mousse, the facial mist caught my eye. Also new to the St. Tropez family, the St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist works just like any other face mist or setting spray, yet it turns your face tan throughout the course of wear. I like to mist this on before bed when I’m looking extra pasty, and by the next morning I wake up a few shades darker and more healthy looking. I also like to use this on my chest where, for some reason, tanning mousses don’t seem to stick as well for me. While I can get away with using my regular mousse on my face, that can clog my pores. The mousses don’t break me out, per say, but squeezing out all of the self tanner gunk from my pores certainly does. The facial mist is a safer bet.

My favorite facial tanner is from Tan Luxe. It’s quite pricey, but a little goes a long way. I received these drops as a sample with a Sephora order and have yet to finish it up, but I recently ordered a full size as a back up. All you have to do is mix a few drops (I use 4 for a nice deep tan) into your daily moisturizer and slather it on. I prefer these to the Clarins Radiance-Plus Glow Booster because I find that it blends out more easily and doesn’t leave me with any lines on my neck.

Before using any tanner, it’s important to exfoliate. For my body, I like the Clinique Sparkle Skin Body Exfoliator because it comes in a tube (I hate getting water in scrubs that come in a jar when I use them in the shower) and it’s really gritty without being harsh. It actually feels like it works. For my face, I’ll use the St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub Green Tea if I’m feeling like a physical exfoliator, or the Saturday Skin Rub-A-Dub Peel Gel, which has enzymes in it that gently exfoliate the skin. As you rub it around your face, dead skin balls up into your hands, which is gross yet so satisfying. After tanning, moisturize with your lotion of choice – I recommend Sol de Janeiro’s Coco Cabana Cream, which I reviewed in my 2018 Favorites.

Now that I work full time, I rarely self tan unless I have an event or planned outing coming up. But trust me when I say these were all on heavy rotation during my college days. As long as you exfoliate before tanning, stay moisturized and tan about once a week, you shouldn’t see any patchiness or other issues with these tanners. I wholeheartedly think each one is worth the price!

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