Just to give you some context on me for this blog post - I am legit casper. I am very, very pale - I do not tan, I barely even burn anymore. My skin just doesn't really respond to the sun, which is frustrating when you're in the market to look like a living, breathing, healthy human being. In the winter, I don't care. After labour day, I revert to my natural, blinding form. But from about Victoria day onwards, I have a weekly self-tanning routine I stick to like clock work, with a few other special considerations .
Ten or 15 years ago, when we started experimenting with tanning products as teenagers, the technology was pretty abysmal. So if you've got some negative stereotypes about stinky, orange, streaky tanning products in your mind - give some new ones a chance. They've come a long way in formulation (although I have yet to find one that is perfect). There's something out there for everyone in terms of what you're looking for (a little glow vs. a dark tan) and your commitment level (something really easy vs. something that takes a bit of practice).
Looking for something easy? Gradual tanning lotions and temporary body bronzers are for you.
Gradual daily lotions like the Jergens Natural Glow slowly deposit tan onto the skin. They add a very subtle hint of colour - so it's really easy to just slap it on and go. You don't have to think about overdoing it - it's really not possible. If you are very fair like me, you most likely won't notice any difference using these types of products, but if you do want to give them a shot - go with the medium/deep version rather than the light - otherwise I would say there is really no point.
Tinted, wash-off bronzing lotions also exist. Like L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Summer Express Wash Off Body Makeup Lotion, or the Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs (yep... you've seen it in the nail polish aisle a million times. TRY IT!). Again, just like a regular lotion you can slap it on where you need it and wash it off in your next shower. Great for a special occasion and fairly fool proof. I mix it in with regular moisturizer for a hint of colour and coverage; it's actually capable of covering minor imperfections like veins, mosquito bites, and bruises! The best thing is it's waterproof - I have never had a problem with it coming off on my clothes or furniture.
Looking for something with more impact and longer lasting results? Self-tanning mousses and lotions (or a professional spray tan) give you colour for days or weeks.
This is NOT to say these are hard to use by any means - but they are something that take a little bit of forethought. For the most part, you apply at night, sleep while the product develops, and wash off residual in the morning. Showering, shaving, and exfoliating beforehand is recommended - but don't moisturize - it will block the tanner from sinking into your skin. However, a small amount of moisturizer is recommended for your hands, feet, ankles, knees, elbows and wrists - the tanner grabs extra hard onto the thicker dry skin on these area so we want to minimize that.
Essential: When you buy your lotion or mousse, pick up a tanning MITT! If you don't have a mitt, you can use latex gloves, or wash your hands really well afterwards. TBH if I didn't have a mitt I wouldn't bother tanning. It's so much easier - your hands don't get gunky and stained and the softness of the mitt spreads the product nicely to prevent streaking or missing spots. If you can handle it, here is a photo of my dirty mitt. You can get yourself a clean one at Sephora or here.
Self-Tan Product Recommendations
I can vouch for great results from the St Tropez line (linked here with the best price I've ever seen it for!) - it's really expensive ($50 - $60) but lasts a whole season and I've never had a bad experience. I've used their "regular" mousse and the "extra dark" mousse and there isn't a TON of difference, but I prefer the extra dark. For someone like me who is so pale, even the extra dark doesn't look too dark because it works with your natural skin tone - it sounds scary ("EXTRA DARK!!"), but it honestly just takes the edge off of my see-through skin. People don't stop me and comment on my tan or anything (wow, I'm really selling this eh? HAHA but this is what I have to do to pass as "alive.") I have actually also tried their "express" mousse which develops in 3 hours instead of overnight if you're in a rush - also good results.
I have recently been using Fake Bake (amazon link here) - it's much cheaper, only $30 and comes with a mitt. It works, but it's not my favourite. Definitely worth your buck on a budget, though. What I like is that it gives good colour - especially if you are naturally cool-toned (pink undertones) - this gives you that "kinda burnt" look instead of kinda oompa-looma-y. However, it comes in a liquid spray, and no matter what you do it's inevitable that it kinda blows around a bit - best to apply standing in your tub.
I've made this all sound very easy (maybe). What's the catch?
There are some unavoidable cons to using self-tanning lotion. My LEAST favourite thing about them is the smell. I have YET to find a tanner that doesn't have a... tanning scent. Even the ones that advertise their scentlessness... smell. It does't smell HORRIBLE, but it is uniquely annoying. Like a lotion that's trying to smell good, but actually smells like burnt cookies. But I endure. The night I apply, I put a temporary additional sheet on my bed so that it doesn't stink up my regular sheets. Speaking of sheets, as your skin cells shed, your sheets will get a little dingy and brown (LOL so gross) - so I definitely would recommend closeting your nice white sheets for the summer. All in all, protect the sheets.