Thanks to my Irish heritage, I've always been naturally pale. That's not necessarily a bad thing — pale skin can be beautiful, I mean, just look at Emma Stone or Krysten Ritter. Still, I enjoy having a nice tan in the summer. Unfortunately it's not such a good idea to lie out in the sun to get tan. I did it occasionally when I was younger but now that I'm in my mid-20s, I can't pretend that I don't know or care about the risks of sun exposure. These days I'm always covered in at least SPF 30, as well as careful to stay in the shade and wear giant hats.
That doesn't mean that I have to go the entire summer without a tan, however. Let me assure you that fake tans have come a long way. I myself was hesitant at first to try tanning lotions — not only because of the risk of turning orange, but also because of all the work involved for what seems like such little payoff. Who wants to spend their entire summer reapplying tanner every three days? Not me, that's for sure. Luckily I figured out a way to get a fake tan that looks natural and actually lasts. Read on for the top three tanning lessons that I learned via trial and error, as well as some helpful tips from St. Tropez skin finishing expert Sophie Evans.
1. Use a good self-tanner.
Obviously the biggest factor in getting a good fake tan is choosing the right product. I think this is kind of a personal choice for a lot of people, just like mascara or perfume. I've tried a lot of self-tanners, from drugstore options to more expensive ones.
My personal favorite is Tanwise Dark Bronzing Sunless Mousse ($19, Amazon) for several reasons, one being the price. Another is that the mousse formula makes it really easy to apply (just make sure to use a tanning mitt to protect your hands!) and the very dark guide color, which washes off in the shower after the developing phase, also makes it easy to see what you're doing. In the end it gives a very natural tan that's easy to build up and, best of all, lasts for over a week before fading very gradually and naturally.
2. Exfoliate well beforehand (and lightly afterwards).
It's very important to exfoliate your entire body before using self-tanner. This will help the tanner go on more evenly and last longer. You can pretty much use whatever exfoliant you want. I like using nice-smelling body scrubs in the shower, such as this Pacifica Kona Coffee & Sugar Detox Body Scrub ($28, Pacifica Beauty), as well as an EcoTools Shower Glove ($6, Amazon) which I just personally prefer over loofahs.
You should also exfoliate after applying your tan, as Evans explains to Bustle: "A light exfoliation every few days will keep the color even. Exfoliate lightly every two to three days while your self tanner is on. This will ensure that your tan is fading evenly. You must use a very gentle body polisher that will not rip or tear at the skin." So don't go crazy with a sandpaper-rough scrub, but just buff your skin lightly every once in awhile to make sure the color fades evenly.
3. Keep your skin well-moisturized afterwards.
Dry skin does not lend itself well to a long-lasting tan. You should put moisturizer on dry areas of your skin before applying self-tanner (such as your knees and elbows) but you should also remember to moisturize your entire body daily after tanning. Just don't put lotion on immediately after applying the self-tanner since it needs time to develop.
I like to use Skin + Pharmacy Advanced Skin Therapy Extended Moisture Body Lotion ($14, CVS). It's good for sensitive skin, since there's no added fragrance (it does smell a bit like the coconut oil that it contains but it's not an overpowering scent by any means). It's also very hydrating without being greasy, which can be an impossible combination to find in lotion.
4. Skip any sweaty stuff right after you apply.
Evans cautions against getting too sweaty right after applying self-tanner: "During the development time of the self-tan, refrain from heavy sweating and gym sessions. Sweat can wreck your tan during the development stage. Tight clothing and excessive sweating due to exercise will cause certain areas to fade more quickly." I know from my own experience that she's absolutely right, but I also know how hard it can be to avoid getting sweaty in the summer. My solution has been to spend an hour or two after applying my tan just hanging out with the air-conditioning at full blast before getting dressed.
5. Use a gradual tanner too.
Evans also recommends using a gradual self-tanner to really stretch out the life of your tan. "To boost and maintain color we recommend using a gradual self tanner like St. Tropez’s Gradual Tan Everyday Tinted Body Lotion." St. Tropez also has an in-shower version that works great after a long day. So stock up on gradual tanner while you're buying your usual kind, and use that to keep your tan lasting longer in between applications. After all, the longer your tan lasts the longer summer lasts... Right?
Images: Atikh Bana/Unsplash; Kelly Dougher; Courtesy Brands