Find your best bronze: Self-tanning tips you need to know

April 30, 2013 at 10:41 AM ET

Experts offer up the best tips and product recommendations to help you finesse a faux glow like Selena Gomez, Mila Kunis and more radiant stars.

Sephora, Illume Candles, Xen Tan,

Before you bronze, buy the essentials
Ever end up with zebra-like stripes after layering a seemingly perfect application? We feel your pain! Fix the problem by thoroughly prepping your skin on your next try.

"The key here is to exfoliate and moisturize your skin before applying the self-tanner," said Bedrani. A gritty exfoliant like Soap & Glory's The Scrub of Your Life ($18; followed by a moisturizer like the Eternal Nomad Coconut Mango Body Butter by Illume ($20; will keep dry, flaky skin at bay.

After applying your self-tanner, you may notice a faint smell as the DHA in the formula is activated. If the fragrance bothers you, layer on Xen-Tan's Scent Secure lotion ($32;, and use Tanee's Tan Line Corrector Pen ($5; to fill in any small areas you may have missed., John Shearer/Invision/AP; John Shearer/Invision/AP

If you have pale skin
For the fairest complexions like Michelle Williams' and Julianne Moore's, an ultra-deep tan won't look natural, so work on amping up the tone you already have. "It's not always about making someone darker. In some cases, it's just about adding a healthy sheen to the skin, with a hint of color," said St. Tropez skin finishing expert Fiona Locke, who has worked with Olivia Wilde and Elizabeth Banks. "Embrace the the pale skin tone, but add a fresh, modern finish."

pale skin
Saks, Jane Iredale, St. Tropez, YSL Beauty

If you have pale skin: What you need
Avoid products with orangey hints, and look for gradual tanning lotions instead. "They are great for pale skin tones as they apply without any color and build a subtle glow over time," said Locke, who recommends the St. Tropez Gradual Tan Plus Firming Lotion ($40;

Gold-toned bronzers, like Dolce & Gabbana's Bronzing Powder in Natural ($50; and Jane Iredale's Moonglow Quad ($48;, extend the sun-kissed feeling to your complexion without the burnt sienna undertones.

"Pale skin looks best when finished with a cream blush," added makeup artist Fabiola, who works with Katie Holmes. "Try YSL's version in Rose Quartz ($38; on the apples of the cheeks to give your skin a dewy glow."

Desiree Navarro/WireImage; Snappers/
Desiree Navarro/WireImage; Snappers/

If you have fair skin
Fair skin types like Karolina Kurkova’s and Mila Kunis' allow for more versatility than pale complexions, thanks to the added warmth. But excess redness can give off a sunburned appearance when combined with self-tanner.

"Fair skin has the tendency to be more ruddy than desired," said Jane Iredale Global Educator Shawn Towne. "Applying a yellow-based product will cancel out redness and even skin tone." Follow Kurkova and Kunis' leads by concentrating most of your bronzer where sunlight hits. "The idea is to create with makeup what nature does to our skin," Bedrani added.

St. Tropez, Saks, Jane Iredale, YSL Beauty
St. Tropez, Saks, Jane Iredale, YSL Beauty

If you have fair skin: What you need
Sunless tanners with buildable coverage, like St. Tropez's Bronzing Mousse ($32; are ideal for fair skin, as they let you work your way toward a darker shade while still looking natural.

"When touched up with the Rose Skin Illuminator ($15;, you will have people asking you where that glow is coming from without ever suspecting it is a self-tan," said Locke. The duo of tawny shades in Jane Iredale's So Bronze in #2 ($48; can be mixed together to create your own custom hue. "Apply the product under the cheekbones, on the temples, and along the jaw line to define features and give color," advised Towne.

As a finishing touch, Fabiola recommends blending a pearly luminizer like Make Up For Ever's Uplight in #22 ($29; onto cheekbones to brighten your complexion.

John Sciulli/WireImage; Adhemar Sburlati/Broadimage
John Sciulli/WireImage; Adhemar Sburlati/Broadimage

If you have medium skin
Naturally bronzy complexions like Jessica Alba's or Selena Gomez's leave less room for error when it comes to sunless tanners, so keep your skin's undertones in mind when choosing a bronzer. "For more olive-yellow skin, try neutral shades of brown," said Bedrani. "Some bronzers may be slightly greenish — olive skin actually does have a lot of green in it, so it's not strange that a bronzer also will."

And as always, steer clear of orange-looking products, which give off an obvious faux finish. "Olive skin tends to tan more deep brown than red or orange," Bedrani added.

Sephora, Nars Cosmetics, St. Tropez, Benefit Cosmetics
Sephora, Nars Cosmetics, St. Tropez, Benefit Cosmetics

If you have medium skin: What you need
"Avoid light pinks and corals for olive skin, as they can make you look ashy," said Fabiola, who recommends the DiorSkin Nude Bronzer in Cinnamon ($52; for skin with cool undertones. The NARS bronzer in Laguna ($36; is perfect if your complexion has a yellow tint.

Look for hydrating self-tanners that preserve the sun-kissed hue your skin already holds, like the St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Lotion and the new Self Tan Bronzing Lotion Face ($30 each; "The face lotion is dermatologist-tested, so it won't clog pores," said Locke. A touch of Benefit's Sun Beam Highlighter ($26; blended onto your cheekbones imparts an added glow.

MediaPunch Inc/Rex USA; Jason Merritt/Getty Images
MediaPunch Inc/Rex USA; Jason Merritt/Getty Images

If you have deep skin
Darker complexions like Gabrielle Union's or Brandy's may not need an ultra-bronzed finish, but self-tanning products amp up your skin's natural tones while creating a more even appearance.

"So often I get asked, 'If you have a dark skin tone, does it make sense to use a self tanner?' and the answer is always yes!" said Locke. Plus, a touch of bronzer gives off a warm, summery glow. "Deeper, darker browns with a reddish tone work well to liven up the skin tone — much like the real sun works," said Bedrani. "Just be sure to avoid anything with large flecks of golden glitter, as this tends to be a telltale bronzer look."

Jane Iredale, Bobbi Brown, Sephora, St. Tropez
Jane Iredale, Bobbi Brown, Sephora, St. Tropez

If you have deep skin: What you need
"Use brighter, more concentrated pigments that will give intensity and pop the features," said Towne, who recommends using the Jane Iredale Glow Time BB Cream in BB9 or BB11 ($48; to boost radiance. Well-placed bronzers in copper tones, like Bobbi Brown's version in Deep ($38; and Guerlain's Terracotta Bronzer in #8 ($50; give the face a lit-from-within effect. Just be sure to find a self-tanner made specifically for dark skin.

"The St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Spray ($40; gives off the glow of a bronze goddess," said Locke. "It uses a unique technology that reacts with the melanin in your skin to provide your most natural dark color for an even, gorgeous finish."

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