Maybe it’s the California girl in me, but one of my favorite looks has always been glowing, bronzed, makeup-free skin. Now that I know how important it is to protect my skin from UV rays, my days of tanning beds and long hours baking in the sun for a golden glow are long behind me. Even with proper coverage, I can still achieve a light glow in summer, but maintaining a sun-kissed look throughout winter presents another challenge.
Tanning beds were the go-to winter tanning method years ago, but research shows that they’re just as harmful when it comes to skin cancer and aging. The solution? Sunless self tanners. At-home serums, lotions, and mousses are a completely safe way to achieve a natural, fresh-off-the-beach look at any time of year, and many have added ingredients designed to benefit your skin, not harm it.
If you’re looking to add a little warmth back to your skin without going overboard this winter, these are the 5 rules I follow and 6 products I recommend for getting a natural looking tan in winter.
How to Get a Tan in the Winter and Make it Last: 5 Tips
Before I share my favorite self-tanning products, these are the most important tips for achieving and maintaining a beautiful tan in the winter without going to the tanning salon for a spray tan or tanning bed session.
1. Exfoliate and Shave Beforehand
Exfoliating your body or face is absolutely essential to ensuring self tanning products dry and display color evenly. Keep in mind skin is dryer in the winter months, so a gentle exfoliator that won’t further dry out your skin is best. For my face, I like Zo Skin Health’s exfoliating polish, and I love this gel-based exfoliation option for my body (I use it with a loofa). If you need to shave, do it 24 hours before you apply the tanner.
2. Avoid Tanners with Alcohol
Dry winter skin will become even more parched if the tanning products applied contain alcohol. Alcohol causes skin cells to break down faster, resulting in a tan that looks scaly and fake—not timeless and natural. All of the products I list below do not contain alcohol and are safe for winter.
3. Use Less Product
If you have a number of pumps or drops of tanning product that work well for you in the summer, simply cut that number in half for the winter. Dialing your usage back will give your skin a kiss of color and warmth rather than several shades of depth, which can look unnatural. Aim for a sun-kissed look that simply evens out the complexion, not a total change in skin tone.
4. Apply Moisturizer Before and After
Winter skin means naturally dry areas like the hands, elbows, knees, and feet are susceptible to cracking. Apply moisturizer to these areas before applying any self tanning product, and don’t forget about the lips, nails, and cuticles, which can absorb tanners rapidly if left dry.
5. Think Natural for the Face
Like anyone, I love bronzed facial skin. It reduces the appearance of redness and scars, makes you look brighter overall, and even whitens the teeth. However, there’s nothing more telltale of a fake tanning routine than a face that looks like you’ve been on a cruise near the equator when it’s the middle of December. When using face self tanner, the same rules apply: exfoliate and moisturize first, then apply the product modestly and in circular motions.
The Best Self-Tanning Products for Winter
Ahead, my favorite self-tanning products to help you feel like your best self by turning pale winter skin into natural-looking, bronzed, glowing skin in the colder months.
Face Tan Drops
Mix this formula with moisturizer every two to three days for a natural glow. Just 1-3 drops works beautifully, and this is the only facial self-tanner that doesn’t break me out, look orange, or expire quickly. I had my first bottle (in light/medium) for more than a year—it lasts forever! / $49, Sephora
This Marc Jacobs bronzing powder is also my recommendation for anyone who likes a natural bronze without any shimmer. It’s pigmented, so you don’t need much regardless of your skin tone, and it photographs beautifully. I use a bronzer brush to apply on my cheekbones, nose, chin, and neck. / $49, Sephora
The most natural-looking, flattering bronzer I’ve ever used. It gives a lit-from-within tan look. The shimmer is so subtle it’s hardly noticeable, and it works well as a highlighter or eyeshadow too. I use the color Luminous Bronze Light. / $52, Sephora
Face Tanning Pads
When a skincare brand releases a self-tanning product, it gets my attention. These little towlettes are exfoliating to improve the texture of your skin and ceate an even, natural-looking tan. These are perfect for on-the-go and for avoiding spills in your gym bag, weekender, or tote. / $38, Sephora
I tend to be cautious when it comes to self-tanner mousse for the body, as some tones appear fake and some applicators look streaky. This body lotion feels good, is easy to use with or without a mitt, and the tan is incredibly even and believable even on pale skin. I also notice a moisturizing effect when I use this daily. / $36, Sephora
It’s a myth that if you sit outside in the winter, you don’t need to wear SPF. The sun’s rays still exist even when it’s not warm, so I keep my skin protected from sunburn by applying this sunscreen daily, rain or shine, winter or summer. This lightweight formula doesn’t feel greasy and shouldn’t cause breakouts. / $36, Amazon
Shop Winter Tanning Products
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I hope this post showed you that you don’t need spray tanning, a tanning bed, or even a real dose of vitamin D to get a tan in the winter! Let me know if you try any of these winter tanning products in the comments or on Instagram.
Looking for more skin care posts? Check out my full skincare routine, how to have better skin in five years, and how I healed my acne.