Sunless Tanning Products I Love & How I Apply Them

sunless tanning products

Hi friends! Ready to talk about sunless tanning products?

We just welcomed the Summer season less than two weeks ago and we’re all trying to do everything we can to get that perfect tan! I don’t know about y’all but … the older I get, the less time I want to spend in the sun working on it. So, over the last few years, I have been a devout spray tan go-er. For my Jacksonville girls who prefer spray tanning, I go to Anna or Ellie from The Tan Cabana. They are wonderful and the tanning products they use are vegan, cruelty-free, and last over a week as long as you take care of it! But, lately, I’ve been turning to sunless tanning products that I can apply in the comfort of my own bathroom. I always want my tan to look natural so I’ve tested a variety of products to see which ones are worth the investment and which ones aren’t.

st. tropez tanning mousseOver the weekend, I shared my absolutely favorite sunless tanning product and showed you why with a little visual of how well it works over on IG stories. Since then, I’ve received countless questions about sunless tanning, from how I apply mine and how long it lasts to whether the product I use is cruelty free. So, I thought I’d take the sunless tanning topic here, to the blog, so I could give y’all the rundown on all things sunless tanner! I’ll share how I apply sunless tanner, my favorite and not-so-favorite sunless tanning products, and answer all of those questions y’all sent in! Be sure to read the post as some of the questions you sent in will be answered in an area outside of the Q&A!

If there’s a question I didn’t include and you’d like feedback on, please leave it in a comment at the bottom and I’ll get back to you soon!

How I Apply Sunless Tanner

sunless tanning products

FIRST | Take a shower and bathe as normal. Then, you’ll want to exfoliate your skin to ensure the sunless tanning product goes on evenly. To exfoliate, I use a regular wash cloth and this body scrub.

TWO | Dry off well and apply moisturizer. My skin gets dried out really easily in the summer so I can’t go without moisturizing. Give your skin ten minutes to absorb the lotion before apply your sunless tanner.

THREE | Grab your applicator mitt and apply two pumps of your favorite sunless tanning product then start applying to your body. Make sure to do this in front of a mirror so you can keep a close eye on how evenly you’re applying everything.

FOUR | Let it dry for 10-15 minutes before putting any clothing on. If you put clothes on before it’s completely dry, the tan could become uneven or transfer on to your clothing.

 The key to this entire process is timing. Make sure you’re starting this process early enough in your getting ready routine to ensure you have enough time to let everything absorb and set the way they need to in order to ensure that the product goes on smooth and doesn’t transfer on to clothing.

One of the questions y’all asked was whether I apply my favorite sunless tanner to my face and neck. I typically apply it to my neck but not my face. I use different products for my face, which I’ll get to later in the post. I do, however, apply it to my hands and feet and will share some tips on these areas below!

sunless tanning productsTIPS FOR APPLYING TO FACE & NECK

As I mentioned, I don’t use my favorite sunless tanner for my face but I do use it for my neck. When I apply the product to my arms and chest, I always do my neck last. The skin on your neck is thinner than that of your arms and chest so if you start at your neck, it’ll look much darker than the other areas. So, simply apply when you basically have leftover product on the mitt.


When it comes to applying sunless tanning product to your hands and feet, you want to follow the same tip I mentioned for applying product to your neck. The skin on your hands and feet are very similar to your neck. Due to it being a thinner, the product will show up as much more concentrated if you apply product to those areas first. So, apply product to these areas last to ensure it looks natural.

I always make sure I’ve gotten my ankles and heels evenly. I often think it’s easy to miss or mess up those areas so I always double check them. I always wash my hands after applying it all over, as well!

Sunless Tanning Products I Love

I’ve already made it clear … I love St. Tropez tanning products so I won’t waste your time sharing more about those here. Instead, I’ll share the other sunless tanning products I’ve tried and like, even if I don’t use them all the time.

JERGEN’S NATURAL GLOW BODY LOTION | This is my all-time favorite tanning lotion. It develops over time to give you a natural glow so, they really nailed the title of this product, ha!

