As far as beauty products are concerned, self-tanners, as a collective category, might have the most impressive comeback-kid transformation story. Take it from someone who's religiously applied the stuff since high school (when there were basically two products on the market—neither of which were fab), self-tanners have come a long, long way. Not only in terms of results, but in terms of technology, ingredients, application, the whole nine yards.
Whereas years ago I'd consistently find myself in a weird situation of orange, streaky, and glittery skin post-tan, the best new self-tanners yield only the most believable and flattering of results. Plus, depending on how, when, or what you like to tan (your face versus your body, for instance), there are so many cool formulas and formats to dabble in, from overnight facial masks to mixable drops to mists you can spray on like SPF. It's a good time to be a self-tan stan, and below I'm sharing all of the best formulas you should acquaint yourself with. Whether you're simply on the hunt for a new favorite or are an at-home self-tanning virgin, five of the most in-demand celebrity tanning experts are sharing their favorite at-home formulas below, along with a scattering of their best tips and tricks. Keep scrolling!
The Expert: Jules Von Hep, Celeb Tanning Expert & Founder of Isle of Paradise
Celebrity clients: Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Poppy Delevingne
The best at-home self-tanners he loves: I’ve worked for over 10 years as a celebrity spray tanner, and I could never find products that delivered natural-looking results for my clients. So I started creating tanning solutions myself backstage for shoots or for the red carpet to create a believable self-tan. I’ve always been a fan of color-correcting ingredients—hiding any redness, brightening a dull complexion and canceling out sallow orange tones in the skin to create a flawless undetectable result. This is why I created Isle of Paradise products with color-correcting technology—the peach (light) option helps to even out and brighten overall skin tone, the green (medium) helps balance redness and calm the skin, and the violet (dark) option helps counteract orange/sallow tones.
For an everyday glow that won't transfer onto your bedsheets, try our Glow Clear Color-Correcting Self-Tanning Mousse ($29), our Self-Tanning Waters ($28), or our Self-Tanning Drops ($29). I always recommend these because each formula offers the same great color options but whatever format you prefer or feel most comfortable with at home!
Jules's tip: Moisturize hands, elbows, knees and feet. Pump your mousse onto an applicator mitt. Spread the mousse on the mitt by opening and closing your hand a couple of times before you apply onto the skin. Sweep the mousse over the skin in lengthways motions, never circular so the pressure of tan onto the skin is even at all times—imagine you’re frosting a cake!
Start from the ankles in the following pattern: leg, leg, arm, arm, torso, back, face, then repeat body. Two layers on the body and one layer on the face provides the best natural-looking results—applying the second layer after the first has dried. Mix half a pump of the self-tan mousse with your moisturizer on the applicator mitt when tanning the body. For hands, put hands into a claw at the end of application and sweep the mitt containing the residue mousse over the hands just once, then re-moisturize your hands, wipe palms and nails and buff moisturizer into the wrists with a kabuki brush.
Bonus tip: If you’re using a clear mousse and you’re nervous about it having no guide color, mix in a liquid highlighter on your applicator mitt as you apply, the sheen on the skin will help you see where you’ve applied.
Jules's tip: Moisturize hands, elbows, knees and feet. Spray the skin like you would a body mist or SPF at the beach. The skin should be visibly wet. Using an applicator mitt or palms, rub into the skin and apply a second layer. Wash palms immediately after use and wipe nails. Spray the face like you would a facial mist or toner and take a clean bronzer brush and buff the excess mist onto the ears.
Jules's tip: Decant your favorite moisturizer into a pump bottle. (Muji sells great ones). For each pump of moisturizer in the palm, add two to 14 drops of the self-tan concentrate—personally, I add the full dropper. Mix the two together in your palms and apply limb by limb onto the body—rubbing into the skin like you would during your normal moisturizing routine. Every time you need a new pump of moisturizer, add the exact same amount of drops as you did before to ensure an even finish. For face, I recommend two to four drops in with a dollop of your usual facial moisturizer. Wash palms after use and rub the backs of your hands on your thighs to lightly coat them in the solution and then wipe nails.
