Getting your summer glow on (sans the sun) can be tricky territory, and not all self-tanning products are created equal. Selecting the right formula for your complexion is the first step to achieving a natural-looking finish, and the proper application will save you from embarrassing mishaps like telltale streaks and unsightly orange hues (we’ve all been there!).
To ease your quest for the perfect bronze, we quizzed self-tanning gurus and came up with the best tips, products and techniques to suit every skin tone. If you’re fair like Cara Delevingne, for example, St. Tropez skin finishing expert Sophie Evans recommends taking a gradual approach. "Break yourself in gently to self-tanning and get used to seeing yourself with a glow," says Evans. "Use a gradual self-tanner at first, which are formulated to take you one to two shades darker. Apply every few days, and once you have your desired color, you can use a true self-tanner." Ready to go bronze? Click through to our guide below.
1. If You Have Fair Skin
For fair skin tones like Cara Delevingne's or Jessica Chastain's, self-tanning can be tricky territory. Always be sure to exfoliate, and either wax or shave 24 hours before you apply sunless tanner for the most-even finish. Orange-based formulas, as well as versions that are a little dark, can come off as unnatural, so determine how deep you'd like your tan to be, and go from there. "A good self-tanner will adjust to suit your natural skin tone and pigmentation," says St. Tropez skin finishing expert Sophie Evans, who recommends patch-testing a small area of skin to determine whether or not the product matches your natural tone. The dreaded zebra stripe effect is also most apparent on pale skin, so use a tanning applicator mitt to ensure the product is evenly distributed. "Zebra stripes are caused by lack of product and over rubbing. When a person is scared of a self-tan, they use a very small amount of product and try to tan a large area," adds Evans. "You can never use too much self-tan as the skin can only absorb a certain amount of tanning agent, but lack of product will normally result in the dreaded streak effect."
2. Fair Skin: What You Need
"Break yourself in gently to self-tanning and get used to seeing yourself with a glow," says Evans. "Use a gradual self-tanner at first,which are formulated to take you one to two shades darker. Apply every few days, and once you have your desired color, you can use a true self-tanner." We're obsessed with La Mer's gradual tanner ($90; cremedelamer.com), which can also be used on your face to impart an all-over even tone. If you're not ready to dive into the world of sunless tanners just yet, opt for a temporary body bronzer like Gleam by Melanie Mills ($40; gleambymelaniemills.com). "The Bronze or Deep Gold shades are perfect for an instant tanned look, but Light Gold is great if you've had too much sun and have a little redness," Mills says.
3. If You Have Medium Skin
Complexions like Nicki Minaj's or Jessica Alba's already have a touch of warmth, so you can get away with using a darker sunless tanner with minimal flaws-but the same rules of exfoliating and spot-testing an area still apply here. "Always apply a moisturizer barrier to joints, feet, and hands prior to tanning since they can develop darker than anywhere else on the body," says Evans. "If you want to look like you just got back from a beach vacation, opt for a dark range. For a light bronze glow, a classic formula will do the trick."
4. Medium Skin: What You Need
Although your complexion already holds somewhat of a tan, a too-orange effect can also be apparent if you choose the wrong formula, or if your self-tanner reacts to a product already layered on your skin. "Make sure you used basic products like body wash and scrubs that are mineral oil free, and do not leave residue behind on the skin," says Evans. "Certain products used with a self-tan can interfere with the overall color." Because the St. Tropez Self Tan Luxe Dry Oil ($50; sephora.com) is so hydrating, you can take the minimal route on the lotion and apply only where needed. We also love the natural sun-kissed effect Guerlain's Terracotta Sunless Gel ($55; nordstrom.com) imparts, not to mention how easy it is to blend.
5. If You Have Dark Skin
For deep skin tones like Naomi Campbell's or Lupita Nyong'O's, a sunless tanner can help conceal uneven areas, not to mention create the most-gorgeous radiant effect. "You probably don't need to use a dark self-tanner, but a light layer of gradual self-tan will even out the skin tone, add a touch of glow, and disguise any imperfections in the skin," Evans says. Opt for a product with a slight golden finish to enhance your complexion and impart a fresh, radiant finish.
6. Dark Skin: What You Need
St. Tropez's Dark sunless tanner ($40; sephora.com) is specifically formulated for darker complexions to bring out a believeable effect. "It reacts with the melanin in your skin to deliver your most-natural dark tan," Evans says. Because the product is housed in an aerosol spray, you can also give your makeup an airbrushed effect by holding the bottle at arms-length, and applying one gentle spritz onto your face. For a more temporary option, try NARS' Body Glow ($59; narscosmetics.com), which uses a blendable oil base, and creates a beautiful golden sheen that isn't overly-sparkly.