TAN LUXE THE FACE DROPS | These are the tanning drops that I like to use for my face. I’ve used these and I don’t feel like they’re as effective. I just apply 2-3 drops on to a dollop of my facial moisturizer and mix together in my hands then apply to my face.  It gives my face a subtle glow, but nothing too overwhelming. I’m anxious to try these as I’ve heard they work SO well. They’re always sold out at Sephora so I linked them HERE for you instead.

PATRICK TA MAJOR GLOW BODY OIL [COLOR: A MOMENT – BRONZE] | This is a great product to apply when you’re on vacation prior to heading to dinner after a long day in the sun. It gives you skin a subtle shimmer and a darker tint to your tan! Apply with this brush to prevent it from getting all over your skin.

sunless tanning products

CHARLOTTE TILBURY BODY SHIMMER [not pictured] | I brought this with me to Barbados and applied it to my arms, legs and chest after my moisturizer had absorbed into my skin. It gives you that beautiful summer glow that you want your skin to have after a long day in the sun. If I were to choose, I think I’d prefer this product over the body oil mentioned above but both products are lovely.

ISLE OF PARADISE TANNING DROPS: These drops WORK, y’all!! They work better than any other tanning serum and they actually smell SO good. I’m not sure if it’s cucumbers that it smells like but, whatever it is, it’s heavenly! It smells nothing like the normal tanning product smell you probably have in your mind! I absolutely love these, even moreso because they’re also vegan, cruelty-free, and organic!

Sunless Tanning Products I Don’t Love

These, for me, just didn’t hit the mark!

LOVING TAN 2 HR EXPRESS MOUSSE | I’ve heard a lot of people rave about this tanning product but I personally didn’t like the color / tan that developed after applying it. The undertone of it is really pink and I didn’t feel like it was bronze enough.

CLARINS RADIANCE-PLUS GOLDEN GLOW BOOSTER | I used these consistently for three weeks and didn’t really see a huge change. While they have great reviews, they just didn’t impress me much.

JAMES READ H2O FACIAL TAN DROPS | These literally did nothing for my face.

VITA LIBERATA BODY BLUR INSTANT HD SKIN FINISH | While this product does actually give your skin a beautiful blur making it look absolutely flawless, it gets everywhere … even after I’ve given it time to absorb. It ruined a few white dresses and shorts that I bought last year because not only does it rub off on everything but it also doesn’t come out very easily.

Answering All Your Sunless Tanning Questions

st. tropez tanning mousse

Does it get on your clothes, sheets or towels?

Yes, it does transfer a little bit on to your sheets. At night, you tend to sweat a little bit, which makes the product transfer. However, it washes out without a problem.

TIP: Always apply your sunless tanner in the morning and make sure you take a shower in the evening before going to bed. The product will seemingly wash off your body but it does still leave you tan. Washing off the product before bed will minimize the amount of transfer.

Do you use the express tan? If not, how long do you keep the mousse on before showering?

I have used the express tan quite a bit! It works really well and I usually wait to shower at least four hours after applying the product but there are many days where I apply the product in the morning and don’t shower until the evening. Once it’s dry, it doesn’t feel wet or sticky, nor does it transfer onto clothes unless your wearing something white that is really tight, like white jeans.

What do you do to combat the smell? Some tanning lotions have the worst smell to them!

Honestly, if the smell of the product bothers me … I don’t use it anymore. The smell of St. Tropez sunless tanning products doesn’t bother me at all so I don’t really try to do anything to combat it! Sadly, this is one of those things that everyone is going to have a different opinion on so try a few different sunless tanners and see which ones have a scent you can handle.

How do you get it on your back without looking streaky?

To be honest, it’s impossible for me to get my back, hah! I’m not that flexible soooo … I just hope I’m never really in a situation where my back is exposed. I opt for a spray tan for beach getaways and then I’ll get a friend to do my back for maintenance once it starts to fade. But, when I’m at home, I just forget about my back!

Is there a way to remove the orange/too tan coloring off of your hands? It happens to me, even if I am wearing gloves!

I always use a mitt and I don’t ever have a problem with it transferring through so maybe try a mitt! My other tip would be to make sure you wash your hands immediately after each application!

I know you use cruelty free make up, are the self tanners you use also cruelty free?

St. Tropez prides itself in being cruelty free, however, I haven’t found anything online about whether or not they sell their products in China … which requires beauty products to be tested on animals. So, for now, I’m taking their word for it. I need to do a better job of checking all skincare products I use on being cruelty-free. I usually just make sure my makeup is! Thanks for the reminder!

If you use lotion in the days after you’ve applied the self tanner, does the tan come off?

The more moisturized you keep your skin after applying the sunless tanning mousse, the longer it’ll last but, yes, eventually it will come off after a few days of not applying the mousse again.

jergens natural glow body lotionDo you use the Jergen’s tanning lotion every day, even when you have the self tanner on?

I typically apply the Jergen’s lotion in an effort to maintain the tan the sunless tanning product has given me. I use this body moisturizer before applying the St. Tropez Dark Tanning Mousse and then the next morning, I’ll apply Jergen’s lotion in place of this moisturizer.

I am super fair skinned, and don’t tan. Are there any products that will give a light tint/color?

Honestly, there are a lot of sunless tanning products that are formulated to provide the buyer with a tan that will compliment their natural skin tone. Isles of Paradise Tanning Drops is one of those brands and it has really good reviews! I would try their light version when it comes back in stock and see if it gives you a really nice glow without overwhelming you. You can also try St. Tropez’s classic bronzing mousse and see if that color is too overwhelming or not. It’s going to take some trial and error but the great thing about these products is they don’t stain you immediately. You can see how it’s developing over the course of 10-minutes, take a shower, and it’ll fade because it hasn’t had enough time to set! I hope that helps!

How long does self tanner last?

If you apply it once or twice then just wait for it to fade, it starts to flake off three or so days later. It does get a little splotchy so I would use your exfoliator and wash cloth to even out your skin tone again.

Is it best to reapply it multiple times a week, or do you wait until it has come off before reapplying?

As long as it hasn’t started to flake off and become patchy, then I think it’s good to continue to reapply throughout the week to keep it looking fresh and even.

If it has started to flake off and look patchy, I’d exfoliate over a couple of days [as sometimes it takes a couple of days to get it all off] and then start again.

How often do you reapply?

I usually apply every other day if I am trying to keep it up throughout the week, so three times a week, making sure I am applying the Jergen’s lotion in between applications.

st. tropez tanning mousse

How long will a bottle of the St. Tropez usually last you?

If I use it consistently throughout the week, a 6.7oz bottle lasts about a month.

What brand of foundation matches well with that tanner? And do you go a shade darker to match the tan?

I’ve been alternating between my usual Smashbox Foundation [mentioned in this post; it’s my go to foundation] and this Covergirl Foundation [mentioned in this post] lately. I don’t think one matches more than the other and I haven’t purchased a darker shade to match this sunless tanner. I hadn’t really given it much thought but actually wondered if I should the other day. After looking at these photos, it doesn’t really look bad that my face is a little lighter. I think you can get away with it by contouring your face with a good bronzer.

To be clear, though, I do have a few shades of the Smashbox Foundation for when my skin is a lot lighter in the Fall and Winter months and I’m not fussing over self-tanning as much. So, right now, I’m using the darkest shade I own in that one but I am just nervous to go any darker as I feel like I’d look really unnatural.

sunless tanning products

How often should you change your mitt?

I change mine out every three months, especially if I’ve been using it a few times a week. I have also learned that you should always leave your mitt out to dry before putting it away in a dark place because it could grow mold on it from being wet. If your mitt has turned green in some areas, replace it! If you’re not a frequent tanner, you can get away with changing your mitt less frequently.

Any recommendations for unscented self tanners? The smell kills my allergies!

Yes! I’ve heard amazing things about Isles of Paradise Tanning Drops. You simply mix with your daily moisturizer and apply to your body as usual. It’s free of sulfates and parabens. It’s 100% vegan and cruelty free and … best news ever for you … it smells like cucumber! I know you asked for unscented but I thought something that smelled light and fresh might be better than the typical sunless tanner smell. I will be trying this product myself over the next few weeks after it comes in the mail, hopefully before or during my next trip to London so stay tuned! UPDATE: [July 30th] These drops WORK, y’all!! They work better than any other tanning serum and they actually smell SO good. I’m not sure if it’s cucumbers that it smells like but, whatever it is, it’s heavenly! It smells nothing like the normal tanning product smell you probably have in your mind! I absolutely love these!

Whew! Okay, that about does it, ha! If there are any questions that I missed and you’re curious about … leave them in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you soon! Thanks so much for stopping by! xo.


Editor's Notes



  1. Marta wrote:

    Very useful tips! I’m very pale and I love going to the beach and get a natural tan but obviously, I don’t roast in the sun enough to get the colour I want so tanning products seem perfect for me. I’ve never tried any so I feel like the first few times I’m gonna look awful until I get the hang of it but at least your tips will make it easier.

    Published 7.5.19 · Reply
  2. Kristin wrote:

    Thank you for all the information. Great starting point as I was totally overwhelmed with all the options and application methods. Thanks!?

    Published 7.5.19 · Reply
  3. McKenzie wrote:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post! So many helpful tips! I’m always hesitant to use a self tanner (or get a spray tan for that matter) before trips because I never know how it’ll react with sunscreen. Will using sunscreen on top of the self tanner ruin the tan? Do you have any recommendations for sunscreen that won’t mess up your tan? Thank you!

    Published 7.5.19 · Reply
    • Katie wrote:

      Use a mineral based sunscreen rather than a chemical based! It won’t degrade your sunless tan product and is healthier anyways! I few I love are Coola brand or BeautyCounter

      Published 7.6.19 ·
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      I use a spray sunscreen when I am out in the sun, especially after having just applied the sunless tanner! xo.

      Published 7.6.19 ·
  4. Kinley wrote:

    This was all so helpful!! Thank you for taking the time to be so thorough. I love St Tropez and will need to try their dark mousse.
    Also I have found mixing half a pump of the Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops into my liquid foundation helps with matching my face to the rest of my body that has self-tanner on it. I have not tried the tan luxe drops but my friends rave about them!!

    Published 7.5.19 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      That’s a great tip! I may try that!! xo.

      Published 7.6.19 ·
  5. Ashleigh wrote:

    Often when I apply self tanner and I apply it to my arm pits the next day after I shower I find that I get BO half way through the day. I never have this problem, and I’m not a huge sweater. When I’m not using self tanner or by day 2-4 the problem is gone…. any tricks to this?

    Published 7.5.19 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      I don’t ever apply it to my arm pits. I’m sorry I didn’t point that out.

      Published 7.6.19 ·
  6. Elizabeth wrote:

    I’ve been wanting to try a self tanner again to minimize my time out in the sun but was very hesitant because of all the horrible experiences I’ve had in the past. After seeing your posts, I gave St Tropez a try and was pleasantly surprised at how amazing it is!!! So excited to give these pasty legs some color this summer without the sun damage!

    Published 7.5.19 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      Glad you’re liking it Elizabeth!! xo.

      Published 7.6.19 ·
  7. Katie wrote:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who always skips my back! Haha.

    I’m a huge St Tropez fan and to answer the question above as to whether fair skin tones can use this and look natural, the answer is yes!!! I am very fair and use the classic tanning mousse and it looks glowy and bronze and natural. BUT I have to be extra careful when applying to hands and feet because the splotchy-ness is more noticeable on fair skin if not applied evenly and lightly!! Also, if anyone is having issues getting it on your hand even when using the mitt. Wear a latex glove underneath while you apply to your body then remove at the end to blend into the top of your hand.

    Published 7.6.19 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      The latex glove is a genius tip! Thanks, Katie!

      Published 7.6.19 ·
  8. Jennifer Middleton wrote:

    For your back I’ve found that the ModelCo self tanner back applicator works great! Find it on amazon for under $20. Last a long time.

    Published 7.6.19 · Reply
    • AlysonHaley wrote:

      OMG! This is genius! Ordered! Can’t wait to try! xo.

      Published 7.6.19 ·