A Brown Girl’s Guide to Self-Tanning

Published in: Drugstore Beauty Finds, Skin Care

A Brown Girl's Guide to Self-Tanning

Because El Hub and I are Hawaii-bound in a couple weeks, I busted out the old swimsuit last night and somehow managed to shimmy into it without bursting too many seams (*whew*!).


Of course, I couldn’t resist checking out my bum in the mirror (yes, it was still there)…

And that’s when I noticed just how pale my thighs have gotten. We’re talking five shades lighter than the rest of me.

It gave me an idea.


As someone with a built-in tan, I’ve never had a reason to venture into the world of self-tanners … until now. I’d like to smooth out my skin tone and make everything a similar shade, so I put together some research to aid my cause.

Self-Tanning Resources

5 Self-Tanning Tips

  • Shave your legs the day before you self-tan. It will exfoliate the top layer of skin, leaving a healthy new layer ready to tan.
  • Exfoliate with a soft cotton washcloth before applying a self-tanning lotion, as rougher nylon and loofah scrubbers can cause streaks.
  • If you’re new to self-tanning, skip the sprays. They can be difficult to apply evenly.
  • To prevent orange staining of your palms, fingers and fingernails, scrub them with a soapy nail brush (or a Wet Ones wipe) every 5 minutes while you’re self-tanning.
  • If you’re using self-tanner on your legs, don’t forget to include your ankles and the tops of your feet. 🙂

Jergens Natural Glow Express


Jergens Natural Glow Express ($9) is a favorite among beauty bloggers and magazine editors for its natural tan. It’s supposed to be easy to use, available at drugstores nationwide, and I like the price point, too.

I’m betting a few of you gals are seasoned self-tanners. Do you have any tips?

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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So far, 49 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Kim says:

    Yo, I’m a brown girl and I’m seriously considering self-tanning. My whitey boyfriend is getting his arms tanned by the day! He’s becoming darker than me! AND I’M LATINO! LOL.

    Obvs. I’m in freak-out summer mode. My must-stay-brown skin is always in check during those three months since a lot of it is exposed. Of course, sunscreen is good too. Fortunately for us brown girls, we have built-in suncreen. Extra melatonin, YAY!

  2. Sarahc says:

    Hi Karen! I’ve never used a self tanner before because I’m always afraid it’ll come out like those oompa loompas and I’ll look orange.
    How are you? I haven’t been online alot because my computer hardrive crashed but I just got a new macbook. It is sooo cute!

  3. nicole says:

    I bought a travel size Jergens Natural Glow much to my own shame… I’m from Hawaii and my friends would make fun of me if they knew! But I’m in NY for college and I have gotten a case of the pasty-whiteness. I am naturally brown though, but just way lighter than I’m used to being! The lotion doesn’t seem to deposit much (I got it for Medium Tones) and I’m scared to move onto any stronger self-tanner since I’ll be going home for summer and I have no idea what fake-tanner + real sun-tan equals…

  4. Stephie says:

    OH MAN! This post comes just in time because school is letting out and beach time is just around the corner. Being a tan filipino I never took a second glance at bronzers. But mann, my stomach is pretty pale and I hate to go through another summer of photos with dark arms legs and face and a pale tummy 😛

    I’ve also heard great things about Dove Summer Glow.

  5. Anh says:

    I’m brown-ish and here are the products I’ve tried:

    Jergens Medium- meh

    Guerlain- too light and glittery

    Tan Towels from Home Shopping Network’s website- pretty decent

    L’Oreal Airbrush Self Tanning Mist- this worked really well and actually got me browner

    Neutrogena foaming self-tanner- this made me streaky and orangey; hard to use, bad results

    Mystic Tan- expensive, but well worth it; natural color from one session

    Wow, I seem pretty obsessive. This was a result of several summers.

    Anh´s last blog post..Black April

    • Karen says:

      Hi Anh,

      Thank you for this breakdown of products. It looks like I might have to hunt down some L’Oreal… did you find the spray difficult to use?

  6. Kypris says:

    I’m a latin ballroom dancer, so for competitions I’ve gotta get darkkkkkkk. I don’t like tanning booths (aka cancer booths) so I use a self tanner (mm, chemicals). To get really dark, I use a cheap brand (Lifebrand) but it makes me rather orange, so to get a nicer shade at the end, I use Neostrata self-tanner ($25 or so) which I think gives a very nice natural shade. I’m fairly light-skinned, but I think if you have darker skin it won’t look as unnatural (I look odd when I fake tan too much! But on the dance floor, it looks good). Neostrata dries fast though, so you have to rub it on quickly so you don’t get streaks!

    Also, if your skin is really dry, any tanner will tend to stay in the cracks and not spread out evenly – so moisturize for a few days beforehand and also just before putting on tanner. Put extra oil/vaseline on elbows, knees, and any other place that has skin that might absorb too much and become too dark.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kypris,

      That’s super cool that you are a ballroom dancer! You guys have the *best* outfits (love the flowy dresses). It’s so cool how ballroom dancers make it look so effortless. How long have you been doing it? And do you have a favorite dance?

