The Best Self Tanners for Fair Skin + My Current Routine
I'm the girl who's mostly Greek & Italian, and somehow ended up with fair skin and freckles from the little bit of Irish in me. Self tanner has been a staple in my routine for 15+ years; I've tried so many products, including just about every cult favorite, and have finally landed on the best self tanners for fair skin.
Also see: The Best Self Tanning Tips for Beginners + Beyond
Over the years, I've found a routine that works for me and allows me to keep an even, lasting tan from week to week. Sharing how my self tanning routine breaks down, my favorite self tanners for fair skin and a few self tanning hacks for the perfect tan!
My Self Tanning Routine
I usually like to start my routine mid-week (Wednesday or Thursday) so I have a nice tan for the weekend that will slowly fade by the middle of the following week. I follow this very loosely of course, depending on my schedule, but I've found that days 1-3 of a fresh tan are always when I feel best!
To start my routine, I shower, exfoliate and shave 6-12 hours prior to tanning. Why? So the pores on my legs have a chance to fully close up. If you self-tan immediately after shaving, your skin can react to the ingredients in your self tanner, creating a similar rash to razor burn. Additionally, your self tanner can "cling" to your open pores, causing that strawberry legs-look.
PS - If you suffer from razor burn or strawberry legs, try this shave gel.
I love Mario Badescu's Coconut Exfoliating Scrub (smells amazing) and especially when I'm exfoliating to remove self tanner from the week prior, I'll use an exfoliating mitt which helps to remove any dead skin + leftover tanner. As for shaving, I've tried a handful of razor subscriptions over the past few years, and Athena Club has been gentlest on my sensitive skin.
I also included Nécessaire's Fragrance Free Body Lotion in this list since it's technically a part of prep right before you self-tan, but we'll come back to that when we get to No3!
Mario Badescu Exfoliating Scrub / Athena Razor ($5 off) / Nécessaire Body Lotion
In the past, I would tan my face with my leftover self-tanner after tanning my body. While this worked for me, I recommend using a self-tanner specifically formulated for my face which I've actually come to prefer since many also contain skincare ingredients.
The more product you use, the darker your tan will develop. I usually mix about 5 drops of product in with a light moisturizer and rub in, making sure to cover all areas of my face down to my neck. There are a lot of products out there that either feel like you have nothing on your face, or feel like you have way too much. St. Tropez's (one of my OG favorite brands) Tan Luxe Glow Tonic Drops and Lux Unfiltered's No.12 Bronzing Face Drops are my favorite products out there for the most natural, sunkissed tan.
I usually apply 2x a week on my face. My favorite product to supplement your glow in-between tanning is Drunk Elephant's Sunshine Drops. I mix 1-2 drops in with my primer; it gives the most beautiful glow while also delivering skincare ingredients that defend against pollution and environmental stressors.
Lux Unfiltered No.12 Bronzing Face Drops / St. Tropez Glow Tonic Drops / Drunk Elephant Sunshine Drops (for after tanning)
When it comes to the best self tanners for fair skin, hands down, St. Tropez x Ashley Graham and Tan Again Ultra Dark are at the top of my list. These self tanners have all of the qualities you look for: natural ingredients, natural color, mild or pleasant smell, smooth application, lasting color and an even fade. The best self tanners for fair skin also tend to contain either brown or green undertones, so always be on the lookout for those!
See a tutorial of how I apply here!
Here's my breakdown of how they compare:
I typically tan my body 1-2x per week, depending on time of year, if I have an event, etc. Here are my foolproof tips for a flawless, even tan:
+ Moisturizer acts as a barrier between your skin and your self tanner, and will dilute the color of your tan. In order to prevent your self tanner from soaking in too much on the drier areas of your body, make sure to moisturize the following areas: hands with a focus on knuckles, inner wrists, elbows, knees and feet with a focus on heels. Don't moisturize all at once! Most moisturizers dry fairly quickly, and if you apply your moisturizer to your entire body, by the time you've worked your way up to your top half, it will be too dry (read more application tips here).
+ Dampen your tanning mitt prior to applying your tanner. Think of it similar to using a wet versus a dry beauty blender to put on your makeup. The dampened mitt is going a) prevent your self tanner from soaking right up into the mitt, and b) help your self tanner to glide on more easily, without settling into dry spots.
+ Be generous with your product and work in quick, circular motions. To see a tutorial of how I apply my self tanner, visit my self tanning story highlight!
+ Use a dense brush to blend self tanner seamlessly on tricker spots like feet or hands (also works great for face!).
