Confession: I Love Self-Tanner

I’ve been faking it all winter.


When I was 15 years old, I walked into a CVS with the remaining sum of my weekly allowance ($7.00) burning a hole through my pocket. I needed to get something — Lip Smackers, a new mascara, anything. As I tiptoed through the lotion aisle, I happened upon a tube of Jergens, which promised me a natural glow. As a stout suntanner who was not even emotionally scarred by the accrual of a third-degree burn (scar) on my chest the previous April in Mexico, this cream promised an honest reprieve from the wrath of New York’s dark winters. So I spent the whole $7, went home and started lathering.

I used it on my legs and arms, not knowing that I needed to spread it evenly across my whole body (and that it needed some time to dry). Within three days, I looked like a dirty leopard. My arms were streaky, my legs were orange and the rest of my body was still white. I also ruined two T-shirts which were never replaced (“That’s what you get for trying to cheat nature,” my mother probably said). I told myself then that I would never self-tan again.

Five years later, when I went abroad to Paris, my friend Roxana convinced me to book a spray tan the night before my birthday. “Just for a healthy glow,” she said. I did it and came out looking like Ross in that episode of Friends when he got a spray tan, just not as even.


I wish I had my own photo.

Again I promised, never again.

Now let’s fast forward to 2016. They say insane people do the same thing over and over expecting different results, but what happens when you do the same thing over and over and finally do receive different results?

In October, just in time for maintenance season, I came across products by a brand called Tan Luxe. There was a facial serum and a body lotion and a spritzing-water product.

Frankly, the temptation to try to approximate a fake tan, sun notwithstanding, one more time, was just too great. I betrayed my former ban and started using the serum.

Confession I Love Self Tanner Man Repeller1

I’d apply it once to a clean face, usually before bed, and then not wash my face with soap the following morning. By the afternoon, I’d have a healthy glow that was nuanced enough for you to think I’d just been taking care of myself with, like, cordyceps and the powder of carrots grown in the ground right outside San Diego, but which was really the result of this serum.

Confession I Love Self Tanner Man Repeller2

If I used it more than once in a week, I ran the risk of becoming too orange (which I did). If I rushed the application process, I developed blotches of darker spots in various places around my face (these took days to clean off). I was careful. And I coasted through the entirety of winter, never — not once — sharing this step in my beauty process.

But during our company-wide April edit meeting, one of our team members pitched a story on self-tanner, confessing her own insecurity about how much she likes to use it. At that point, I felt a moral obligation to confess what felt like a Ponzi scheme I had been running across my face all winter. This glow didn’t belong to me. You could buy it (apparently from HSN) in a bottle! Then I got really in my head about it, and was just like: Why are we so self-conscious about some of the things that we do?

Some people refuse to share when they get Botox, or false lashes, or that they wax their arms. Is this a byproduct of shame? Self-consciousness? Why can’t I just sayyyyyy that I LOVE SELF-TANNER. The gross way it smells like dirty beach on your skin, and how sometimes it leaves prints between your fingertips (that’s how I know it’s working). I love when I wake up and it’s just there: a tan that does not cost a mole and a leg. Sometimes, it leaves a hint of orange on my face towels, which make me feel like I really worked for my tan. I don’t know why. It just does.

So I’m throwing in that towel (I’m sorry, I had to — the fruit was hanging so low!), confronting the shame and coming out with it: I wear self-tanner, I very much like self-tanner. I miss tan mom.

Photos by Leandra Medine, John Rawlings and Robert Landau/Getty Images; collage by Edith Young. 

Get more Beauty ?
  • Abby

    My big take away from this story was that you got more than $7 for allowance and kept getting allowance into your teens! At 14 I had to get a summer job if I wanted money and before that my allowance was $2!

    (My high school BFF had a credit card her parents paid off every month so I have a lot of weird, repressed allowance related jealousy)

  • Hellbetty666

    I love self tanner too! However, I think my hands are actually hanks of ham, because I always fuck it up. I’ve started using the St Tropez one you put on in the shower and it is amazing – even I can use it! It’s subtle, easy to put on, doesn’t streak or go orange and it doesn’t smell. Best of all you don’t have to walk round naked, legs akimbo for an hour afterwards, just get out the shower, dry yourself off and away you go.

