6 Expert Tips For Self-Tanning Your Face

You want a safe (and fool-proof) glow from head to toe, but you’re concerned about getting an even tan on your face – here’s where we come in.
Expert Opinion
Written by Vivien Moon
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6 Expert Tips For Self-Tanning Your FaceValentin Lacoste/Unsplash

Staying out of the sun, daily SPF, and, of course, a solid skincare routine are just a few of the steps to preserve your money-maker, but these preventative measures may reduce the likelihood of achieving a golden tan above the neck.

While self-tanners are a great way to give the skin a safe faux glow, the process of applying them for a natural and even look may leave some running toward a tanning booth. Worry not. If you’re interested in radiating like Jennifer Lopez — without the risk of looking like Ross on Friends — the experts are here to share some tips for self-tanning the face. Read on for what you should and shouldn't do for the ultimate sun-safe bronze.

1. Prep, Prep, Prep

Just like with the body, the face needs to be properly prepped to create a clean canvas. To achieve an even tan, cleanse the face, neck, and hands first. “You can apply self-tanner even if you use other skincare products, but the best is to apply directly to a clean, exfoliated face,” explains Sophie Evans, a St. Tropez Skin Finishing Expert. Self-tanner, especially clear formulas, can be tricky to keep track of, so keeping your skin clean will help prevent it from looking spotty in areas you might have overlooked.

2. Find The Right Product

Your skin tone, ideal look, and any sensitivities will all play a factor in finding the right product. A patch test will give you a sense of if a formula is gentle enough for your skin type and will also provide an indicator of the level of tan the product can achieve. Another tip? “When selecting your sunless tanners, make sure the formula is labeled as ‘buildable,’” says Silver Goodwin, the brand educator at Vita Liberata. That way, you’ll be able to ease into your desired look and, if needed, touch up along the way.

3. Focus on Form

The key to a flawless self-tanner finish? The way you apply it. Goodwin says circular motions is the way to go, as this allows you to evenly distribute the product and avoid streaks. If you are using a moisturizer with tanning drops, apply it to your face first and then massage the leftover product into your neck and, finally, the ears (especially if you have shorter hair!). If you use a brush instead of your hands, don’t forget commonly missed areas such as the eyelids, the philtrum columns (read: cupid’s bow), jawline, and hairline. This diligence will help transition the tan from face to body.

4. Start Slow

Whether it’s for the face or body, applying sunless tanner takes patience. Achieving your desired look might not happen overnight, and trying to rush it will not help matters. “Apply slowly and don’t worry about overlapping,” Evans shares. “It’s meant to cover evenly, so make sure that you’re getting every part while avoiding the sensitive areas like the eyes.” A gradual build-up will lead to fewer mistakes and more customization, as you get the hang of what works for you. Her advice: Trust the process as the tan develops and remember that a little goes a long way.

5. Don’t Skip Skincare

Depending on your skincare routine, you may want to factor the days you exfoliate into your self-tanning process. We’re not saying to ditch the vitamin A or avoid cleansing altogether, but rather to be mindful of your schedule. Self-tanners are absorbed into the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) and can easily be stripped away. Ideally, you’d apply the tanner the morning after an evening exfoliation or on a night you are not using a chemical or physical exfoliant.

6. Keep Consistent

On the body, at-home tanner is expected to last a week to 10 days, but that is not necessarily the case with a facial tanner. Once you’ve achieved the level of faux glow you’re after, lightly reapply one to two times a week to maintain it and be mindful of your skincare routine. “The glow can be maintained post-application by avoiding lotions or products containing heavy oil,” Goodwin explains. “Oil will degrade the longevity of your tan.”

The Best Self-Tanners for the Face

If you’re ready to try this process for yourself and need some fool-proof products, here are a few editor-approved self-tanners to try.

For a Fool-Proof Glow: St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist


If you’re worried about physically applying your tan and keeping it even, this product takes out the guesswork. Requiring just a few spritzes on each side of the face and along the center, the spray goes on clear and leaves your hands clean. The bronzed results show in a matter of hours, it smells like a tropical vacation, and it allows for quick touch-ups. $30, sttropeztan.com

For Skincare Enthusiasts: Vita Liberata Self Tanning Anti Aging Serum


What makes this product a standout is the incorporation of additional youth-preserving ingredients. Formulated with Matrixyl 3000, a peptide meant to enhance skin tone and elasticity, cucumber to hydrate, and organic glycerin to preserve a youthful glow, this liquid gold might be clear but it will make you gleam. $38, dermstorm.com

For Custom Color: Lux Unfiltered No 12 Bronzing Face Drops


These drops have taken the internet by storm and for good reason. The No 12 Bronzing Face Drops are lightweight, allow you to customize your shade, and can easily be incorporated into any skincare routine. Apply one to two drops (or more, depending on your desired tan level) into your moisturizer and wake up radiant. $42, luxunfiltered.com

For Smoother Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Peel Pad Self Tanner For Face


If you're concerned about how self-tanning falls into your routine because you’re keen on exfoliants, this is your product. Formulated with DHA, vitamin D, and soy proteins (to deliver color deep into the skin) alongside chemical exfoliator favorites alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids (to reduce blackheads and even skin tone and texture), these pads are a jack-of-all-trades. $38, dermstore.com

For a Hydration Boost: Clarins Liquid Bronze Self Tanning


Looking for a lotion that doubles as a self-tanner? This fluid will give you a hydrated glow. Allowing for gradual buildup, the aloe vera-infused formula is a gentle option for every skin tone and type that will also lock moisture in. $40, clarinsusa.com

For a Flawless Finish: St. Tropez Tan Remover Mousse


Mistakes happen, but nobody has to know with this tan eraser. Made with a combination of detoxifying cotton extract and probiotics to purify and rebalance the skin, it is gentle enough for sensitive skin and will help to clear up any tanning imperfections. $19, sttropeztan.com

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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