Raise your hand if you remember the glorious days of lathering up with as much baby oil as humanly possible and laying in your parent’s yard with a Playboy bunny sticker somewhere near your bikini bottoms. (Raising my hand over here, both of them actually.) Because I was all about that life throughout my teenage years.
I grew up and eventually realized how incredibly harmful the sun can be on our skin, which I’m pretty sure everyone is aware of by now, right? Not only is it dangerous for long-term effects, but too much sun can lead to sun spots, wrinkles, and just a lot of things that I generally try to avoid as an adult.
The problem is, I was blessed with pale skin that’s equivalent to that of a ghost. I’m not one of those girls with a natural glow or olive skin like my Greek husband Spiro. Which I’m OK with – I’ve accepted the translucent skin at this point – but that doesn’t mean I can’t still get the perfect tan.
Since fake n’ baking isn’t an option for me anymore, I’ve gotten really good at the sunless tanning game. Lotions, sprays and towelettes have been revolutionary for me in the last decade or so, and I’ve since been on a crusade trying to take better care of my skin while also really getting to know it. I want to take control and alleviate any underlying damage and, of course, minimize future damage, too. It’s a mix of being proactive but also reactive to what’s already happened.
And with summer fast approaching, along with all the tank tops and dresses that come with the season, it’s the time of year when I get really serious about my fake tan.
If I’m in a pinch or being totally lazy, I’ll have someone come to my house to professional spray tan me, but budget-wise, that’s not always the best option. Luckily, I’ve tried just about every sunless tanning option under the sun and have a handful of products that work really well and for all budgets and occasions. No sun damage with any of them, but the look of the sun. Best of both worlds!
For all you ladies looking to save your skin while looking like you just came home from Maui, here are the products I swear by. You’ll love them.
1. Spray tan at home
This is for the gal who just has to have a spray tan but is also working within a budget, aka me often.
The biggest thing here is finding someone to spray you because you cannot do it alone. Trust me on that. You’ve gotta recruit!
If you have a girlfriend who also wants a spray tan, offer to alternate weeks and find a schedule that works for both of you. I highly suggest trying to do your spray tans at night, because you’ll feel kinda gross after. I actually hate having to go in public after a spray tan – I’d rather just crawl into bed and then wake up and shower first thing. If you don’t have a friend who is willing to spray tan you, this is where a husband or boyfriend comes in. You’ve heard the term “Instagram husband” right? Well, this is like that, but on a whole other level. Spiro can’t take an Insta pic to save his life, but man can he give me a mean spray tan.
If your guy is hesitant (which he might be), I have a few tricks to convince him. First, remind him that he’ll be seeing you naked – which, let’s be honest, what husband doesn’t like? Just remind him that he can’t touch you for a while! Next, tell him to pretend like he’s spraying a car – which might make more sense for the car-obsessed guys like Spiro. I told him, “nice, smooth, even strokes up and down, just like you’re spraying the car.” He got it.
Once you have your sprayer locked down, you’ll need two essentials for the process. Warning: it’s an investment at first, but it’s not too bad, and it pays off if you spray often. This is the machine I have and I freaking love it. It’s $200 for the total package, works really well and is easy to use and clean. It even comes with a tent, but I prefer to just stand in my shower and then clean it out afterward because folding the tent back up and putting it away can be a bit beastly. The tent works great though if you’re in a pinch or don’t want to dirty the shower.
Here’s the small catch – I don’t recommend using the sunless tanning solution that comes in the package with the machine and tent. I found my go-to solution through my friend who spray tans me and does it professionally. We tested TONS of solutions before we found the right one so I’ve done my research here. I love the one I use because it’s 100% organic (literally made of almond extract, hazel and caramel). Second, the color is beautiful. It gives a nice natural tan, with one coat on my body and two on my face, and isn’t orange at all. It spreads really well too, so if whoever is spraying you misses a little spot, it’s no big deal.
You can purchase the solution in two different sizes depending on how often you spray. I bought the 3-liter jug and it should last me until I’m about 76 years old (seriously, this thing is huge). It cost just over $100, so for about a $300 investment (about six professional spray tans), you’ll have tans on tans on tans for a very long time with each one lasting around seven to 10 days. Told you it’d pay off!
An extra tip for the DIY spray tanner: Always put a little bit of lotion on the tops of your hands (down into your nail beds, too) and tops of your feet. This way they won’t get blotchy or streaky which can happen if you don’t hydrate them first.
If you don’t necessarily want to tan your whole body, but you want to give your face and chest area a little glow, these tan towels are awesome. I love these when I’m wearing jeans and a fun top and just need color up top. All you do is wipe the towel on your face in the morning, put your makeup on like normal, and over the next three hours your tan will develop. I LOVE that I don’t have to go makeup free when doing this so it’s easy for work or whatever. It makes this option super convenient and quick.
This stuff is BOMB you guys. The whole St. Tropez sunless tanning line is actually realllly good, so any product you use you’ll have good luck with. For this facial oil, all you have to do is apply two to three drops to dry skin and allow four to eight hours for it to set. I like to add it in as the last step to my evening skincare routine so I can wake up with a “I just got back from vaca” color. And I mean, how easy is that?
If you’re wanting your whole body bronzed but aren’t into the at-home spray tan thing, I’ve got you. Well, more specifically, these towelettes have got you. They’re the least intimating way to tan your body, so don’t even stress. I use the medium to dark skin tone options, in the larger size, and usually use the whole box (5 towelettes). When applying, I start with my face and then work down my body. Then just go about your day. Your tan will develop over a three to four hour period and you don’t have to worry about anything disrupting the tan while you’re out and about. You won’t be super dark, but it’ll achieve that natural glow we’re all after.
This mouse is also excellent for a full-body tan. It rubs in really smoothly and you can see where you’re putting it on, so you can spy streaks or uneven areas. It also has a bronzer top coat, so don’t worry if you look crazy while putting it on – it’ll even out overnight and the bronzer aspect gives you a nice deep tan. I recommend doing it before bed and sleeping in an old sweatshirt and sweatpants to avoid getting it all over your sheets. Worst case and it does get on the sheets, have no fear, it’ll wash out.
There’s also a mitt that comes with this option if that’s your thing. I just use my hands. And speaking of hands, always make sure to wash your hands super well after applying. This is key with all of these products!
One other tip with sunless tanning options in general? Stay moisturized! It’s key. Which actually leads me to…
Last but certainly not least, this product is amazing for daily moisturizing because it actually has a gradual self-tanner in it. It has a little bit of color when you put it on and will help your tan last a couple days longer. It’s something I wear all year when I want slight color and a lot of moisture and on top of all the options above.
There you have it! This is basically a decade of heavy sunless tanning research and development filtered down into a handful of products that I truly do recommend for the perfect tan. If you have a favorite product in the self-tanning world, I’d love to hear about it because I’m always game for try something new. And obviously this ghostly skin of mine needs it!
Photos by Hallie Duesenberg