    (I am slightly evangelical about this as you can probably tell!!)

  • Mary

    TAN MOM miss her

  • EP

    This clarins gel self tanner is my favorite. As someone who buys their beauty products at CVS, it is $$$, so I just use it on my face and blend it down my neck. Put it on when you get home from work, go to bed, wake up like you fell asleep on a beach. It is subtle, has no oranginess, and doesn’t rub off on my white towels. It fades away in a about two or three days.

    • estheresther

      I use the Clarins drops in my normal moisturiser/body lotion!

      • Lauren Thompson

        That’s a great idea, how well does it work??

        • estheresther

          Very well! I’m naturally pale AF so I can choose how many drops of self tanner I add. They recommend 3 to 6 drops/body part, I usually go for 3 and it’s plenty! PS I use the body drops even on my face because I suspect it’s pretty much the same formula and it’s cheaper 😉

          • Katrina Elizabeth

            I second that! I use it, too. Only need a drop or two for my face.

  • Suzan

    Ha! I feel you about the self tanning “shame”. I always denounced self tanner and tried to embrace my porcelain skin (with the word ‘porcelain’ trying to affirm a positive connotation to being horrible eye-blindingly white).
    Now this attempt at positivity at my neon-white skin is not a very stable one and every now and then I contemplate using self tanner, but always get put down by the risks (the aesthetic ones: the orange streaky risk). And also by the ankles of my dear and gorgeous friend who has self tanning down, but whose blotchy ankles still always give it away.

    Anywho, long story short: last Summer I tried a Garnier BB self tanning spray. It’s subtle, it washes off (but holds the day) and it hydrates quite nicely (and even smooths out imperfections a bit, like regular BB cream). I love it for early Summer when I start wearing dresses and skirts for the first time and my legs look like the one’s of a vampire (and when I say early Summer, that’s just when I start and then use it the whole Summer eventually, because those legs of mine just refuse to get tan).
    I vowed not to tell anybody (there’s that “shame”). But when the topic passes by I can’t help but want to recommend this subtle secret of mine. So I do 🙂 And in this comment again! It’s a nice inbetween solution for not wanting to go all the way with self tanner, but also wanting to be confident in skirts!

  • Sofi

    Same here! And I keep my self tanning also a secret, I don’t know why. I see myself as a tanned person, a summer person, I even use salt spray on my hair around the year, but the reality is that I live in Scandinavia and therefore can’t be the person I feel I am. So I self tan. Luckily I found a new product which doesn’t smell much, so keeping the secret is easier. And I’m ready to wear my tie-dye tops anytime! 😀

  • Aimee

    UGH love this. Recently went to a bridal shower at the end of March and since my legs hadn’t seen the light of day yet – thank you Boston winters! – I got a spray tan. I happen to mention to one girl that I got a spray tan beforehand and she looked at me and said “why would you do that?” and I said I didn’t want my scary-pale legs peeking out from under my dress and I got some serious side eye for it.

    Some holy grail products for me (a red head, pale skin with pink undertones): Bare Minerals Sheer Sun Serum Bronzer. I add a drop or two to my facial moisturizer and it keeps me from looking scary pale all winter! And honestly, I’m afraid to even write this in fear that it will become sold out – the Sephora Self Tan Mist. It’s the perfect color for me and once you spray it all over, you then rub it in with your hands and I’ve never experienced any streaking. It doesn’t last for more than two days, but I just reapply if needed. It dries relatively quickly and maybe I’m just desensitized but I don’t even think it smells!

    • Natty

      Omg the sephora self tan mist is EPIC! And so affordable!

    • Áine Hegarty

      Hahaha, I love your Sephora confession! I have a special website I use for costume design images that I don’t share (I’m afraid people would use the images without understanding them!) which is ridiculous but in any case I get it!

    • Kattigans

      The Sephora self tan mist is good! I once went to Sephora in the middle of summer and it was completely sold out. Very, very sad because at the time I thought they’d discontinued it!

  • Lindsay D

    I’m a fan of the airbrush tan when I need to not look like a zombie. they spray you with an exfoliater before, if you can get over standing naked with stranger a foot away they are amazing. I’m very fair skinned and I never turn orange 🙂

  • Miruna Popa

    Your tone somehow reminded me of Brooke Windham confessing she got liposuction in Legally Blonde – less dramatic of course, but equally liberating!

