Getting the Faux Glow I love All Summer Long
Growing up, I always wished that my skin would tan so that I could rock a golden, beachy glow. Reality check: I’m so pale. I was the kid covered in zinc, t-shirts, hats, speckled in freckles with a mild pink burn – you get the idea.
If you’ve checked in on my website or social media, you know that when I set a goal, I chase that goal with everything I have.
Well, I had a personal goal to achieve one rockin golden glow at the beach while keeping my skin sun-safe. So, I set out to try the latest products and all types of techniques to get a realistic, beautiful glow at home while keeping my skin healthy.
Quick note – I want to reassure you that using a self-tanner is generally much, much safer than extended sun exposure. The biggest risk is inhalation because you don’t want self-tanner in your lungs, so I prefer the products I discuss below over the sprays that can be inhaled. (With that said, if I’m preparing for a photo shoot, I sometimes opt for the easy, even flawlessness of a professional spray tan.) Using high quality, safe self-tanners topically is generally quite safe. It should not penetrate beyond the very top layers of your skin.
Here’s my quick tutorial on a realistic-looking, streak-free golden faux glow:
Prepping for almost all self tanners is the same: you want to start by exfoliating in the shower. Self tanners work by staining the uppermost layers of your skin using a molecule called DHA — dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When applied, dihydroxyacetone reacts with dead cells in the skin’s surface to temporarily darken the skin. So if you don’t exfoliate, chances are you’re spending time staining a layer of cells that’s about to be naturally shed. Our skin cells “turn over” or get replaced every few weeks. The older you are, and the location on your body, as well as the products you use, all affect that rate of turnover. So, your skin cells on your face will turn over more quickly than those on your lower legs.
To exfoliate my body, I either make my own with ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup almond oil, or you can use a store bought option with sugar or salt. Be sure to pay extra attention to your elbows, knees, ankles and wrists (these are areas that typically stain). When it comes to facial exfoliants, GENTLE is better. I like to use a product like Naturopathica’s Oat Cleansing Facial Polish because oatmeal gently exfoliates without creating trauma or small tears.
When you get out of the shower, pat dry and moisturize your knees, ankles, elbows and wrists, palms and soles. If you’re planning to tan the tops of your hands or tops of your feet, make sure to apply lots of moisturizer to your fingers, toes, knuckles, palms and soles. These areas have thicker skin and are most likely to stain more intensely and lead to uneven patches.
If you’re starting out, go with a product that is close to your natural skin tone. Ideally, use a tan towelette or moisturizer that gives you a gradual tan. The idea here is that if you make a mistake, it’s not so obvious to the eye. The compromise is that the tan isn’t deep and dark, but you can gradually build on your tan through daily use. Fav products for this trial and error/toe dip approach: sun bum or tan towels towelettes, and Jergens natural glow moisturizer. Rub in circles, and OVERLAP. Start where your chin meets your neck and go all the way down, avoiding your palms and soles.
I usually WASH my HANDS AFTER using these towelettes. I don’t try to stain the tops of my hands. The tan is subtle enough that it’s ok if it stops at the wrist. Be careful not to let water slide down your hands onto your forearms. You want the areas you just tanned to stay dry for at least 10 minutes. I wash my hands with my fingers facing down and have the towel ready right near the sink.
If you’re going for a deeper tan, my fav is St Tropez tanning mousse. This gives me a deeper tan, but it’s not as gradual. The next morning you will either be a tan goddess or a streaky mess, so only use this product if you plan to take it slow and do it right! Graduate from towelettes first before you try this one! Put on the tanning mit/glove and then pump about 4 or 5 pumps at a time onto the mitt. I then apply it to my legs with long, even strokes directly upwards from the ankle to the knee and then I do the thigh, and I make sure to overlap each stroke so I don’t miss any areas. The classic self-tanning mousse leaves a muddy stain so you know if you’ve missed any spots. Then, do the same for your other leg, your arms your shoulders and chest. Backs are tricky. I can reach most of my back but there’s one spot in the middle I always ask my hubby to do for me. So unless you’re a contortionist, that’s the time to call on a friend. Tops of hands and feet—the hardest part. Whatever’s left on the mitt (don’t add any more pumps) is just enough to gently and lightly sweep across the tops of your hands and the tops of your feet. Less is more in those areas!
FACE: I don’t like to use a mousse or towelette on my face b/c my face skin is dry, so I prefer a cream. These are some of my favs for my face: First Aid Beauty Slow Glow Self Tanning Moisturizer and Jergens Natural Glow Face.
KEEP YOUR GLOW LONGER: some skincare products will make the cells you stained with your self tanner fall off faster, thereby making you lose your tan faster. These include: retinol, tretinoin, tazorac, glycolic acid (or any alpha hydroxy acid), and any exfoliator including a mitt, a scrub, or an at home peel. What SHOULD you do? MOISTURIZE like crazy.
Keep in mind that most self tanners contain ZERO sun protection. So your skin may LOOK like it’s got a tan, but it can burn right through that faux tan! So apply your sunscreen!