The Expert: Sophie Evans, Celeb Tanning Expert & Ambassador for St. Tropez Tan
Celebrity clients: Halsey, Bella Hadid, Margot Robbie
The best at-home self-tanners she loves: My favorite self-tanner at the moment would have to be St. Tropez’s New Self Tan Express Bronzing Gel ($44). You pump this dark tinted gel onto a Luxe Double-Sided Applicator Mitt ($8) and apply directly onto clean, dry skin. It immediately disperses into a gorgeous transparent glow that can be smoothed over your whole body in record speed. The gel delivers cool water break technology where natural vegan-friendly tanning actives absorb faster and deeper into the skin leaving behind a protective gel polymer that makes it completely transfer-proof and wearable from the get-go. It is also packed with hyaluronic acid, Pentavitin (anti-age infusion), and melanin boosters for zero orange. The color is customizable, so if you wish to have a light glow, rinse with water after just one hour or leave on for two hours then shower to achieve a medium glow. You can even leave on for three hours or don’t shower at all (as it is completely wearable) and receive your deepest glow.
In between self-tanning and to give your skin a boost of color and hydration, I highly recommend St. Tropez's Gradual Tan Watermelon Infusion Body Lotion ($25). Simply apply like a body lotion and make sure to wash your hands after application. This lotion will also hydrate your skin for 72 hours and purge your skin with more anti-aging ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin E.
For the face, I’m in love with St. Tropez’s New Self Tan Purity Vitamins Bronzing Face Serum ($30). It’s a clear water serum that stimulates vitamin D production to enhance the health of your skin. It also contains vitamin C and avocado oil, which is rich in vitamin D, A, and E, plus hyaluronic acid, green mandarin water base, and a tropical peach-infused scent.
Sophie's tip: Always apply your self-tanning products to clean, exfoliated, product-free skin. Always use a tan applicator mitt for smooth application and no tanned palms! Apply a non-oil-based moisturizer to elbows, knees, hands, and feet and apply product liberally using a flat hand and a smooth stroke. Blend the excess product over hands and feet making sure to blend between fingers and toes, taking a cleansing wipe to remove any tan from palms, nails, and cuticles.
Sophie's tip: Regardless of when you shower, just use lukewarm water only and rinse. Moisturize every day with a non-oil-based moisturizer and you will have great color for up to 10 days.
Sophie's tip: After the fifth day, you may want a boost of color, so lightly exfoliate and apply a gradual (very light) tan like this one.
Sophie's tip: To keep a glow going on your face just apply every three to four days, remembering to wash hands after use. Makeup can be applied over the top if you wish and a light/medium color will show after four to eight hours. With this product in particular, (or any facial tanners for that matter) you will need to apply more frequently than formulas on your body since the face fades faster due to heavy cleansing and exposure to the elements. Make sure every section on the face is covered. Look for a glisten, and work in sections blending around the eyes and onto the tips of the ears and down the neck as well.
The Expert: James Read, Celeb Tanning Expert & Founder of James Read Tan
Celebrity clients: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Lady Gaga, Ellie Goulding
The best at-home self-tanners he loves: For the tanner who's always on the go, I would recommend a water tan mist for the face, as this can be used under/over makeup/skincare or SPF, in addition to a clear bronzing mousse for the body since it allows you to tan and go without transferring onto your clothes and can also be layered over your SPF. The James Read H2O Tan Mist ($21) and St. Tropez's Self Tan Purity Bronzing Mousse ($42) are my favorites!
If you prefer to tan overnight while you sleep, I would recommend a clear gel/serum self-tan formula that’s hydrating, acts as a form of skincare, and will dry instantly without transferring onto your bedding. For, the body I would go with tanning drops that can be added into your favorite body moisturizer. James Read Sleep Mask Tan Face ($26) and Clarin’s Self Tan Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster ($32) for the face.
Last but not least, if you're someone who has no time and wants a no-fuss and efficient self-tanner, I suggest St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse ($44).
James's tip: When using a facial water tan mist, never over apply. Do this over two to three days to achieve your desired tan look.
James's tip: When applying self-tan to the body, use a tanning mitt. This will make sure the application is flawless. Make sure you use the excess tan over the hands/feet/ankles/knees.
James's tip: When applying self-tan to the face, start from the hairline and work down your face and neck, working the leftover tan over the ears. Wash your hands after application.
James's tip: If you need to shave after you have self tanned, use an electric shaver as it won't strip your self-tan.
James's tip: Use a straw when drinking after applying your self-tan. This will stop you from getting a lighter colored top lip.
James's tip: Always exfoliate 24 hours before and three or four hours after tanning. Never over-apply your self-tanner as this can cause buildup.