  • Jukebox_babe

    Literally 3 hours ago I was in Duane Reade and thought, “This is probably a good time to pick up a new tube of that Jergens Natural Glow stuff I pretend I don’t use…”

  • Pandora Sykes

    I use James Read overnight tan twice a week. It’s AMAZING. Doesn’t smell or look like fake tan and means i don’t need to wear half as much make up. ISS CHANGED MY LYFE

    • pterridactyl

      I second this!

  • doublecurl

    I have used St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse every Thursday night for….3 years? 4? Gotta get that weekend glow on year-round

  • Samantha Small

    Was your coworker mad you cribbed her story?

    • Leandra Medine

      Grateful, she’s on the biz dev team!

      • Samantha Small

        Have been panicked for 48hrs my comment came across as snarky/troll-esque. Please forgive my lack of a winky face — it would’ve saved everything.

  • Made me laugh so hard! First, we all have those beauty indulgences that we don’t like to share, so don’t fret! Second, my husband has told stories of his sister’s teen years of self tanning when she stained the white marble in their London home so badly it all had to be replaced – so consider a few towels lost quite lucky. And finally, my sister actually taught the teenage kids of the tan mom!! Sadly they were not that tan themselves. Haha!

  • Caroline Christianson

    I spray Tomas tanner on my face every night before bed. For 4 years now. Takes 30 seconds, doesn’t come off on my pillow, I don’t wash in the AM, perfect color. It’s the only essential product in my life – I forget what my face looks like without it. $12 on Amazon

  • Karina Lanting

    OMG YAAAAAS. I’m not even one of those “i don’t tan; I burn” girls, I’ve just been a sunscreen aficionada for the last ten years to avoid holy-guaca-MOLE all over my chest, back and arms. I LOVE the self tanner Arbonne puts out, no yucky smell and awesome coverage all over. Must try the serum Leandra mentions, because…you know…the word serum makes me think I’ll wake up like a unicorn goddess. Thanks for this MR.

  • I’m so glad to have found out other self-conscious tan searchers.

  • Carrie Holt

    I use Tanceuticals twice a week on my face and once on my body. Love the natural looking color it gives me! I found out about that brand on and have never looked back 🙂

  • I once got sprayed down with a self-tanner as prep for Burning Man. I waited two days before stepping into a yoga class because I didn’t want to ruin it. It was hot yoga and I started to sweat. My sweat came out brown and I was wearing white. There was nothing I could do but own it. Just thought I’d share that little tip. 😉

  • Lesya Y

    I love to use my Marc Inbane tanning spray. It makes my face look skinnier and healthy, especially when you work in an environment with very bright lights (that turn you into a ghost with dark eye circles). But I use it only once a week, or skip at least 5 days in between spraying.

  • Aimee

    Yes! My skin looks so much better with the slight tan I keep up all year. By slight I mean off-white come winter but it makes such a difference to how I look and feel.

  • Kattigans

    I’m a long time self tanner freak. I love it and love looking tan. Kiehls self tanner works really well and looks natural and Jergens has this mouse that’s the best! It’s in a brown bottle. After you apply it you really gotta scrub it off your hands. Other than that there’s no streaks and it looks freakin good. I told my boss about it when she was thinking of getting a spray tan for a wedding. She thanked me and saved $35 in the process.

  • Elif Nimet

    Leandra! Do you use the light/medium or medium/dark serum? We have pretty similar skin tones.

    • Leandra Medine


  • Lauren Dey

    I put a few drops of St. Tropez bronze self tanner in with my Origins tinted moisturizer every morning – as a mousy blonde with dull ruddy skin, this keeps my face from fading into my hair and doesn’t look too unnatural… or so I tell myself 😐 !

  • Olivia Stone

    Just get out there under the sun, it is not really taht hard to get tan, as for me I pair taning with my Whiting Solvaderm as it decrease melanin and thus giving me a great healthy tan

  • I read this article 20 minutes after applying a Tan Towel. Am I screwed?? 😒

  • I LOVE self tanner too! I feel like it just makes me more toned and alive! I have a blog about self tanners if you’re interested in checking out some different kinds- check it out here