Guest Post: A Former Floridian’s Guide to Self Tanners

While I’m soaking up sun in Ocean City, Md., my DC gal pals are sharing their top-notch summer beauty tips and tricks. You may remember Rebecca Bredholt from my AM to PM series and I’m thrilled to have her back! Today, the former Floridian gives us a guide to self tanners. 

Everyone’s skin is so unique, that reading user reviews of tanning products is about as helpful as a set of directions on a shampoo bottle. First, you have to understand what type of skin you have (Snow White? Pocahontas? Princess Jasmine? If it’s the last two, stop reading right here because there’s nothing I can do for you.) Next, you should be aware of the ingredients, and finally be aware of your time frame.

I’m also going to be the party pooper and warn that the older you get, the harder it is for your skin to retain a “sun-kissed glow,” especially if you baked yourself into another ethnic column like I did in my late teens/early twenties. (Wear. Sun. Screen. All. The. Time.)

Guide to Self Tanners

If you have fair skin:
My sister has the complexion of Nicole Kidman while mine can get closer to Nicole Richie. My sister cannot do spray tans in anything other than “super light.” She has freckles and a bit of red in her light brown/blonde hair. Her complexion is what the Skin Cancer Foundation refers to as “Type 1.” The best self-tanning products for her have been Neutrogena’s Build-A-Tan ($10) and Jergen’s Natural Glow ($10). If she were going to use Glow Head to Toe Self Tanning Towelettes, I’d recommend she use the Light to Medium. She needs to give herself 3-5 days to build up what I would call a “tan.”

If you have medium or beige skin:
If you find yourself selecting foundations with the number “30” a lot, you might have a medium skin tone. I’m between the “Type II” and “Type III” category for cancer screenings, meaning I will burn in the sun, but it turns into a tan overnight and the tan usually lasts awhile. When I use the $50 Mystic Spray Tan booths (which I don’t recommend unless you can hold your breath a long, long time because breathing that stuff is horrible for you), I select the Medium tan at the start of summer and the Dark tan at the end of summer.

When using the Glow Head to Toe Self Tanning Towelettes, choose the Medium to Dark and expect a difference in about 24 hours. Application of this stuff is no joke, so when the directions say go in circular motions and cover every inch of your skin, they are not kidding. My advice is to start at your feet when the towelette is most moist, then work your way up the back of your legs, then the front. Then start with your belly and lower back and work up to your hands. If you want full coverage, you’ll use about 4 towelettes, depending on your skin’s square footage

You can use this product on your face, but I’m married to my Clinique Self Sun Face Tinted Lotion ($22). It works the same day. I’m big on same day results, which are hard to come by, so I’ve relied on Clarins Delicious Self Tanning Cream ($42), which only works well if your skin is already hydrated. And for Mystic spray results without having to do the booth, I use Hollywood Tans’ Sunless Self-Tanning Spray for “shock and awe” results. Be prepared to rub the crap out of your skin to make sure it’s in evenly though.

This wouldn’t be a proper self-tanning blog without mentioning prep instructions or ingredients, so here goes:

1. Shower. You shouldn’t shower for 8-12 hours after applying these products if you want results.
2. Shave. Because if you shave the self-tanner off you can’t complain that it doesn’t work or leave streaks.
3. Exfoliate. I’m not talking scrubbing with a washcloth, although that’s better than nothing. Use a salt or sugar scrub.
4. Moisturize. Careful here, I do not mean put lotion on your legs and then try to apply self-tanner. Before you get out of the shower, rub a liquid vitamin E or aloe gel into your skin. Or one of those Japanese “milk” products. Then towel off. Wait 20 minutes, then apply the self tanner. Then wait another 20 minutes before getting dressed. I’ve gotten ready with those girls in Miami. This is how they do it. Trust me.

1. DHA. If it’s the second ingredient listed, that self tanner means business.
2. Dehydroacetic Acid. This is basically what makes lemon juice or vinegar tart. It’s a basic balancing agent found in bottles where people know what they’re doing.
3. Cocoa or Caramel. Yes, the stuff we love to eat. Don’t be surprised to find either of these inside.