Want to Safely Extend Your Summer Glow? Here's How to Choose and Apply Self-Tanner

Armed with the right products and an effective application method, you can have sun-kissed skin all year long.

We've long associated summer with a period of sun-kissed skin, but these days, we know that any type of tan—even one attained while protected by SPF—is deleterious to the dermis. That's where self-tanners come in: Many of us use these formulas all year long, starting in summer and continuing straight through fall to extend the longevity of our glow. Luckily, application isn't complicated. When done correctly, and with the right products, you can lock in that radiance long-term. To help you on your way, we asked St. Tropez skin finishing expert Sophie Evans and Silver Goodwin, a Vita Liberata brand educator, for their best self-tanning tips. Ahead, exactly how to select and apply a self-tanning formula.

Woman applying body cream on arm
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Pick a hydrating self-tanner that contains DHA.

Most self-tanners contain the ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which turns brown after it oxidizes; this happens when it makes contact with the proteins on our skin. How much color a formula produces depends on your natural pigmentation and body chemistry, says Evans, adding that the best products are formulated with other color-developing agents for a natural result. Luckily, most self-tanners on the market contain DHA. For optimal results, Goodwin suggests looking for formulations that are also hydrating—like Vita Liberata's Beauty Blur Skin Tone Optimizer ($38.99, vitaliberata.com)—for a streak-free, radiant finish. Evans, on the other hand, recommends St. Tropez's Gradual Tan Watermelon Infusion Body Lotion ($25, sephora.com). "This easy-to-apply lotion is infused with hyaluronic acid and hydrating watermelon to lock in moisture for up to 72 hours," she says. "The gradual tanner will also boost your glow by a few shades."

Always exfoliate first.

It's the most important step: Exfoliating before you apply a self-tanner leads to an even, long-lasting result, notes Evans. You have some leeway, timing-wise: You can exfoliate the day before you apply the color. "Sometimes, allowing the skin to settle after exfoliation helps achieve superior tanning results, as your skin is at its best pH level," she says. Goodwin agrees, noting that you should avoid using perfumes, lotions, or emollients, as well. These products act as a barrier between your skin and the self-tanner, preventing the color agents from penetrating as deeply as they need to.

Use an applicator mitt.

The key to avoiding streaks? Use an applicator mitt. According to Evans, this special glove—she likes the St. Tropez Double Sided Luxe Tan Applicator Mitt ($7.50, sephora.com)—administers the formula evenly, so long as you keep your hand flat and work gently. Apply the product in circular motions, says Goodwin, and move from your face down. In between sections, check for missed spots and adjust accordingly.

Evans says to use excess product over the feet. "The feet and hands are the only areas that are a little trickier to tan," she says, "so we always use less product here and really make sure everything is blended well." If you're worried about uneven application, Evans suggests selecting an option with an instant bronzer versus clear iterations; the former allows you to see exactly where you're applying the color. Also, don't feel like you have to load on product: "Remember, more is not more," says Goodwin. "No need to pile on sunless tanner, thinking it will make you darker—this is a myth." Evan agrees, adding that "the skin can only work with a certain amount of tanning agent, which the product has been formulated to achieve."

Moisturize your skin afterward.

Goodwin says to follow instructions and allow your application to dry fully; the color should develop in four to six hours or overnight. After the bronze appears, take a warm shower to rinse off the "guide color" and moisturize with a nourishing tanning extender, like Vita Liberata's Fabulous Self-Tanning Gradual Lotion ($19.99, dermstore.com). Skip oil-based hydrators and scrubs, he says, as they will cause fading. To best maintain your color, Evans says to re-apply your gradual tanner every two to three days. If that feels like too much work, streamline the process with a clear water or mist formula, like St. Tropez's Self Tan Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Body Mist ($42, sephora.com), which you can apply weekly.

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