The safe way to get a tan… Self-tanners! How to and review for beginners to pros.

Summer is officially here! That means a lot of you out there want a nice, deep tan so you can show some skin… I know I do. The safest and most painless way to get a tan is to use self-tanning products. Whether it’s a spray tan at a salon, a lotion or a mousse, it’s ALL safer than being out in the sun or going to a tanning bed.

Based on personal experience, getting a tan from harmful UV rays is NOT worth it! Being exposed to UV rays results in irreversible skin damage… age spots,  lines and wrinkles and worst of all… skin cancer, which is all too common. I had a mole on my back removed several years ago because it started changing. Why did it change? Because I used to lay out and use tanning beds. That was even with me using products that contained an SPF most of the time. The biopsy was good sized piece of skin and left an ugly scar. I got 5 stitches that itched horribly. When my results came back I found out that the cells were turning into melanoma. Luckily, they removed a large enough area of skin that it got rid of all the bad cells. Since then I’ve hardly exposed myself to the sun… Not for long periods of time anyway, and not without some serious SPF. A tan is sexy, cancer is not!

If you aren’t happy with smelly gradual lotions that don’t do much or turn you orange, you need a product that contains high amounts of DHA. DHA is a colorless sugar that, when applied, stains the very outer layer of your skin. The color change happens over a 3-8 hour period when DHA interacts with the dead skin cells. The color will last 5-7 days, and the longer you leave a self tanner on, the more it will penetrate your skin and the darker your color will be.

No matter what type of self-tanner you use, you want to make sure that you shower and exfoliate before you apply it. You want clean, smooth skin for an even application. Focus on areas like your knuckles, elbows, knees, feet, heels and ankles when you exfoliate. This is where dead tissue seems to collect because these areas are around joints where there are creases in the skin. The more dead tissue you have in one spot, the more the DHA is going to react and dye it, making blotchy, uneven spots. Some exfoliators have oils in them that leave a film on the skin, so wash AFTER exfoliating. My favorite body scrubs are from St. Ives and The Body Shop… their coconut type smells good and works well without being too rough or leaving any residue.

After I take a shower and dry off, I apply lotion to my hands and the soles of my feet… I also put a little bit on my elbows, knees and the tops of my feet. I apply my eye cream and a light layer of face moisturizer if I’m going to use a face tanner. I always avoid the immediate area around my eyes. Most products are not eye safe! I like to let my moisturizers soak in for a few minutes before I apply any self-tanner. I usually wear gloves with most of them. If I don’t, I wash my hands after I apply the product to my body, then go back and apply it to each hand with a cotton pad so I don’t get any where I don’t want it. Oompa-Loompa hands are no bueno. Before the self tanner completely dries and sets, I go over my elbows, knees, feet, knuckles, ankles, toes and fingers with a cloth or paper towel to wipe off any excess product that may have settled into lines.

Fake Bake Mousse

  •      Overall Rating: 3/5
  •      Application: Difficult
  •      Color: Natural and dark
  •      Scent: Moderate and chemical-like
  •      Time to set: 4+ hours
  •      Wear Time: 5-7 days
  •      Price: $28 for 4 fl oz

This is a thin mousse that comes in an easy to use pump bottle. It has to be shaken thoroughly or else it will come out watery and runny. The guide color and immediate color payoff is very dark, but that means you can tell exactly where it’s going. Because this has such a deep instant color, gloves are a must! After only 6 hours, I had a great, natural looking tan. I found application to be time consuming and troublesome with this mousse. It was hard to rub in and I could only apply it to a very small area at a time. Make sure that you don’t get sweaty or wet for a few hours after application or it can run. This is not one of those self-tanners that you can put on before bed unless you want orange sheets. It rubs off and stains everything it touches. Some of this can be avoided by buffing off excess guide color after you put it on and let it dry a little, but I still had quite a bit of color on my pajamas the next morning. Although the application turned me off to using this product again, the end result was nice. Fake Bake Mousse is NOT something that I would recommend for beginners, but the seasoned self-tanning user might enjoy it.

Xen-Tan Dark Lotion

  •      Overall Rating: 5/5
  •      Application: Easy
  •      Color: Natural; Dark
  •      Scent: Pleasant; Almond
  •      Time to set: 3+ hours
  •      Wear Time: 5-7 days
  •      Price: $39 for 8 fl oz

This is definitely the darkest self-tanning lotion that I’ve used. It had a deep immediate color, which is helpful when applying so you can tell where the product is going. It will dye your hands so be sure you use gloves. It’s streak free during application and I’ve never had streaks after washing off the guide color either. It’s a thick, dark lotion that comes in an easy to use pump bottle. The bottle also has a convenient locking feature on it so if you throw it in your bag, it won’t get all over the place. It’s safe for faces, although I’ve noticed it breaks me out a little bit, but I have sensitive skin. It doesn’t take long to dry… I only have to wait about 10-15 minutes before getting dressed. It has never permanently stained my sheets or clothes and doesn’t seem to streak or run if I get hot or sweaty. Once it dries, it’s on there. It fades very evenly so it doesn’t look patchy once it starts to wear off. Xen-Tan Dark Lotion has a really nice almond scent that’s sweet and relaxing to me. This is probably my favorite sunless tanner out there because I get such great results so quickly.

