The Ultimate Self Tanning Guide

How exactly does self-tanner work? What is the easiest self-tanner to apply? There’s so much to know about getting a gorgeous glow without the sun... The Ultimate Self Tanning Guide

How exactly does self-tanner work? What is the easiest self-tanner to apply? There’s so much to know about getting a gorgeous glow without the sun, and we want to help you make an informed purchase. Here’s our ultimate guide to self-tanning.

How does self-tanning work?

Self-tanning products add a sun-kissed appearance to your skin without you needing to actually layout in the sun, or a tanning bed for that matter. They come in a wide range of forms, such as lotions, drops, sprays, and more.

The active ingredient in self-tanners – also called sunless tanners – is dihydroxyacetone or DHA. DHA is a form of sugar that reacts with the protein keratin on the surface of your skin to produce pigments[i], which temporarily gives your skin a tan shade. The tan usually lasts for a few days, then starts to fade as dead skin cells are shed. The Food and Drug Administration has approved DHA for use in externally applied cosmetics[ii], including sunless tanners.

Is self-tanning safe?

Sunbathing and using tanning beds are popular methods for getting a tan. Why is self-tanning the better option? Sunless tanning products are generally considered to be safer[iii].

When you layout in the sun, your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, including UVA and UVB. Short-term exposure to these rays can cause damage in the form of a sunburn, and long-term exposure can cause signs of premature aging, including dark spots, wrinkles and leathery skin[iv] as well as skin cancer.[v]

Tanning beds also emit UV radiation, making them a health hazard. In fact, studies have found that people who use tanning beds or booths have an increased risk of skin cancers such as melanoma and squamous and basal cell skin cancers.[vi]

Alternatively, self-tanners don’t expose your skin to ultraviolet light, making them the smarter, safer tanning solution. 

What is the best self-tanner?

Self-tanners are available in a wide range of types, and choosing the best self-tanner will come down to personal preference.

Self-tanning drops

Self-tanning drops are a concentrated form of self-tanner – and our personal favorite! These drops work by adding a few drops to your lotion, cream or serum of choice, then mixing and applying in an even layer over your skin. You get a customizable tan – simply adjust the level of the tan by adding more drops for a darker shade or fewer drops for a lighter shade.


Sunless tanning lotions, moisturizers, and creams are products that have self-tanner already mixed in. They’re relatively easy to apply, making them a great choice for beginners.


Sunless tanning sprays are available as a service at tanning salons as well as do-it-yourself products. They’re convenient for making sure hard-to-reach places like your back still get tan, and you don’t have to rub the product in after applying.


Like sunless tanning lotion, mousse already has the self-tanner built-in. It’s lightweight, relatively easy to apply, and dries more quickly than lotion.


Towelettes contain self-tanner and are used by wiping the towelette over your skin. They’re a convenient, portable option for when you want to tan on the go.


The self-tanning gel is another easy-to-use option that dries fairly quickly.

Best self-tanner for your face

To achieve a sun-kissed glow on your face without irritating sensitive skin, look for a self-tanner that’s designed specifically for your face.

What to look for when choosing the best self-tanner

In addition to deciding which type of self-tanner is right for you, it’s important to consider the ingredients in different self-tanners as well as the color it creates and the scent it provides.


Different companies use a variety of different ingredients in their self-tanning products. Some use perfumes or synthetic fragrances, which can cause skin irritation, and some even include synthetic dyes. Knowing what’s in your sunless tanner is important since it will be absorbed into your skin.

Look for products that have natural ingredients and do not include synthetic dyes, perfumes, parabens, sulfates, or phthalates – for example, CLEANTAN. Our sunless tanning drops are made with a 100% plant-based, non-toxic formula with a dose of antioxidants.


Your current skin tone and the shade you’d like to be will also help determine which self-tanner product is right for you. Most products will tell you on the label how dark the tan it provides is, such as light, medium, or dark. If you have fair skin, it’s typically best to start with a lighter self-tanner. If you have darker skin, you’ll likely need to start with a darker tan in order for it to show well.

Self-tanning drops like CLEANTAN are a great option for all skin tones, as you can choose the level of tan you’d like by using more drops for a darker tan or fewer drops for a lighter tan.


Self-tanner isn’t exactly known for having a great scent – many products have a harsh odor. Pay attention to what the product is designed to smell like as well as the ingredients to help you determine if the scent is one you’ll like.

For example, CLEANTAN’s advanced formula neutralizes all offensive tanning odors. Instead, it features a nice scent of chai tea that dissipates quickly after you apply it. It’s also free of synthetic fragrances, which can irritate sensitive skin. 

How to apply self-tanner like a pro

Proper application is the key to getting a gorgeous sunless tan.


First things first – make sure your skin is prepped for tanning! Exfoliating creates a smooth surface for your self-tanner application. (We recommend the Infinity Body Polisher!)


The application will look a little different depending on which self-tanner type you choose. Generally, you’ll want to apply the product in an even layer over your skin while being cautious around drier areas like the elbows. If you’re using self-tanner drops, add a few drops to your favorite lotion, cream or serum, mix, and apply to your skin until absorbed.


Allow some time for the color to develop. Your tan will become more visible after a few hours, and be sure to allow 6-8 hours without getting sweaty or showering.


As your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells, your tan will begin to fade after time. Sunless tanner can typically be applied every few days to help keep your tan looking its best.


CLEANTAN is a plant-based, non-toxic self-tanner in a convenient concentrate form. By adding a few drops to your lotion, cream or serum, you get a customizable, sun-kissed glow without the dangers of UV rays. Our formula includes our TEATAN Complex, which uses caramel, cocoa powder, beetroot, and organic blue-green algae for a gorgeous, non-orange hue, plus green, black, white, and rooibos teas for a dose of antioxidants. Learn more at, then check it out for yourself!







Tanning Questions?