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From sun-kissed to bronze: Which shade of tan is right for you?

Choosing the right shade of (faux) tan can be just as (if not more) frustrating as choosing the perfect shade of foundation. If you’re toying with the idea of a tan but can’t decide how dark to go, let us help. We’ve put together a guide to finding the perfect shade of tan.

Woman with bronze tan

Consider skin tone

First things first — your skin tone is going to directly determine your ideal shade of tan. If you have fair skin and burn rather than tan when you’re in the sun, you’re going to have to stick with the lightest shade in order to look natural. And the key is to look naturally tanned, rather than orange or too dark.

Think about how dark you want to be

Second, think about your desired shade of faux glow (keeping in mind your natural skin tone, as mentioned above). To help you decide, we offer some guidelines.

Taylor Swif

Fair skin

Your tan goal is a healthy glow or to look only a shade or two darker than usual. Think the Olsen twins or Taylor Swift.

Kate Hudson


Your tan goal is sun-kissed or like you just spent a few days in the great outdoors and fresh summer air. Think Pippa Middleton or Kate Hudson.

Jennifer Aniston


Your tan goal is bronze or like you just spent a week in the Caribbean. Think less Malibu Barbie and more Jennifer Aniston or Heidi Klum.

Kim Kardashian


Since you already have some natural color, you can go for a dark tan, which will enhance your already sun-kissed look. Think Jennifer Lopez or Kim Kardashian.

Choose the right product

Different products will provide different results when it comes to achieving the ultimate faux glow. You can choose from a gel, a spray, a mousse or a lotion. Generally, it’s easier to apply a product that has a tint so you can see where you’re applying the tanner. Sprays and mousses can be trickier to apply since you can’t control exactly where they’re going. We like gels or lotions because you have more control over the application. Ultimately, it’s up to you, but opt for the product you feel most comfortable applying.

Application and upkeep

Once you have your ideal shade in mind, here’s how to get it right.

  • Scrub up: Dry skin absorbs more color, so be sure to exfoliate the driest areas of your skin (knees, elbows) so they don’t end up looking darker than the rest of your body.
  • Start squeaky clean: Skin should be free of soap and moisturizer residue before you apply tanner because soap can mix with DHA (the active ingredient in all self-tanners) and turn skin orange.
  • Don’t overdo it: Use only a quarter-sized amount (or less, depending on your size) for your lower leg, and the same amount for the thigh. Use any excess lotion on your knees, feet and elbows rather than over-applying, which can cause knees and elbows to turn a shade darker than the rest of your body.
  • Be a smooth operator: If you apply self-tanner in streaks, you’ll get streaks — so use long, sweeping movements to ensure even coverage.
  • Don’t miss a spot: Missing a spot is surprisingly easy and very frustrating. Go over the area again, using wide, circular movements to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.
  • Moisturize: Maintain your faux glow by moisturizing skin regularly.

Watch: Kristen Wiig spoofs “Tanning Mom” on SNL

Kristen Wiig did a hilarious spoof of Tanning Mom Patricia Krentcil on Saturday Night Live; even the tan mom herself thought it was funny!

More beauty tips and trends

Prom skin care countdown: Perfect your complexion for the big day
M. Steves skin care review
6 Must-haves for fresher, younger-looking skin

Photo credits: DJDM/, Daniel Deme/, Adriana M. Barraza/,

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