I have very fair skin. I embrace this about 99% of the time. But sometimes when I break out the shorts, tank-tops, and swimsuits, I really want to feel tan and summer-y. Also, it’s easier to feel confident in a bathing suit when my upper thighs aren’t a blinding shade of white.
I do not have the time to lay out in the sun in my bathing suit. At the ripe old age of 33, I also don’t have the desire to damage my skin.
I have an awesome discovery to share with you: the do-it-yourself sunless tan. I like to apply a sunless tan before a special event like a vacation where I’ll be spending lots of time in a swimsuit.
Before you shudder at the idea of a bright orange “fake” looking tan, let me tell you that sunless tanning products have really improved over the years. With sunless tanner on, I look bronzier than normal, but it’s not obviously fake.
Need more convincing? Here’s a photo of my usual, pale skin tone compared to my “vacation” tan. I had applied sunless tanner a few days before we left for the beach!
Sunless tanners don’t damage your skin like the rays of the sun. They also don’t dye your skin. The tanning lotion contains chemicals that react with your skin to darken it. The tan will last for about a week.
How to Apply Sunless Tanner
Shower, Shave, and Exfoliate
First, prepare your skin by shaving your legs and exfoliating. Sunless tanner can soak into dry patches on your skin and turn those areas too dark, so give your skin a good exfoliation. I like to use a gritty shower scrub after I shave.
Moisturize Dry Areas
After showering, apply a thick lotion to any dry spots. This forms a barrier and prevents dry skin from soaking up too much sunless tanner. I usually apply a thick body butter on my knees, elbows, hands, and feet.
Apply the Sunless Tanner
Now take a deep breath and go for it! Most sunless tanners come in a lotion or mousse form. Rub the tanner all over your body just how you would with lotion, but try to apply it evenly. A tanning mitt helps with even application and keeps you from tanning the palms of your hands.
Many tanners have a brown color in them so you can see where you are applying it. Don’t panic if you look REALLY tan and a little streaky during this phase. That “color guard” will wash off later to reveal the tan underneath.
If you want a natural-looking tan, focus more lotion on the areas where the sun actually hits your body and then blend a small amount into the other areas (like the underside of your arms and your armpits). Apply sparingly on the tops of your hands and feet as these areas seem to soak up a lot of tanner and get really dark.
Let the Tan Develop
Follow the instructions on your bottle for how long to let the tan develop (often 6-8 hours). You can apply the tanner before bed and then rinse it off when you shower in the morning. This works really well because the tanner develops overnight while you wear some loose, comfy jammies!
Many brands of sunless tanner now offer “express” or “quick” tanners that develop in a few hours. In my experience, you don’t get as much color pay-off from these, but they can still give you a beautiful glow. I always feel a little sticky (plus I look abnormally tan) while the lotion is on, so I always apply self-tanner during a time when I can throw on loose clothes and lounge around the house.
Rinse It Off
When you shower, the brown “color guard” in the lotion will wash away and reveal the beautiful tan underneath. At this point, it usually looks a lot less streaky. It will not rub off on your clothes. It will gradually wear away in about one week.
A Few Recommendations
Sunless tanner isn’t the sort of product people want to grab off the shelf and just “give it a whirl.” I’ve used the Tanwise Dark Bronzing Sunless Mousse and the St. Moriz Professional Fast Tanning Mousse. Both are very affordable and left me with a nice color. St. Tropez and Loving Tan products are pricier, but a lot of people rave about these brands.
Whether you rock the pale skin or give the sunless tan a try, I hope you have lots of fun with your kids at the pool this summer!
Originally published June, 2019.