It’s that time of year again when we all realize we’re a little pastier than we remember. On my family’s annual beach trip last week, I took my new swimsuit for a trial run and was reminded why I don’t usually wear swimsuits—my hardly-ever-see-the-light-of-day legs are practically fluorescent.
With fair skin that doesn’t really tan, no amount of time in the sun will change that. But a little self tanner certainly will. Whether you’re looking to fake a fresh sun-kissed glow or you want to accentuate the natural glow you already have, these DIY sunless tanning lotion recipes are for you.
3 Homemade Self Tanner Recipes
When it comes to making sunless tanning lotion at home, it’s important to temper your expectations. Homemade bronzers don’t contain the chemicals that tint your skin for weeks (but isn’t that why we like ’em?) Instead, they apply a little color on top of the skin, like makeup. That means it can wash off or rub off on clothes if you’re not careful.
I recommend applying homemade tanning lotion to legs, arms, and shoulders whenever you need a little glow at the beach or a pop of color for a night out. Don’t go overboard, and definitely don’t wear your fanciest white outfit (lest you end up like Cindy Mancini in Can’t Buy Me Love).
If you want a homemade tanner with a little extra staying power, try the Black Tea + Rosewater Tanning Mist. Tea has been used as a natural dye for thousands of years, which means it can actually sink into the upper layers of skin and provide a somewhat lasting color. But because it is a dye, it can also tint your clothes, upholstery, or anything else it comes in contact with.
Otherwise, stick with the Coffee Bronzing Oil or Cocoa + Lavender Tanning Lotion for a temporary hint of color.
1. Coffee Bronzing Oil
I love this self tanner because it nourishes the skin and boosts moisture while giving you a lustrous bronze glow. The real star of this bronzer is the mica or eye shadow since it adds both color and shimmer to the mix. But if you need extra color, like I do, then make sure to add the coffee grounds for a deeper, bronzier hue.
—1 tablespoon unused ground coffee (use dark roast for more color and medium roast for less color)
—3 ounces jojoba oil (or any other oil you like)
Step 1 | Grind coffee and mica
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the coffee grounds and mica powder together as finely as you can. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a coffee grinder instead.
Step 2 | Combine with oil
Spoon the coffee mixture into a small jar, and top it with jojoba oil. Stir and set aside to steep for 1–2 days. If the oil isn’t dark enough, pour it into a small saucepan and gently simmer for about 5 minutes to extract more color from the grounds.
If there are still some large chunks of coffee, strain out the coffee grounds using a fine mesh strainer. Personally, I prefer to leave the coffee in because I find that it gives the oil more color. It’s up to you.
Step 3 | Apply to skin
Apply bronzing oil to clean, bare skin. Avoid areas that may come into direct contact with fabric, and stick with the face, shoulders, arms, and legs.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
2. Black Tea + Rosewater Tanning Mist
Like I mentioned before, black tea is a great natural dye that can tint skin for up to 2 days. When mixed with rosewater, this bronzing mist doubles as both a skin treatment and natural perfume. Just make sure to keep it away from light fabrics.
—1 cup rosewater (for less scent, either dilute the rosewater or replace it with plain filtered water)
Step 1 | Steep black tea
Place the tea bags in a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup.
Heat the rosewater for 30 seconds to 1 minute in the microwave until warm. Then pour it over the tea bags and steep for 20 minutes.
Step 2 | Transfer to spray bottle
Once cool, remove the tea bags and transfer the mixture to a clean spray bottle. Spritz on clean, dry skin, and let it dry completely before getting dressed.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 7–10 days.
3. Cocoa + Lavender Homemade Tanning Lotion
Thanks to the skin-boosting benefits of cocoa powder (antioxidants!) and lavender oil (polyphenols!), this DIY sunless tanning lotion actually soothes and protects skin from the outside in.
If you have lighter skin, then you may want to go light on the cocoa powder. For darker skin tones, add more cocoa powder. Don’t be afraid to tweak this bronzer lotion recipe until you get a shade that works for you.
—3 tablespoons face or body lotion
—3 teaspoons cocoa powder (add more or less depending on your skin tone)
—5 drops lavender essential oil
Step 1 | Combine lotion and cocoa
Start by spooning the lotion into a small bowl. Use a fine mesh sieve to sift the cocoa into the bowl with the lotion. Stir well.
Step 2 | Apply to skin
Apply anywhere you would like a little color. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.29