To say my last tanning experience was traumatic is an understatement. In the name of serious investigative journalism, I had volunteered myself for a Vegas-style makeover that involved waxing, tanning, maximizing of hair and makeup, and minimizing of body coverage. At the spray-tan salon, the words “Lift your booty” were uttered. Enough said.
Naturally, I was a little apprehensive when I was asked to test out some of the St. Tropez products new to the Birchbox shop. My consult with Sophie Evans, the brand’s go-to bronzing expert, quelled my fears. She assured me that as long as I followed a few pointers, the process was basically dummy-proof. Read on to find out how to self-tan like a pro—with nary a sign of fake-and-baking.
Start slowly, then get adventurous
As a newbie, Evans suggested I start with the mousse, an express self-tanner that sets quickly, is mess-free, and lets you determine the shade you want: Leave it on for one hour if you want a lighter tan, three hours for a darker tan, then wash it off and you’re ready to go.
Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate
This may be self-tanning 101, but it bears repeating. I used a dry brush, but St. Tropez has a body polish that sloughs off dead skin so you’re working with a smooth surface. We also love Malin+Goetz's peppermint scrub, which softens skin naturally with glycerin. If you’re going to shave or wax, give your skin 24 hours to recover before self-tanning.
Moisturize rough skin and your hairline
Before you apply self-tanner, use an oil-free moisturizer like St. Tropez Tan Optimizer Body Moisturizer or Malin+Goetz's vitamin b5 moisturizer on your hands, feet, elbows, and knees. “The skin is thicker and slightly drier,” explains Evans, “so the tan develops more quickly.” Lotion will ensure even coverage, and can be used to blend between your wrist and your palm, for example, and to smooth out any darker patches. If you have grey or blond hair, adding lotion to your hairline will prevent your locks from turning brassy.
Use a mitt—and don’t forget your nails
Nothing screams fake tan like tan palms. Using a mitt not only eliminates the risk of that telltale sign, it also makes the entire process mess-free. You can wash your mitt with dish soap or even throw it in the washing machine when you’re done. Your nails will react to DHA, the active ingredient in all self-tanning products, so remember to wipe them off post-application—I used an Herban Essentials Towelette—to keep them from turning yellow.
Don’t skimp on product
One of the biggest self-tanning faux pas is not using enough. “You want to cover your skin liberally,” says Evans. “It doesn’t have to be even, just make sure it’s covered.” A good rule of thumb is one pump per arm and two pumps per leg, but if you find you’re not fully covered, don’t be afraid to use more. It won’t mean a darker color—just a more even tan.
Keep it simple when it comes to your face
The Gradual Tan Plus Anti-Ageing formula has a moisturizer built in, so all you really need to worry about is blending it into your skin—and washing your hands. It builds color with every application, so you don't have to worry about going too dark too fast, and plumps skin without clogging your pores.
Don’t forget the SPF
Just because you look bronzed doesn’t mean you can’t still get burned! Apply sunscreen over your self-tanner if you’re going to be in the sun.