Ask Jean: Clean Self-Tan?

Jean Godfrey-June

We want to answer your most pressing questions—or, you know, just the things that you’re curious about. Please keep them coming to: [email protected] Below, a q for our beauty director, Jean Godfrey-June.

Dear Jean, It’s ridiculous, but I already feel dull and pasty after a little over a week inside. Am I crazy to try (clean) self-tanning? How do I avoid getting it all over my apartment, how do I avoid smudging it, and how can I ensure I won’t look orange? —Donna P.

Dear Donna, I did it last night, and I’m telling you, while feeling cuter in your loungewear is definitely not getting us out of this mess, it motivated me to get off my sofa this morning and exercise (Tracy Anderson online, most-beginner class). The tanner I used is my favorite—it dries in seconds and does not blotch or stain a thing. And my self-tanner obsession has to be one of the most intense of all time. I have tried them all, and I love very few. What I want in a self-tanner is almost impossible: Imperceptible beyond the occasional “Did you go on vacation? You look so well rested!” I don’t want it to smell, streak, or be too dark or too light, and I want it to last as long as possible. You’d think since the active ingredient in self-tanner is always the same (DHA, a natural sugar derivative that stains the top, dead cells of your skin—I know, so appealing-sounding), most would give similar results, but this is not the case.

  1. Vita Liberata Invisi Foaming Tanning Water Vita Liberata Invisi Foaming Tanning Water Vita Liberata
    Invisi Foaming Tanning Water
    goop, $39
  2. Beautycounter, Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion Beautycounter, Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion Beautycounter
    Countersun Mineral
    Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

    goop, $39

A clean, nontoxic self-tanner, I once imagined, would be harder to blend, it might smell funny, might be a weird color, might be either too dark or too light…not as advanced. Why I thought those things I don’t know—but I was dead wrong. This self-tanner from Vita Liberata is a clear tanning “water” that whips into a light, fluffy foam as it’s dispensed. It is a full-on miracle in terms of how easy it is to blend, and the subtle, ultranatural color it leaves behind is something you have to see to believe. Somehow, the foam is light and moisturizing enough that it melts into your skin, rather than seizing on it, as many fast-dry, no-transfer tanners do. (I have always been skeptical of fast-drying tanners, particularly those that aren’t tinted: Ill-placed, unblended tanner is invariably left to develop into unnatural streaks and blotches. But this one, as I said, is a miracle.

It takes only seconds to apply because of its lightness. I highly recommend using the company’s mitt so your hands never absorb the tanner—the water fluffs pleasantly as you smooth it on, and it sinks right in. It feels like nothing on your skin once it’s on: not sticky, not tight, nothing. And when you wake up (I like to put it on at night, but because of its no-transfer qualities, you can apply it, put on a fresh white sundress, and go about your day if you like), the tan is smooth, totally natural, splotchless, and perfectly glowy. The color is neither an aggressive tan nor a pale nothing, but truly the perfect healthy glow.

It’s as brilliant for a quick leg-reawakening as it is for a bit of glowy life in your face or a full-on I’m-going-to-the-beach-tomorrow-even-though-I’m-actually-staying-home tan. (Having a tan before stepping into the sun in the backyard not only makes you look better; it also means you won’t hesitate to slather on SPF 30 or higher, which is a perhaps even greater benefit for any pale-skinned person.)

7 Steps for the Perfect, Natural-Looking Self-Tan

7 Steps for the Perfect, Natural-Looking

A natural, even, super flattering glow is much easier than you think—and much easier than the backs of many tanner boxes, along with countless articles on the subject, make it sound. The prevailing wisdom involves assiduous exfoliation, along with some super-awks time in the bathroom waiting for the tanner to dry. In truth, neither is that necessary.

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    2. The secret is that body cream—or lotion, or lip balm, etc.—makes everything a thousand times easier and better-blended. A nice thick one like Rodin’s giant jasmine-and-neroli-infused tube is ideal, or Olio E Osso balm in No. 1. Smooth a good dollop of it between your palms and between your fingers (this will help prevent tanned palms), then dab the excess anywhere you have thicker or drier skin—your elbows, ankles, tops of toes, knees. Thicker, drier skin pulls in more tanner, creating uneven dark spots and splotches that look decidedly unnatural. By smoothing cream over those areas, you make them a little more resistant to the tanner, and the result is an even glow instead of splotchiness.

      The nice thing is, the cream/lotion principle works either way: If you forget about it and apply tanner without it, you can just go over the drier areas directly after you do the tanner—results are the same.

    3. Rodin Crema Luxury Hand & Body Cream Rodin Crema Luxury Hand & Body Cream Rodin
      Crema Luxury Hand
      and Body Cream

      goop, $88
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    2. Once you’ve protected the drier spots from overtanning, apply your self-tanner. Start at the feet: They’re the hardest to get right, so focus your most intense blending attention on them. The feet have a jillion different odd angles, so make sure to get the tanner in there so you don’t end up with glaring pale spots.

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    2. Move up your legs and blend. There’s no such thing as overblending. It’s also hard to overdo the amount of tanner on your legs—adding more tanner in a single application won’t make you more tan, counterintuitively. It will simply ensure no streaks, no missed spots, etc. So be generous.

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    2. Tan only where you want. No need to do your whole body unless you want to. (Though consider who might be seeing you naked if you’re going for the partial.)

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    2. When you’re done, wash your hands with beyond-thorough enthusiasm; “tanned” palms look ridiculous. Do it even if you used a mitt. When your hands are completely dry, put a bit of tanner on the back of one hand; rub the two backs of your hands together to blend the tanner. (A tan body with pale hands is an alarming look.)

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    2. Tear open a face wipe and dab lightly at the thicker, drier spots. (Apply body cream to them now if you forgot to at the beginning.) When you’re through, use the face wipe to give your palms and between your fingers a final swipe.

    3. Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes Ursa Major
      Essential Face Wipes
      goop, $24
    4. 7

    5. Instead of shivering naked in the bathroom, throw on a loose, dark-colored sundress, shorts and tank top, or some such, and go about your business. You shouldn’t shower for at least eight hours, but there’s no reason not to get on with your life! Note: If you use a no-transfer formula like the Vita Liberata tanning water, you can put on even white clothes right away without worry.

If You Love
Lotion Self-Tanners:

If You Love
Lotion Self-Tanners:

  1. This super hydrating self-tanning lotion leaves you with a soft, super natural glow after one application and a honey-tone tan after a second. It blends like a dream and nourishes skin with noni extract (an antioxidant Australian superfood) and rose hip and sea buckthorn oils. The scent—rose and lavender—is subtle but transporting.

  2. KORA Organics Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion KORA Organics Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion KORA Organics
    Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion
    goop, $48
  3. KORA Organics
    Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion
    goop, $48
  4. For the perfect subtle, even glow, this self-tanning cream is 100 percent clean and nontoxic yet blends like a dream (streakless and soft), develops in three hours, smells faintly citrusy, and leaves skin smooth, supple, and hydrated—with a healthy, uniform tan. The formula is made with a unique Ecocert-approved DHA derived from sugar beets, and the resulting color is unbelievably balanced and natural; reapply every two days to maintain the gorgeous glow.

  5. The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan The Organic Pharmacy
    Self Tan
    goop, $69
  6. The Organic Pharmacy
    Self Tan
    goop, $69
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