      Oh, and thanks for the moisturization tip. My skin is always dry so it’s very helpful to know…

  7. Jian says:

    =_= Self-tanning? I just bought Lancome Blanc Expert GN Whitening Serum or something. I got unevenly tanned when I went to Bali (Indonesia) for a few weeks.

    I’m so YELLOW. D= Maybe I should fake tan instead of trying to force my skin to be white. Lol.

    Jian´s last blog post..Microfibre Face Cloths & Introduction to my Shanghai Life

  8. Karen4 says:

    I’m a fair, freckled gal, but my skin does lightly tan (and freckle more)when in the sun with high powered sunscreen. That said, it’s nice to have a darker, more even-toned, but natural look. For the past couple of years, I swear by L’Oreal’s Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer & Natural Skin Tone Enhancer. I use the one for Medium skin tones if I want a good summer look. It’s pretty much goof-proof. For darker-skinned gals they have one for Medium-Dark skintones. The color is not orangey at all. It also has a pretty good scent, since it’s made with mango butter, vitamin E and sweet almond oil. You can purchase it at places like Target & Walmart for under $10 and 8 oz. tube!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Karen4,

      Thank you for this rec. Scent is a BIG THING for me, and chances are I won’t use something if it’s too stinky. This one’s now on the list. 🙂

  9. CC says:

    Thanks for the timely tips, Karen!

  10. Rose says:

    Im italian, but just moving from FL to TN, this past winter made me SO pasty. And with my yellow undertones, i look so weird.

    I really dont like the jergens express glow in that shade. I got very orange from it, it smelled REALLY bad, and i couldnt imagine using it 3 days in a row.

    I just bought and used Sevin Nyne Tanning mist from Sephora ($35) and i LOVE it.

    Rose´s last blog post..Summer Beauty Must Haves

  11. Erin says:

    I’m super pale. I’ve tried Jergens Natural Glow, but I found it really thick and the smell drove me nuts (and stuck with me all day). I prefer L’Oreal Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer – it went on more like lotion and the smell was nicer.

  12. nina says:

    yay! this post exemplifies why I LOVE this blog! yay brown girls! While I’ve used the jergens express glow which I loved, and my tried & tested method…I is using banana boat tanning oil (I think that’s it, its in a brown clear-ish bottle) w/ SPF & a solid day in the sun 🙂

  13. Rose says:

    Karen, I second the Loreal Sublime it works really great and gives your body this gorgeous gold sheen in the sun, but not glittery look. Its fabulous!

    Rose´s last blog post..Summer Beauty Must Haves

    • Karen says:

      Hi Rose,

      Okay, looks like the verdict’s in. I’m gonna have to snag some L’Oreal Sublime. 🙂 I’m all about gorgeous gold sheen!

  14. nicole says:

    I’m from Oahu 🙂

    nicole´s last blog post..Poison Ivy look

  15. Tania says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! Like you I’m already brown but not brown enough (I’m a MAC NC 40 liquid and C4 Studio Fix powder) I would like some more color but I don’t want to turn orange or any other wierd color. I’m tempted to try the Jergens Express…..we’ll have to see. In other related drugstore beauty news, have you tried the new Go Fresh body wash? I smelled it in the store and am lemming it right now. It’s nectarine and white ginger or something like that. Perfect wash for spring/summer. Also a bonus is that I have a coupon for dove stuff I’m gonna use.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tania,

      You’re welcome! 🙂 I don’t want to turn orange, either… looks like I’m gonna have to try the L’oreal one, because it seems to be the crowd fave.

      I have been lemming that new body wash, too. I have about three tubes to go through, though. I might as well get it — what’s one more in the shower, right?

      BTW, did you hear about the Speidi wedding?

  16. Daya says:

    I haven’t done the self-tanning thing in a year or so, but tried Jergen’s. It’s okay. The one that didn’t work for me is the one Bath and Body Works sells. Can’t remember the name, but it smelled like margaritas. The only good thing about it! 🙂 My salon recommends Fake Bake.

  17. Anh says:

    The spray was only difficult when applying to your back, but you have your husband to do that for you.

    Anh´s last blog post..Black April

  18. nai says:

    hi, karen!

    the one recommendation re tanner that i can give you is for neutrogena sunless tan. some years ago, when i used to go to the beach at least twice a week, i got pretty dark, which was fine…until i decided i wanted to switch from boyshort bottoms to bikini bottoms. not wanting to show up at the beach with deeply tanned everywhere else but the outskirts of my bum, i bought neutrogena sunless tan. back then, it smelled kinda funny, but was easy to apply and non-streaky. i just rubbed some into my outer bum and hip area every day for four days. no one could see the original demarcation line.

    the other sunless tanning experience was actually my sweetie’s. he went to get a hair cut one day and the lady cut it too short for his liking, so he had her buzz him bald. two once a day applications of neutrogena sunless tan made his pate the same color as the rest of his head.

