College Fashion’s Guide to Self Tanners

A detailed guide to self-tanning and avoiding common self-tanning pitfalls. Also includes our favorite self tanning product recommendations.

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Girl in the sun

This article was inspired by a recent comment I received on the article Sun Safety: 5 Essential Facts About Tanning:

“Great tips–but what are some of the best self tanners? I get really tan easily in the summer, but in the winter, i am white as a ghost. I tried using dove, but it left streaks! I was wondering how you know when to stop using the tanners? Are you suppose to continue use one you get the desired shade? Or is that what causes streaks? Please write an article about this.”

Self tanners are a lifesaver for pale or medium-skinned ladies who want a pretty summer glow without ruining their skin by tanning the old fashioned way. I think we can all agree – long-term wrinkles and possible cancer aren’t worth a temporary tan!

The problem with self tanners is that they’re a little more involved than typical tanning – you have to find the right formula, get your body ready for the tanning process, make sure you apply it right, and use it on a pretty regular basis.

All of the above can get really confusing – how is a girl to know what to do, which ones to use, and how to use them?

Never fear – I have your answer! I’ve experienced the ins and outs of the sunless experience, and have learned which products are best for a natural glow, and how to apply them for the best looking tan. Read on to see my tips and learn how to sunless tan yourself.

CF’s Picks For the Best Self Tanners

1. TanTowel Plus

Tan Towel Plus - Deeper Darker

This brand makes my favorite self-tanner, hands down. I really love TanTowel Plus!

While they are a little bit harder to find and pricier than your drugstore variety, it’s well worth it if you can get your hands on some of these.

My favorite type of Tan Towel is the “Plus” kind, also known as the “Deeper Darker” variety. While I’m pretty pale normally, (I wear the 3rd lightest shade in most foundations in summer), these worked great on my skin and didn’t make me orange or give me a fake-looking tan. I wasn’t too dark, but I was noticeably bronzed.

If you’re going to buy Tan Towels, I recommend that you buy the small towels. The large ones dry out too fast to use all over, so if you buy the small ones, you can use two – one for the upper half of your body, one for the lower half.

2. Loreal Sublime Bronze

L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Lotion in Medium

My pick for the best of the drugstore brands, L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Lotion is a great inexpensive self tanner that works well and doesn’t leave you orange or streaky.

I’m also a fan of the Sublime Bronze spray self-tanner that they make – it’s really easy to use, and is pretty much idiot-proof, which is a nice bonus. Oh, and it costs $5.99!

One thing to remember: this review is for the Sublime Bronze LOTION or SPRAY. I’m NOT talking about the Sublime Bronze tinted self tanning gel that has bronzer and sparkles in it! My sister and I both tested it out, and found it way too streaky and fake looking. Read the labels carefully before you buy to make sure you are getting the good stuff.

How To Use a Self Tanner

Wondering how to self tan now that you have your sunless tanning product? Worried about streaks or turning orange? Keep reading for the steps to a perfect sunless tan.

1. Set some time aside

This is the most important step. While self-tanning is a fabulous alternative to real tanning, it takes a little more time and effort. Plan to use your tanner on a day when you have a good hour or two to stand around naked and wait for it to dry.

Another option is to apply your self tanner before you go to bed. I don’t do this myself, but if you aren’t worried about possibly messing up your sheets, it could be a good option for you.

2. Shower, shave, and exfoliate.

This is the first thing you HAVE to do before you use any sunless tanner if you want to avoid streaks and blotches. If you have any rough areas on your body or dirt/grease, that sunless tanner is not going to go on evenly.

When you shower, make sure to get really clean, shave, and use a loofah and/or body scrub to exfoliate your whole body and remove dead skin. This will leave your skin super-soft and make the self tanner go on smoothly.

3. Moisturize

If you have any dry areas on your body after you shower, use a good body lotion on them. It’s always a good idea to get your knees, ankles, and elbows with a coat of body lotion before you tan.

If you have naturally dry skin, I recommend using body lotion all over before you self-tan. This will help even out the texture of your skin so the tan won’t be uneven.

4. Wear gloves!

One of the worst self-tanning side effects is the dreaded orange palm syndrome. It’s a telltale sign that your tan is fake, and not to mention that it looks ridiculous. Don’t let this happen to you!

Always wear plastic or rubber gloves when you tan, or in a pinch, put plastic bags over your hands and secure them with elastics.

After you’ve applied your tanner to your body, take the gloves off, rub a little bit of tanner on the backs of your hands and quickly go wash your palms off with soap!

4. Apply the self-tanner

After you’ve done all of the above steps, it’s finally time to start applying your tanner.

If you’re using a gel or cream formula, rub it onto your body in a circular motion. Be sure to focus on one part of your body at a time, and unless you’re using an extra-quick dry formula, take your time and make sure you get every spot evenly. Don’t apply too much to your elbows, ankles, or knees.

If you’re using a spray formula, spray yourself all over as evenly as you can, then rub it in lightly. This will prevent you from looking speckled, and create an even tan.

If you use Tan Towels, use two small towels – one for the top half of your body, and one for the bottom half. Be careful not to miss ANY spots. Go over all the same places twice if you have to. Since the formula isn’t tinted, it can be easy to miss places the first time you use them. If a towel dries out, just wet it again with water.

