The Best Self-Tanners If You Want to Look Glowy and Sunkissed This Winter

These tips will keep you looking healthy and glowing throughout the coldest months of the year.

Winter is here! The good news is that wind-brushed and pretty flushed cheeks are easy to come by. The not-as-good news? The glowy tan you had this summer is long gone. Like, long gone. The sun is a tough act to follow but when it comes to winter and spring trips where you want that beautiful bronze, replicating its effects safely is the goal. 

RELATED: 10 Tips To Look Glowing All Week

Rather than make a spray tan appointment pre-vaca, learning to DIY a self tan is simple enough—when you’re armed with the right prep products and self tanners, of course. To that end, we share all the best tips on how to bestow a glow on the cheap. 

Prep Your Skin

St. Tropez
St. Tropez

The better condition your skin is in before you tan, the better your tan will look and last, notes celebrity tanner and St. Tropez expert Sophie Evans. She says that ideally, you want to start exfoliating your skin a few days out and try to leave a good eight hours before self-tan application. 

“Self-tans will develop their ultimate best if the skin’s pH balance is at its most neutral,” Evans said.  Showering and exfoliating can affect the skin’s pH.

A lower pH level which is caused by showering can sometimes result in a lighter depth of tan, Evans explains. To ensure your tan is as deep as you’d like, make sure all old self-tan has been removed. 

Another thing to think about pre-tan is applying your deodorant or perfume. Evans advises making sure these are removed before application, “as deodorant left on the skin can lead to green armpits!”

She also recommends completing any waxing 24 hours prior to application. “This will allow your hair pores to settle and guarantee the tan won’t sit into the hair follicles and create a spotty look,” Evans said.

Waxing and hair-removing creams will remove your self tan so you want to use those before you tan for the longest lasting glow. Shaving is a much milder form of exfoliation, Evans says. 

In terms of using moisturizer before tanning, Evans recommends using a non-oil based moisturizer to dry problem areas only  immediately before application. We like CeraVe Daily Face and Body Moisturizing Lotion. “Elbows, knees, hands, back of wrist, whole of the foot and back of the heel crease and any severe dry patches like eczema and psoriasis,” Evans notes. “These areas will develop a few shades darker than the rest of the body, so the moisturizer will act as a barrier and will dilute the tan.” 

Tinted vs. Non-Tinted Self Tanners

What are the benefits of using a tinted product vs. non-tinted and vice versa? Tinted self-tans will give you an instant tanned look plus you can see exactly where you have applied. A really good tan will even give you a cosmetic skin finish where it helps to conceal and make the skin look its best from the get go, just like St. Tropez’s Luxe Whipped Crème Mousse.

Some people may not want a self-tan with a built in tint as they are worried about color transfer, this is when clear water bronzers are good. One to try is Vita Liberata Clear Tanning Mousse. Just apply the product all over ensuring every area has been covered then watch your glow deepen over the next  few hours.

One benefit of clear self tanners is that they allow you to wear white clothing immediately after application without the fear of any color transfer, Evans says. “When using clear self-tans you have to be aware of where you are applying, it’s easy to miss areas so my top tip is always work in small sections and if you feel an area has not been covered simply reapply again, your skin can only absorb a certain amount of self-tan so as long as the skin is covered your tan will develop evenly.” 

Spray Tanning Formulas 

Evans notes that sprays are quick to use but you have to be aware of overspray. “Always place a towel on the floor to protect the soles of your feet from staining,” she says. Evans also recommends wiping the soles of your feet with a cleansing wipe afterwards to ensure no staining.

She says to spray about 6 inches away from the body and work in sections sweeping upward when spraying the legs. “If you sweep downwards you may create too much product landing on the feet creating darker un naturally tanned feet,” Evans says.

You can also cover the feet with a towel when spraying the lower leg then remove the towel and spritz over well moisturized feet to finish. You also want to wipe clean nails and cuticles for a natural finish.


Another tip is to use a tan applicator mitt after you’ve tanned your entire body to smooth over your body to ensure an even and touch-dry application (without those weird orange palms). For tanning the face with a spray, we recommend Iconic London Prep-Set-Tan, which provides a bronzed effect while adding a bit of illumination pre-makeup. 

Mousse Formulas

The trick to using a mousse, like St. Moritz Instant Tanning Mousse, is always using an applicator mitt with your mousse. “Use about two pumps per limb and simply glide over your limbs using a flat hand and a light stroke,” says Evans.

You never want to feel like you are pulling and over rubbing the skin.”  If you feel the self tanner isn’t gliding over the skin easily, you need to use more product. “All the mousse needs to do is cover the skin (not be massaged in) so that all the tanning ingredients can absorb into the skin and develop into a perfect even tan,” says Evans.  

Gradual Tanners vs. Instant 

A gradual tan like Tan-Luxe The Gradual, will apply like a body lotion. Evans says it’s best to apply these types of tanners with your hands and apply them liberally.

Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly once finished and allow the tan to develop for eight hours without showering or going to the gym and getting wet and sweaty. “The color you will get from a gradual tan will only be one or two shades darker so you may want to apply again the next day and over the next consecutive day until your desired depth of tan has been reached,” Evans says.

Once you have your desired tan depth stop using for a day or two then lightly exfoliate and reapply. Gradual tan color does not have the ability to last, if it took you two days of applying to get your tan then your tan will only last two days, Evans says.

A self-tan has the ability to last 10 days plus and you can achieve your depth of tan when using an express self-tan by how long you allow the product to develop, she adds. With a product like St. Tropez’s Express Bronzing Mousse you apply and rinse off after one hour for a light tan, two  hours for a medium tan and up to three hours for your darker tan.

The product will stop developing after 3 plus hours so there is no need not to shower. Evans says that some skin types may not see their full tan depth until eight hours after applying so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see your tan after rinsing—it’s on its way but may take a few more hours 

To Remove Your Self Tan

Did you know you have to remove it? It won’t just fade like a regular tan. To take self-tan off completely, use a product like Bondi Sands Self Tan Eraser  with a washcloth or St. Tropez’s Tan Remover Build Up Mitt on its own while taking a hot shower. Buff the product over the whole body working in circular motions and you will see the tan start to go away.

Tips to Extend the Life of Your Self Tanner

Moisturizing daily, especially after showering, is key. Be gentle with your skin and pat it to dry, don’t rub. Evans says you want to apply your self-tan every seven to ten days and use your gradual tan mid-self- tanning to boost and hydrate. 


Amber Katz
Amber Katz is a content creator for brands and publications. Read more
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