    anyway, we heard it smells much better now. either way, it was a great easy to apply product with really good results for someone who is naturally golden beige and tans easily (me) and someone who is relatively fair and turns pink before brown (boyfriend).

    i just think it’s funny my sweetie used it on his head and i used it on my ass. ^_^

  19. Jayme says:

    Hey Karen!
    So I’m having some trouble with sunless tanning products..I can’t seem to find a product that shows up as more of a brown/bronze tint rather than an orange tint. I’m Mexican/Italian, so my skin has more of a brown tint than an orange or peach, which also makes it a bit difficult to find a good sunless tanner! I’ve tried Jergens Natural Glow Medium, and that gave me a slightly orange tint that didn’t match my natural tan tone. So I guess I’m asking if you know of any good sunless tanners that give more of a brown/bronze tint rather than the typical orange? Thanks for your help! : )

    Jayme´s last blog post..Video – How It All Ends.

  20. Erin says:

    I am probably the palest person ever, but I get the most natural looking color from Banana Boat Airbrush spray. It looks like what my skin would probably look like if I could get a tan. Plus, the edges of the tan (like on your feet) are kind of nicely blurred. Sometimes I get very defined lines where I applied tanner and I hate that. I just spray this on and rub it in a little.

  21. lexi says:

    i guess i’m the equivalent of a skinny girl complaining she’s skinny – i am a brown girl that wishes she were tanner – well wishes she was a golden tanned girl. therefore, i have tried various self tanning lotions and even the air brush tanning machines. the last time i used one of thoses booths my legs broke out. i guess it was in combination of having open pores (from shaving) combining with the tanning mist – gave me clogged pores, pimples and discoloration on my legs. Yes, i’m traumatized of those booths. So to my surprise I found something that actually gives me a nice tan glow – Tan Towels at Pure Beauty stores. They even sell them individually so you can try them out. I also reccommend their 3-1 exfoliating towels – one side exfoliates and the other side buffs and moisturizes. They do sell a package of 5 full towels (like a giant wet nap) by the box – $25.95. It is worth the purchase if you do a full body application but if you want to tan your legs only like me you are better off buying the individual half towels for like $2.52/ea.

    Tips – when you apply the the towel on your body – take your other hand to smooth on to your body in long strokes and remember to wash your hands! Reapply the next day if you want to go darker (like me!)

  22. marmar says:


    Seriously. Their awesome “sun kissed legs” lotion works even better all around- I use it on my face, arms, etc. I absolutely love it and it has to be the best self-tanner I’ve used so far (and the cheapest). I’ve tried dozens of brands.. check this one out (I have dark skin, btw).

  23. Marisol says:

    I need this post. I become a pretty pale Mexican during the winter months.

    Marisol´s last blog post..Summer of 1998

  24. ~Haley says:

    Hi Karen,
    It seems like you are getting some awesome advice but I just have to throw in my two scents since I LIVE by self tanner. I am not brown, pale and see through actually…but I am in LOVE with Bath and Body Works Strike Gold self tanner. I recommend putting it on before going to bed (and give yourself plenty and naked drying time) so you can wash away the smell in the morning. It smells good going on but after a couple of hours absorbing into the skin it just smells strong. I also like the L’Oreal Sublime Glow Daily Moisturizer. It smells like tea (which I love). I find that with Jergens I smell like B.O. after about an hour and the color payoff isn’t as good as the L’Oreal. I’ve tried almost every self tanner out there and these two never let me down.

    I start in the shower and I use a gritty scrub folled by shaving and then when I done washing a conditioning my hair I use a gental body wash to get rid of any conditioner that may be sticking to me. I wait until I am completely dry and then I coat my feet, knees, elbows, and hands in lotion. Then starting at my legs and working my way up I apply Strike Gold blending and blending and blending as I go. If I use it on my face, I mix it with EQUAL parts moisturizer. I let dry then go to bed. It lasts about a week or longer if I moisturize daily and use Sublime Glow once or twice.

    I hope this was helpful and not too long winded. Good luck. Let us know how it goes!

  25. Hi Karen, did you ever try St Tropez? The best imo! It’s not really cheap, but I guess you get what you pay for.

  26. ChicaFiesta says:

    Hola, Im also a brown girl and have considered self tanning – because now im like 70% dark i want to be lovely and dark brown! I am half Spanish, so i have very dark complexion and hair – thank you so much for your little advise, and I will follow this until i get the kind of Beyonce/J-Lo glow! 😀

    Gracias! x x

  27. Angela says:

    Hi! I came across this online and being all Nepali I am darkkkk! Haha I start off pale ish but after a few days out in the sun I look dark!!! But would self tanning be my best bet to tan the areas that aren’t exposed to the sun? Because I can’t lay out or the rest of me turns even darker! Haha 🙂

  28. Heather says:

    St. tropez.

    Also Clarins concentrate.

    I’ve tried a lot of tanners. These two are the best for olive skin. ST in summer, Clarins in spring.

    • Heather says:

      Also!!! I love love bare essentials self tanner all year round, I’m just out. This stuff is the most blend able and foolproof.

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