5. Let dry

Depending on the formula that you choose, drying times may vary. Some take only a few minutes, others can take about an hour!

My best advice on this: hang out in front of a fan for as long as you can, until you feel like your whole body is dry. Even then, be really careful to only wear dark clothes for most of the day – self tanners can often stain white clothing.

Extra Self-Tanning Tips

  • After self tanning, wait at least 4 to 6 hours before swimming, showering, or sweating a lot. Otherwise, you risk washing away your tan!
  • If after 24 hours, you still want a darker tan, apply your self tanner again to build the color. You don’t need to shower or exfoliate the time – doing so would actually make you lighter.
  • For a more subtle glow, or to make a sunless tanning lotion less intense, just mix it with regular body lotion before you apply it.

Tanning Mishaps

In the very unlikely even that you followed all the steps above to a T and still ended up with streaks or a fake-orange tan (it can happen if you used the wrong product), what should you do?

Fixing a messed up fake tan isn’t as hard as you might think, and there are many quick remedies that use products you already have at home. Fashionista has a great guide here to help you fix a messed up fake tan.

Your Thoughts?

Now that you know how to achieve a perfect sunless tan, I want to know what you think. What are your favorite self-tanners? Do you have any tips for minimizing streaks or getting the best results? I want to hear from all of you in the comments section!

14 thoughts on “College Fashion’s Guide to Self Tanners”

  1. Thank you so much for the tips on how to apply self tan.
    I’m a first time user and had heard all of the horror stories about streaks, and being too orange and having orange palms afterwards. But after reading your article i felt more comfortable and confident applying it.
    Thanks again. No streaks so far… lol

  2. Thanks for the mention! We appreciate the positive feedback. For some more great tips on how to apply TanTowels, visit Thanks.

    Buddy R.
    Webmaster/Marketing Assistant
    TanTowel, Inc.

  3. Hands down, my favorite self-tanner is Jergens Natural Glow Express. There are only 4 ounces per bottle but it’s so worth it. My sister was darker after one application, but for me it took the as-noted three days until I had a great tan.

  4. This is an awesome article! I have used sunless tanners before and almost always end up with streaks, so I can’t say I have a favorite….. but, a couple good tricks for minimizing streaks are first, to rub lemon juice onto the worst ones. Second, the smaller, or less noticeable ones can be blended in with a bronzer.

    I know this post is quite old but it still applies, at least in my case. Thanks Zephyr.

  5. I really like your website and have been threw a lot of what you have but i am just now trying the spray tanning stuff and have made a mess please help I wish it was on here today thank you

  6. LOL I do the plastic (trash) bags trick as well when I don’t have gloves on hand, and just place a pony tail holder over it!

    There is one thing I don’t agree with, though. People shouldn’t use lotions before tanning, unless, your skin is very dry (in other word, the certain area is as dry as your knees or elbows). If your skin is very dry, I would recommend using moisturizing lotions in the days prior to applying self-tanner (and then exfoliating before the tan, so the lotion does not mess it up). I competed in pageants for 17 years (don’t anymore!) but I do spray tan girls who compete, and we have always told the girls before they get a spray tan, to exfoliate the skin, and don’t use any moisturizing products to wash their skin with either. One girl at a pageant made the mistake of applying lotion (all over) a couple hours before a tan, and the next morning when she took a shower, all of it came right off. So, we ended up having to spray her again! Rule of thumb, don’t apply lotion all over the entire body (only if the skin is VERY dy)! Clean skin is best–no products, no perfumes, nothing that would interfere with the self-tanner.

  7. I use bath and body works strike gold self tanning lotion!!! it works so well and is 15 bucks but they always have 1/2 off sales.

    It works so good and it does it gradual, so you don’t have to worry about using gloves or anyhting. It is a beautiful color too!!!! I recomend it 🙂

  8. I have very fair skin, and I don’t tan in the sun at all, so I thought I would try out a self-tanner. I decided on Bare Escentuals Faux Tan, because I use Bare Escentuals make-up. The stuff is amazing! It’s not orange or streaky, and it leaves a tint immediately so that you don’t miss any spots. While it is kind of expensive at $25, I figure it costs a lot less than skin cancer.

  9. I’m a huge fan of sunless tanning! As a floridian it’s pretty much an unwritten rule that we’re supposed to be tan all the time. Since i’m not a huge fan of skin cancer & my prime tanning hours are spent working and interning I rely on my handy sunless tanner lotion.

    I prefer an actual lotion that gives you a gradual tan, especially for beginners.. that way if you mess up applying it it’s not as noticable. 🙂

  10. Thank you soooo much for replying to my comment about sunless tanners! I loved the article and found it very helpful. I’m going to be on the look out for those toweletts!

    Keep up the amazing writing! I look forward to reading all of your articles!

    Thanks again!

  11. This was an awesome article! I have used sunless tanners before and almost always end up with streaks, even the streakless ones, so I can’t say I have a favourite….. but, a couple good tricks for minimizing streaks are first, to rub lemon juice onto the worst ones. Second, the smaller, or less noticeable ones can be blended in with a bronzer.

  12. Reallly good article! love how u talk about good products and methods so that you avoid orange palms. You should do an article on waxing ( bikini, legs etc) suggesting proper methods and how common it is amongst college girls.


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