Last Update: October 4, 2023
Ever since Coco Chanel returned from a holiday in the French Riviera accidentally bronzed in 1923, a sun-kissed glow has been considered fashionable, and you can get yours with this DIY self-tanner.
But by the 1970s, when dermatologists and oncologists started expressing concern over the surge in skin cancers, sunbathing gave way to a new industry of “fake and bake” tanning. First came tanning beds, now widely known as harmful—the FDA issued a warning in 2014 that the lamps used emit UV radiation, just like the sun. (And since people tend to expose more of their bodies in a tanning bed than when outdoors, and because lamps can be used throughout the year, they’re no less dangerous than actual sun exposure.)
All of that in mind, it’s no surprise that the past few years have been all about the DIY tanning lotion: In one 2012 survey of 415 women, nearly 80 percent admitted to feeling more attractive with a little color, and 48 percent had used sunless tanning products.
Self-tanners, thankfully, are considered relatively safe. The active ingredient is a naturally occurring chemical derived from sugar beets, called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which reacts with the amino acids on the outer layer of the skin, temporarily darkening dead skin cells—kind of like how an apple or avocado oxidizes and turns brown when exposed to air. However, inhalation of spray-on tanning chemicals may potentially pose a risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or cancer.
And then there’s that notorious smell. It’s been likened to everything from curry to burnt skin to urine—so not cute. Another thing to worry about when using a bottle tan? That you may end up looking more oompa-loompa than Brazilian bombshell. (Imagine the perpetually orange Paris Hilton of the early aughts.)
Still, there’s something about emerging from winter break with a fresh-from-vacation glow. Instead of reaching for a conventional self-tanner, this super easy DIY is inspired by an old WWII-era trick, when women supposedly used tea bags to give themselves a natural-looking tan. Makes sense—the tannic acid that gives black tea its color has been known to stain teeth as well as fabrics when spilled. Tried and tested—this spray tan really works with some patient layering. Not to mention, the scent of black tea and vanilla is pretty yummy.
Here’s how to whip it up and use this homemade tanning lotion. Just note, this formula is temporary, and washes off in the shower or during sweat sessions. So it’s best for special events!
To make this homemade self-tanner, stir vanilla extract into hot water, and steep tea in the mixture for 10 minutes. (For a darker spray, use four tea bags and steep for longer.) Let the DIY self-tanner cool for at least 30 minutes. Pour into a glass spray bottle, store in the refrigerator, and use within one to two weeks (tea is perishable).
Now that you know how to make self-tanner, it’s time to use it. First cleanse the skin, then exfoliate with a facial or body scrub, or use a skin brush. Follow up with moisturizer. These first steps will prime the skin for more even application. Mist the spray on the desired areas evenly; there’s no need to rub it in, which could cause streaks. Allow to dry for a few seconds and repeat until you’re happy with the shade; just remember to let it dry between each layer.
That’s it for this very easy to make DIY self-tanner! Getting a safe, temporary sun-kissed glow in the middle of winter is as simple as that.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho
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