Xen-Tan Deep Bronze Luxe Lotion

  •      Overall Rating: 5/5
  •      Application: Very Easy
  •      Color: Natural; Medium to Dark
  •      Scent: Pleasant; Cocoa/Vanilla
  •      Time to set: 3+ hours
  •      Wear Time: 5-7 days
  •      Price: $39 for 8 fl oz

For a creamy lotion, this has a deep color payoff after only a few hours. It comes in a squeeze tube so it’s easy to get out the perfect amount of product. Applied in a thin layer, you get a light sun-kissed tan. If you apply it more heavily or more than one layer, you end up looking like you just got back from a beach vacation! Gloves aren’t needed with this lotion, so long as you wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap after applying it. Although it will give you color after 3-4 hours, I like to leave it on overnight so I get the darkest results possible. I only have to wait a few minutes for this to set before I can get dressed. It never rubs off or stains my sheets or clothes… Not at all! It’s super easy to apply and it’s moisturizing so your skin won’t feel dry. It’s safe to use on your face and although it doesn’t break me out like the thicker Xen-Tan Dark Lotion does, I still like to use a separate face tanner. It smells great, even with the high DHA content. It looks natural as it fades and I never have patches. Awesome product if you’re in a hurry or don’t want a mess! This is IDEAL for beginners and self-tanning pros alike.

Xen-Tan Face Tanner Luxe

  •      Overall Rating: 5/5
  •      Application: Very Easy
  •      Color: Natural; Medium to Dark
  •      Scent: Pleasant; Cocoa/Vanilla
  •      Time to set: 3+ hours
  •      Wear Time: 3-4 days
  •      Price: $22 for 2.7 fl oz

Face Tanner Luxe is very similar to the Deep Bronze Luxe Lotion, but it’s specifically formulated for the more delicate skin of the face and neck. It offers the same amount of instant color and gives you the same natural tan after is sets but tends to fade more quickly. However, any self-tanner used on the face tends to do this because of the exfoliators, brushes and toners people use. Because it won’t clog your pores, you can use this product every other day or so if you like. It’s moisturizing and feels really nice on the skin. It still breaks me out a little, but not as much as the Deep Bronze Luxe Lotion. With this lotion, I only get one or two little bumps on my forehead or nose, which usually go away in a day or two. You can even wear this under makeup if you dry skin, although I prefer to put it on at bedtime. There are no gloves required and it won’t rub off and stain your pillowcase. It smells sweet and similar to other Xen-Tan products, but not as strong. This is a fantastic product!

Xen-Tan Transform Luxe Lotion

  •     Overall Rating: 4/5
  •      Application: Very Easy
  •      Color: Natural; Light to Medium
  •      Scent: Light; Vanilla
  •      Time to set: 6+ hours
  •      Wear Time: 3-4 days
  •      Price: $30 for 8 fl oz

This lotion is not something that will give you a dark tan quickly. It’s a gradual sunless tanner that will give you a moderate, natural looking tan if used frequently. I use it every other day to maintain the color in between applications of other, darker self-tanners. I also like to use this daily in the fall and winter for a healthy touch of color. I apply this lotion without gloves since there is no guide color. As long as I wash my hands after I apply it, there’s no staining. It goes on very smoothly and feels nourishing and moisturizing. It works well for face and body and never clogs my pores or breaks me out. Since it’s sheer and has no immediate color, it’s fine to use this in place of another daily moisturizer. Transform Luxe doesn’t have a very strong scent so it won’t interfere with most perfumes or body sprays. When I first tried self-tanners, I started out with Transform Luxe so I could ease into it I guess… It got me hooked!

VersaSpa Spray Tan

  •      Overall Rating: 5/5
  •      Application: Very Easy
  •      Color: Natural; Light to Dark
  •      Scent: Not bad. Typical self tanning scent.
  •      Time to set: 4+ hours
  •      Wear Time: 5-7 days
  •      Price: $20-40 depending on the salon

VersaSpa is by far the easiest and fastest method of tanning I have ever tried. Before I went to get my spray tan, I made sure I exfoliated and showered. I wore a loose swimsuit coverup type dress so I my clothing wouldn’t rub off the tanning solution. At the Beach was the only tanning salon here that had VersaSpa, so that’s where I ended up.  They offer 3 VersaSpa sessions with the medium color for $70. Dark was an extra $5 per session. I bought their primer gel to try it but it made me feel sticky and I don’t see that it improved the tanner at all. They also offer you a barrier cream to apply to your palms and feet for free but I used my own moisturizer before going. I also applied a light layer or moisturizer to my face so the solution didn’t soak into my pores too much.

The application process is fast and simple. The attendant at the salon showed me the four poses to do for each of the sprayer passes, then left me to “tan”. The booth has a recording that tells you what is going on… which way to turn and what part of your body is about to be sprayed. After the four spray passes of tanning solution for your front, back and each side, the sprayers turn to blow drying mode and dry your back and front. The entire process only takes about 2 minutes. I came home and went to bed, then showered the next morning so the solution had plenty of time to set. I woke up with a perfect, natural tan that wasn’t too light or too dark. The longer you leave it on, the darker you’ll be. They suggest that you wait at least four hours until coming on contact with water or sweating so you don’t get streaks.

The spray itself felt cold, but it’s such a brief application process that it’s tolerable. The VersaSpa booth is mostly open on one side so it’s nice and roomy. I didn’t feel trapped and claustrophobic at all. It seems a pricey but most salons will offer deals and discount packages. It’s worth it to me because it’s so easy and the results are absolutely flawless and natural looking. I’ll definitely be using VersaSpa on a regular basis this summer! The VersaSpa website has more information and a video to show you what to expect. You can also look up locations on there… www.versaspa.com

I have tried other tanning products in the past and I’m going to give them another shot so I can write accurate reviews. I’m also planning on purchasing or getting samples of a few other formulas and brands over the next few weeks so I’ll let you know how those work for me too… If any of you readers have recommendations, comment and let me know! I’d like to try out as many as possible over the next few months since I’m still sort of new to this. Check back all summer for updates and more self-tanner reviews!

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1 comment
  1. Thanks – Enjoyed this post, how can I make is so that I receive an update sent in an email every time you make a fresh article?

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