The Expert: Alexandra DiMarchi, Celeb Tanning Artist & Global Tanning Expert for Tan-Luxe
Celebrity clients: Nazanin Mandi Pimentel, Halsey, Bebe Rexha
The best at-home self-tanners she loves: First and foremost, I love Tan-Luxe's The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops ($59)—they're are my absolute favorite. They work really well for everyone and are such a user-friendly product—especially for those who are new to tanning and might be nervous to try it out. Simply add a few of the drops to your favorite body lotion to create a completely custom self-tanner. Just remember: Every two drops equals one shade darker, and don't forget to thoroughly wash your hands after application. My trick is to swap your regular hand soap for a brightening or exfoliating cleanser/scrub, as it really helps remove any remaining products from hands.
I also love the Tan-Luxe Illuminating Tanning Butter ($36). This product is a gradual tanner with an illuminating finish, so it provides the most gorgeous glow for all skin types, and it really helps to even out the overall skin tone.
Alexandra's tip: If you're someone who works out a lot (especially via hot yoga/Pilates) try to either shower at the gym directly after your class or pat your skin with your gym towel. The sodium in your sweat can actually start to break down the formula in tanning products and therefore cause your tan to fade unevenly, so you don't want it to sit for too long.
Alexandra's tip: In order to prolong the longevity of your tan, try tweaking your skincare routine— especially if you're a frequent user of retinol or vitamin C. If you're applying self-tanner in the morning and then you're using a retinol at night, you're stripping the glow that has just developed throughout the day. Try using your exfoliating skincare products less frequently, and adding in some more hydrating products, such as hyaluronic acids, to really lock in moisture and your glow.
Alexandra's tip: If you're exfoliating your skin in the shower to prep for your self-tanning session, try to avoid physical exfoliants that are too oily or contain exfoliating beads in them. Products like these can leave a layer of residue on the skin, and cause your tan to not develop as evenly. Instead, try dry exfoliating with a towel or dry brush.
The Expert: Kristyn Pradas, Celeb Tanning Expert & Founder of Pradas Tan
Celebrity clients: Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Ashley Graham
The best at-home self-tanners she loves: My Pradas Glow Sol Solution Sunless Tanning Mousse ($33) and Flawless Finish Body Mitt ($8) are the perfect solutions for easily self-tanning at home. Sol Solution glides onto the skin effortlessly when applied in circular motions using our sustainable Flawless Finish Mitt that can be machine washed and dried. Sol Solution is infused with hyaluronic acid, aloe, vitamins, antioxidants, seabuckthorn oil, borage seed oil, and so many more skin-healthy benefits! It comes in one solution that is suitable for every skin tone. After application, leave it on for one hour for a glow, two hours for a light tan, three hours for a medium tan, four hours for a dark tan, or longer if you prefer very dark before you shower.
For a non-commitment tan, try my Pradas Glow CAMO Bronzing Skin Enhancer ($30)—it’s a mousse that does NOT contain DHA. Apply it the same way as the Sol Solution (in circular motions)—it's like an Instagram filter for your skin. It dries quickly upon application and doesn’t transfer onto clothes. When you shower it washes off.
Kristyn's tip: Always exfoliate, and shave or wax, two to three days prior. I recommend using a pH-balanced body wash before your appointment and avoid using any oils or lotion during or after the shower. Spray tan or self-tan on clean, dry skin to ensure you get an evenly applied and smooth tan—and one that will last!
Kristyn's tip: Apply lotion or barrier cream to nails, wrists, knuckles, and your palm to avoid getting those areas too tan (which is usually a telltale sign of fake tan). Remove the cream after you’ve tanned with a makeup wipe and use a foam paintbrush or makeup sponge to blend the areas to look as natural as possible. Make sure you’re standing on a towel or sticky pads on your feet so that the bottom of your feet do not get tanned and don’t forget to tan your ears!
Kristyn's tip: After you tan, apply a talc-free baby powder using a large, fluffy powder makeup brush to every part of your face and body that has been tanned to eliminate excess moisture and speed up the drying process. Make sure to apply extra to the creases of your legs, arms, and armpits—these are the areas where you sweat more.
Kristyn's tip: After your second shower post spray tan, and all showers following, apply my Pradas Glow Skin Armour ($25) all over your face and body before going in the shower. This protects the skin from harsh chemicals and heavy metals in the water and prevents the skin from getting too dry, to allow the tan to last longer. Pat dry after your shower—never rub.
This story was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated.