The Good, The Orange, and the Skunky


Bronzed skin.

I have spent the better portion of my life chasing the perfect tan.  In my teens it bordered on obsession.  Not tanorexia but an almost scientific study to create the hue of health.  I wish I could have been a tanorexic. But to be a tanorexic you have to actually be able to obtain a tan.

One look at my strawberry blonde daughter should explain any questions regarding my heritage.  A mutt of sorts, I am predominantly Irish and German with natural red in my salon doctored blonde hair and more freckles than any one could count.  My natural skin color is clear.  White seems to be a bit generous.  As a child I used to dream all of my freckles would one day connect, leaving me with a perfect brown skin color.  I was mortified of my plentiful angel kisses and hated anyone making mention of them.  I longed for sun kissed, freckle free skin and developed skin envy of those lucky enough to be afforded naturally tan skin.

The first glimpse of hope came in a blue and white Biotherm bottle at the approximate age of 11.  My mom brought home a tube of self tanning lotion and I immediately retreated to the bathroom to slather myself with the magic potion.  I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep. I kept waking up, checking the progress, knowing that in the morning I was going to be a bronzed goddess.  In the morning I was not white.  I was bright orange and had tiger-like white stripes up and down my legs.  My feet looked like I had trudged through dark mud and my fingers were stained in a putrid pumpkin color.  I should have been aghast.  But I wasn’t.  I was thrilled to be any color but white and felt beautiful. I remember I wore a miniskirt to the roller rink and strutted my stuff with a new found confidence.  I am sure people were laughing, probably wondering what type of skin rash I had, and if it was contagious.

Fast forward 20 plus years and I am relieved to say my tanning obsession has become a bit more manageable,  thanks in large part to advancements in the self tanning industry.  I still LOVE being tan but my lifestyle just doesn’t allot for the amount of time a devoted tanaholic needs.

I am not a licensed cosmetologist, but I do consider myself highly educated in the art of self tanning.  Be it creams, oils, sprays or foams, I have tried about all of them.  The past few years I have slowed trying new brands, mainly because I am happy with the products I use, but also due to sheer lack of time.

When I met Mike he couldn’t help but notice I had a spendy airbrush tanning habit (my preferred method).  Around this time an opportunity came to purchase a Sunfx tanning machine, and after promising Mike it would be financially advantageous he agreed to buy it for me.  After a few months, people started asking me where I tanned and what products I used.  I decided to start a small side business, Starstruck tanning, and quickly gained a great group of regulars. Over time these regulars helped to pay off my machine and the solution for my weekly tanning ritual!

Over the years I haven’t had time to keep up the side business, but I still tan regularly and swear by the Sunfx products I use. This brings me to my latest, “just the tip” series: obtaining a stellar sunless tan.  Some of the pointers are just common sense, but I have found a lot of wrong information in self tanning forums.  Most misunderstood is the amount of product each brand suggests you use before and after to mark up their per tan cost. Below is a breakdown of how to get a fantastic tan, without the hype and add ons!

Before any type of tanning solution touches your skin try a few of my lesser known tips to obtain a better tan:

1. Exfoliate and Shave– Yes, I know, you already know this. But did you know doing it the day of is a no no? Exfoliation is important; however, if you scrub too much your skin is a bit rough and uneven, producing an uneven tan.  Also, when shaving, your skin becomes porous.   Shaving right before a tan results in solution filled pores. This creates tiny dots all over the skin.  It also clogs the pores, causes breakouts, and increases patchiness when the tan fades.  Do not shave or exfoliate the day of sunless tanning.  I have found the optimum time frame is the night before, no sooner.

2.  Correctly Moisturizing- As any veteran self tanner will tell you, dry spots are a nightmare for tanning solution and barrier creams are recommended.  “Barrier Cream” is really just any lotion you have. You do not need to purchase a special, branded lotion to get a barrier.  However, using lotion right before tanning can cause too much of a barrier making areas too white, or worse, an actual line of white versus tan. Instead, skip barrier creams and moisturize correctly the night before.  After exfoliating and shaving put lotion on all of your dry areas, and a light layer on your lower legs, below the knee.  For some reason, the lower leg is a problem area in self tanning–probably due to the dryer nature of the skin.  When it comes to lotion the only ingredient to avoid is oil.  Oil breaks down self tanning lotion .  Simply purchase lotion that is oil free and you won’t have a problem.

3.  Administering a Tan– Honestly, I think spray tanning is the only way to get a relatively flawless tan as an amateur.  There are tons of airbrush cans sold at the drugstore or any cosmetic counter.  Tanning salons offer their version of airbrush tan, either with an administrator or in the automated machine.  Creams and lotions are really hard to get right and require perfect precision with regards to hands and feet.  I am sure there are exceptions but for me, I have always achieved the best results with a spray application.

4. What to tan– When tanning it is important to remember the aforementioned dry areas (hands, feet, elbows and knees).  If done incorrectly they are the dead giveaway of a sunless tan.  In my years of tanning I have never had all areas absolutely perfect.  It may be impossible, but I have figured out the closest way to make it believable.  The tip? Skip them! Do not tan your hands or feet.  I don’t mean cover them, I just mean don’t spray them.  The overspray in the air will always get these areas and a very light tan will ensue.  If you directly spray your feet they will not be even.  I don’t care what product it is, or what promises it boasts, they will not be even.  If you absolutely must tan your hands keep your fingers spread as wide as possible and hold them twice as far as you would for any other area.  Another area to avoid? Your hair! All products boast they do not stain hair. But if your hair is chemically treated, specifically blonde, tan will permanently stain.  Do not ever leave your hair out of a net when tanning.  If you have blonde or light hair, wear a cloth headband to cover fine hair around the forehead.  After tanning push back the headband and blend the line in.  Take a small amount of self tanner and lightly blend upward, then use a baby wipe or wet paper towel to go over your fingertips and palms.


5. More Moisturizing– Moisturizing is important but too much messes up a tan.  First, be sure to use lotion without oil.  Again, this doesn’t have to be a special self tanning brand, just make sure it is oil free.  I swear by Hempz lotion, and the smell is amazing.  I buy it by the gallon on Amazon, which makes it cheaper than most drugstore brands.  Moisturize after your shower but go easy on areas that are the first to sweat. Areas that tend to flake due to extra moisture are the fold in the arm behind the elbow and behind the knee.  Same with between the boobs 🙂 . Moisturize sparingly in these areas after tanning.

6. Length of a tan, and types of products- The perfect self tan day is Day 2. The smell is completely gone, the color has adjusted, and fade hasn’t begun.  By day 4 most people see lighter shades. By Day 6, your tan is about done.  Keep in mind that the more natural moisture your skin has, the longer a tan will last.  For fair skin like mine, 6 days is the best you will get. Professionals will tell you by avoiding chlorine, shaving and sweating, your tan will last longer. This is true, but only to an extent. A faux tan does not typically last longer than a week no matter what you do.

7.The Color and Fading Gracefully– If you are anything like me, time is a luxury. Spending time waiting for a tan to develop is difficult to squeeze in.  I have found the Rapid 2 Hour formulas are wonderful, especially if you have children and don’t want to tan them.  I use the Rapid exclusively because I can tan, develop and shower during my toddler’s naptime.  However, there are drawbacks of the Rapid and more so with the other Long Lasting formulas.  Keep in mind that a rapid or extended formula is stronger and clings to your skin.  This is fabulous for the first few days, but it’s disastrous for mistakes.  I have tried removing a mistake with the extended and rapid solutions and the result is red, patchy skin.  DO NOT attempt to remove tan.  It will wreck your skin and make it worse.  I have tried the “tan removers”, which are essentially grainy bleach, and the skin irritation isn’t worth it.  Your best bet is to use a shimmery, tinted moisturizer over the problem area which helps to disguise a mess. Another drawback? Funky, flaky fading.  The stronger the solution the more it sticks, thus creating a rash type of fade.  Sadly, I don’t have any tips on how to get rid of this.  Recently, I tried spending the day in a pool, but the most stubborn flecks of tan just take time.  With that in mind, sometimes the classic version, or the moisturizing formulas will be much less offensive after the first week.

8. The Darker the tan, the deeper the commitment– Living in San Diego makes it near impossible to feel comfortable without a tan.  Not only does it distinguish the locals from the tourists, being tan is expected. The assumption that San Diego is sunny every day and all of us spend every day in a bikini at the beach is a tough appearance to maintain!  The problem is that our idea of “tan” is actually Hawaiian Tropic dark and near impossible to keep up.  Keep in mind, self tanning should be an attainable color if you were to actually get a real tan.  If your complexion is naturally very light, stick with light to medium tan shades, not the darkest color.  The darker shades will never turn out natural. But more importantly, the errors are glaringly obvious.  No artist can fix a streak with a shade 6-7 times deeper than a natural skin color; not to mention 5 days later your skin tone will not fade correctly and you will resemble a snake shedding a layer of skin. I promise! If you must be more tan use a light self tanner, then utilize a bronzing agent to amp up the color.  One of my all time favorites is the Sally Hansen leg makeup in aerosol- It is cheap, comes in multiple colors, and layers beautifully on self tanner.  It stays on really well and is water resistant.  Important side note: I recently tried the lotion version and am not a fan 😦 Stick with the aerosol!


I know there are TONS of other helpful tips regarding self tanning but the above are some of my most requested suggestions. I hope they help you in your endeavors for the perfect SAFE tan!

Happy Tanning!



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4 thoughts on “The Good, The Orange, and the Skunky

  1. Caitlin on said:

    Thanks! I’m getting ready to tan for my wedding and these tips are way helpful! Too bad you can’t do it for me but I’m in Colorado 🙂

  2. Congratulations! So exciting! For your wedding, be sure to use an airbrush technician, not a spray booth. You want it to be PERFECT! If you can, try out the person a few weeks before the wedding to make sure you have the right color, and no skin allergies 🙂 Also, be sure to tan, have a day in between, then wedding day.. any extra will rub off and the second shower will prevent any stubborn bronzers from transferring. On your wedding day, chances are you will be sweating and don’t want it to rub onto your dress! Have a fabulous wedding 🙂

  3. I love self-tanning! There’s nothing more disheartening than the prospect of showing up in March in Vegas with my Canadian winter white flaky skin, and a a minute in a self-tanning booth ensures I’m not shrouded on southern streets.

  4. LOL, Glad to hear it Jane2 🙂

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