The Best Way to Apply Self-Tanner Based On Your Skin Tone

Healthy, luminous, bright–this is skin you want to show off right now.

Photo: Jonathon Kambouris.

Don't call it a tan-what we're talking about is totally different from just creating a darker hue from a bottle. This look is healthy and radiant, and it works beautifully on all skin tones. You don't look like a castaway, either (which is basically an admission that you've been practicing unsafe sun).

"Your skin is even and exudes warmth while still looking like you," says James Read, the owner of the eponymous self-tanner brand, adding that "it's really all about the glow. The bronze cast is stripped back so it never overpowers your look." To achieve that you will, however, need to start with self-tanner. But not the old-school versions-the latest formulas come as clear waters or gradual tan lotions and have dialed down the DHA (the ingredient that reacts with your skin to turn it brown) and cranked up the hydrators to boost your skin tone rather than deepen it.

"They have just enough DHA to hide stretch marks, unevenness, or cellulite on every skin color, from fair to dark," says Sophie Evans, St. Tropez skin-finishing expert. "They make your skin the best version of itself." What these formulas don't contain is extra tint, which is often added to self-tanners to help show you where you've applied them. This is most likely a good omission: "Color guides can sometimes look too orange or yellow on skin, especially fair tones," says Read.

Instead, you'll rely on the hydrating ingredients (like coconut oil or green mandarin). They glisten so you can still see what you've done. And because these fluids don't have a lot of DHA, they won't leave obvious streaks if you do accidentally miss an area. To finish the look, layer on a bronzer selected for your skin color.

Fair Skin Tones

Achieve a golden radiance. Before you self-tan, apply a regular lotion to your knees, elbows, and feet to prevent the tint from being darker in those areas. Now spray James Read Coconut Water Tan Mist ($26; directly on your core and then your arms and legs. Give it a minute to dry; expect color within eight hours.

Finish with...a highlighter. Swipe along your clavicles and down the front of your arms and legs. If you have pink undertones, try Avon True Color Illuminating Stick in Rose Gold ($11; Yellow undertones: Try Avon True Color Moonlit Highlighting Powder in Topaz ($12; or Givenchy African Light Bouncy Highlighter ($41;

Medium Skin Tones

Get a richer, more defined tone. For a few days, smooth L'Oréal Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Milk Gradual Glow in Medium ($11; all over your body like regular lotion. Then, because your skin color can handle it well, consider amping up your color. Apply a darker self-tanning formula, like St. Tropez Self Tan Extra Dark Mousse ($45;, only along the sides of the stomach, the triceps, and the back of the thighs, says Evans.

Finish with...a caramel shimmery powder, dusted on your décolletage and the front of your limbs. Try Jennifer Lopez Inglot Livin' the Highlight Illuminator in Radiant ($23;

Dark Skin Tones

Swap your natural color for glowiness. You really can't mess up: "No matter what self-tanner tint you use, the color will turn out beautifully," says Evans. To simply even out your skin tone and maintain a bright complexion, reach for a gradual self-tanning moisturizer, like Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer ($9; Apply for a couple of days, then once a week to maintain your radiance.

Finish with...a layer of shimmery gold and bronze body oil to add depth to your tone and make your skin look hydrated and gleamy. Try fast-drying Bali Body Shimmering Body Oil ($30;

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles