The thing about faux tans?

They can look…well…fake.

It’s so hard to get a faux tan to look sun-kissed instead of Oompalooma if you don’t know what you are doing.


I live in Texas.

I know all about faux tans and big hair. I was raised on them. I think I took a class on advanced Aqua Net in high school. I take my self-tanning very seriously.

So today?

I want to keep it real. I want to share with you everything I know—all the products I use. Everything I’ve learned about tanning.  Everything to help you look like you spent your summer on the beach.

Here’s my entire tanning routine from beginning to end (and the one thing I use to make a faux tan glow).

Here are most of the products I use (I’m going to add two more to the list a little later). It’s important to understand that self-tanning products are divided into several categories. I listed them below. I’ll discuss how I use them in the routine.

  1. Self-tanning drops—These are clear drops that you add to moisturizer and apply like lotion. I’ve tried tons of different drops and for the money I think L’oreal Sublime Bronze is the best.
  2. Airbrush sunless spray—This is a spray that mimics what happens when you get a spray tan except on a much smaller scale. I think Neutrogena Micro Mist has the best overall coverage and color.
  3. Glotion—This is a product that you put on and the color shows up immediately. It’s not a permanent product and it’s super light and translucent. I use it to get a little glow or to touch up spots that I’ve missed. You can see Glotion here.
  4. Tanning tint—This is another product that you put on and color shows up right away. It’s not a permanent product and it looks super real. You can wash it off after you wear it and it doesn’t get on your clothes either. My favorite is this product by Fenty beauty.
  5. Skincare oil—This is an oil that I use on top of the self-tanner. It brings the tanner to life and looks so pretty and summery. It makes skin looks so glowing and fresh. This Bio Skin-Care Oil is my favorite.

How to Get a Flawless Self Tan

Let’s discuss my routine.

Which starts with this—a self-tanning mitt like this one. There are so many reasons to use a mitt. You won’t get any of the products on your hands and product goes off so much more smoothly when you apply it with a mitt.

Here’s my step-by-step self-tanning process.

1. Exfoliate

I use a gentle exfoliating scrub to make sure my skin is ready for self-tanner. It gets rid of any dry spots and smooths out my skin so the self-tanner won’t glump in rough areas on my elbows, knees, and ankles.

This sugar scrub is really good for exfoliating. It gets rid of the rough areas and your skin feels amazing.

2. Moisturize

A lot of people skip this step because they think the self-tanner is like a lotion. I love this body moisturizer (I’ve talked about it before).



Your self tan will look so much better if you apply a light, oil-free moisturizer. The moisturizer helps to layer in a smooth surface so you don’t get streaks. If you use a moisturizer it also absorbs excess self-tanner and prevents spots that darker in some areas.

3. Towelettes

These are my go-to. These towelettes from L’oreal Sublime Bronze are so easy to use that you won’t even feel like you are putting on a self-tanner. If I want a lighter tan, I just rip open a single package of these. It looks like a wet wipe when you take it out. There’s no color at all.

I only use one and apply it all over the night before.

4. How to apply self-tanner

Here’s how I apply the towelette, but it actually works with any self-tanning product.

I always start from the bottom and work your way up. I begin with my feet and ankles, moving upwards to my legs, torso, arms, and finally my neck and face.

You want the heaviest amount of tanner on your legs and the towelette is freshest when you start at the bottom.

5. Self-tanning drops

If I want to adjust the level of tan (which you can’t really do with the towelette) I use self-tanning drops instead. These are clear drops that you add to moisturizer and apply like lotion. I’ve tried tons of different drops and I think L’oreal Sublime Bronze is the best.

You can add a few drops for a lighter color or even more drops for a darker color. Start slow with the drops if you haven’t used them before. You won’t know the color until the next morning and you can always add more self-tanner the next day.

(total aside: I think that’s the big secret to self-tanning—starting slow. Just like Rome a good tan isn’t built in a day)

6. Blend, Blend, Blend

This is when your tanning mitt is your best friend.

The key to a flawless self-tan is blending. Take your time to blend the self-tanner into your skin thoroughly. Avoid harsh lines or streaks by using long, sweeping motions with the mitt.

After I apply the tanner–I always go back and wipe my elbows and my knees one more time with a paper towel. This makes sure you avoid glumping.

7. Check for patches

The next day after the tan shows up?

Check for patches.

It’s hard not to have patches when you apply self-tanner. I mist the patches with a micro-mist spray to even out the coverage.

8. Even out tan

If my tan ever looks uneven or if I didn’t get enough coverage? I’ll add a layer of body makeup.

It’s seriously a game-changer.

This is a product that you put on and the color shows up right away. It’s not a permanent product and it looks super real. You can wash it off after you wear it and it doesn’t get on your clothes either. My favorite is this product by Fenty Beauty.

9. Add skincare oil

This is an oil that I use on top of the self-tanner. It brings the tanner to life and looks so pretty and summery. It makes skin look so glowing and fresh.

You won’t believe the difference that it makes.

This Bio Skin-Care Oil is my favorite.

That’s it.

That’s the entire routine from beginning to end with a few extra options along the way.

I love a good faux tan.

Just between us?

There’s just something about having a little glow during the summer that makes me so happy.

I hope the tips were helpful. I’ve tried almost everything and learned what worked for me and what didn’t.

Here’s to a little sunshine (even if it came from a bottle). 🙂

disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

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  1. Image for Heather Heather

    You’ve answered a lot of questions on why my legs look mmmm a little patchy. Thanks I’m planning on having the best tan tomorrow for lunch

    1. Image for KariAnne Wood KariAnne Wood

      YOU GOT THIS!!!! Let me know if you have any questions! I take my self-tanning ver seriously! LOL! Happy day! KariAnne

  2. Image for Perry Perry

    Thanks for your expertise. I have the Glotion in my Amazon cart because I heard someone else praise it, too. Besides addressing your wonderfully detailed tips, I would like to tell you those earrings you are wearing in the accompanying photo are fabulous!!!

    1. Image for KariAnne Wood KariAnne Wood

      Perry, You are so observant! Those earrings are my new favorite! They are definitely statement earrings but they are so lightweight and easy to wear and they are on sale right now! Here's the link: Happy day! KariAnne

    1. Image for KariAnne Wood KariAnne Wood

      Rebecca, I love this body moisturizer (I've talked about it before): And this sugar scrub is really good: Happy day, KariAnne

      1. Image for Rebecca Rebecca

        KariAnne, thanks so much! I'm a newer subscriber, so I must not have been around when you mentioned the moisturizer before. I appreciate your kindness to answer my question--I'm grateful. Happy day to you, Rebecca

  3. Image for Suzanne BISCHOFF Suzanne BISCHOFF

    Dear Kerri, Thanks for the step by step instruction plus product recommendations. Have you found anything that leaves less of the tell tale odor? Suzanne

    1. Image for KariAnne Wood KariAnne Wood

      I so wish I had a good answer for that one. I've found that no matter what I use that goes on the night before there is an odor! However---if you use one of the body make-ups (like the Glotion or the one from Fenty Beauty) they don't have that "self tanner" odor! Hope that helps! KariAnne

  4. Image for Jodena Beale Jodena Beale

    I love a good self tanner. Yours looks great. Im going to try your products. I used to use lancolme from Macys but I cant seem to find it anymore. Great advice from you. Thank you for the answers to many questions. I need a mitt too.

  5. Image for Leslie Watkins Leslie Watkins

    Saving this for when I get the nerve to try them! Ha! I’m so bad at applying even sunscreen! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Image for Claudia A. Claudia A.

    That’s so funny. I’ve steered away from these products, well since way back in the day. Lol. I’m not sure you’ll remember, but the days of orange fingers and weird speckle dots on your legs. Until recently…dun, dun dun. I was asked to attend a bridal shower for my great niece. I didn’t want the other attendees to be blinded so I thought I’d give the “fake bake” a try. Worst thing that could happen would be that I’d keel over having to wear pants in the heat. I tried the Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Body Mousse and the mitt. I must say game changer. You apply it before bed, wait till it dries, sleep, and shower in the morning. All the excess comes off and viola, Lily white legs disappeared. No orange weirdness between my fingers. I’ve applied it twice since!

  7. Image for Carol Tucker Carol Tucker

    Thanks for sharing your routine. I'm a faux tab person..yes the mitt is a must. I use Norvell foam mousse. Love it. But I will try your suggestion when I run out. I'm glad you told me about the moisturizer and oil..I haven't don't that..but makes perfect sense. Love a "glow" especially in ☀️ summer! Love your blog and you!!

  8. Image for Lori H Lori H

    Sun Labs Ultra Dark, wash your hands with soap then a little whitening toothpaste ..done..easy and I've been using it for years. I'm very fair skinned with strawberry blonde hair in my 50's. I don't need all the mitts or extra scrubs and lotions as this stuff is very good at moisturizing and it lasts for days ..although I apply in the morning daily on my legs mainly. The whitening toothpaste cannot be the gel form. Bodybuilders have used it for for performing. Great tips though. Hydration is a wonderful thing plus makes you look younger..ha!

  9. Image for Betty Betty

    I don't tan but I do love all of your decor, tips and hacks. I am looking for a way to paint or color faded picture mats. If you know a good way please let me know.

  10. Image for Ellen Ellen

    Thanks for the tips! I’m going all in for a spray tan for my daughter’s wedding this weekend! I so love that you took a class in Advanced Aqua Net!

  11. Image for Maggie Rowe Maggie Rowe

    Karianne, love your tips, as always. Yours is literally the only blogsite I follow that recommends products I will actually use and that I can afford. Truth! Now the $64,000 question: how in the world do you use self-tanner on one's back?! I use Jergens Natural Glow on my legs which works great, but I don't know how to get color on my upper back without looking two-tone front and back!

  12. Image for Kris Kris

    I have found that the formulas for self tanners have changed in recent years and make my skin look more orange, not less. Maybe my skin is getting weird. These days I use Sally Hansen on my legs if I want to look like I have a glow. However, I have Snow White coloring and lately I've just been owning it. Or I lean into styling myself in cute pants. 😉

  13. Image for Jeanine Jeanine

    When you talked about using the towelette, you said that you apply it all over the night before. Does that mean that you go to sleep just after tanning, and if so, does it not get on your pajamas and/or sheets?

  14. Image for dee dee

    Great post and recommendations. Some I've tried and now more to try. I didn't know about the mitt and I'm puzzled over that omission. And I agree it's good to see someone use products that don't require getting a second mortgage :-) Thanks.

  15. Image for Nina Nina

    Thank you for sharing your tips and tricks! Face tanning drops really are a great way to get a pretty glow with very little maintenance. I've been using drops by Clarins USA, mixing only 2 drops into my facial sunscreen once every other day or so (in morning), or into a vitamin C moisturizer (at night). I'm very fair, so that amount is enough for a very natural result for my skin tone. Now that my bottle is almost empty, I'll purchase the L'Oreal ones you've suggested, because they are only half the price of Clarins and they have your personal seal of approval!

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