+ Once you've finished tanning, clean up any excess tanner or tricky spots by applying moisturizer to a towel and gently "buffing out" the area. I like to do this especially on my inner wrists, heels, and elbows. This is a great trick to dilute the self tanner enough that it won't streak, without completely removing it. You can also leave out the towel and just re-apply a thin coat of moisturizer to those areas! Read more about the key to tanning feet/ankles in our FAQ below!
Tan Again Ultra Dark / St. Tropez x Ashley Graham / Tarte Buff & Bronze Brush (code DANIELLE)
I like to call these my self tan "supplements"; products that enhance and/or help prolong your tan as it wears throughout the week. The best part? You can totally use these without self tanner, too!
If you're looking for an extra bronzy-glow or a little bit of a blurring skin filter, try Lux Unfiltered's No.10 Blurring Body Glow. This is an instant color that washes off and won't transfer. Perfect compliment to any skin tone, too. Runners up are The Tint by The Elle Effect (I love this product but shipping is a little expensive since it's shipped from AUS) and Vita Liberata's Body Blur (a favorite of mind, but the formula is currently being updated, so currently unavailable).
Glow oils are also a great option and my favorite especially for areas like shoulders and chest. Summer Friday's has a great one and Kopari just released a new version of their Coconut Body Glow (another long-time favorite), now with SPF 50.
If you prefer a powder, RMS Beauty's Living Glow Face & Body Powder is my go-to!
Lux Unfiltered No.10 Blurring Body Glow / Summer Fridays Pool Time Glowing Body Oil / Kopari Coconut Sun Shield Body Glow / RMS Beauty Living Glow Face & Body Powder
Also see: Quick Tips for Self Tanning
How do you clean your tanning mitt?
Warm water is key! I just use a little bit of soap and warm water (I'll sometimes bring into the shower for easy cleaning), and do my best to rinse my mitt after each application. Every month or so, I'll give it a really good clean and throw it in the wash with my towels! You can hang to dry right over your faucet handle overnight.
How do I tan my back?
Honestly, the easiest way is to have your significant other do it for you if you can! If you're on your own, you can use a back applicator (I personally find these a little difficult). My best tip though is to purchase a mister spray bottle and fill it with any liquid self tanner (Isle of Paradise is a popular brand) for those hard-to-reach spots!
My leg hair grows so fast. How do you maintain tan legs while shaving?
Oh, girl. My leg hair literally grows back every 6 hours (100% getting laser hair removal finally this Winter). When I have self tanner on my legs, I'm just a little more careful about the pressure that I'm using with my razor. If you find that your self tanner fades quickly from frequent shaving, supplement by using a body glow on your legs or simply add in one extra leg application to your weekly schedule.
What's the secret to an even tan on feet and ankles?
I start my legs by tanning from my ankles up. Once I've finished my entire leg, without adding any new tanner to my mitt I then apply to my feet and ankles, making sure to cover every area (yes, even in between toes). Here's the key: go back in with your moisturizer after this step and apply it all over your entire foot. Moisturizer dilutes self tanner, so this will help to give you a natural, even tan that's not splotchy while still leaving some color behind. I swear by this method! You don't need a lot, just a thin coat.
How do you avoid a self tanner drying out your skin?
Most self tanners these days contain some type of moisturizing ingredient. That said, with quick-drying formulas, you can sometimes feel like your skin is extra dry from a self-tanner. It's so important to moisturize with a really hydrating moisturizer after you rinse your self tanner off! Mario Badescu's Coconut Body Butter is my absolute favorite (while I love the Nécessaire for everyday, this one definitely locks in more moisture for tanning days).
How can I avoid getting self tanner on my white sheets if I'm tanning at night?
I almost always tan at night and of course, my entire bed is white. Getting a little tanner on your sheets is inevitable, so I will either a) sleep in a loose long-sleeve and pants or b) use a spare black sheet set and sleep with the topsheet and the pillow case if it's warmer and I want to sleep in shorts and a tee. This is a great hack to avoid having to replace your sheets entirely and you can simply throw the black sheets in the wash the next day!
Are there any absolute no-no's when it comes to self tanning?
+ Don't ever skip applying lotion on feet/ankles, knees, elbows and wrists
+ When washing off your tan the next day, avoid any exfoliating scrubs or loofahs to keep your color intact
+ Always remember to give your tan a quick look in the mirror after you're done (you'd be surprised at how easy it is to miss spots even when you think you've been thorough!)
+ Don't wear white or light colors if you're tanning during the day and have any chance of sweating (it will always wash out, but it's just more of a pain than anything else)
+ Don't forget to wash your mitt to avoid a splotchy tan
+ Don't sweat it if you don't have a perfect tan or need to fix an area with too much tanner! The best time to remove self tanner is at the end of a shower when your skin has had some time to soak with an exfoliating mitt and soap. You can also use a specially-formulated tan remover.