Why Do Self-Tanners Smell So Bad & Other Self-Tanning Tips

Everything you wanted to know about self-tanners on one page

Find out why self-tanner smells
Find out why self-tanner smells. Stone / Getty Images

Nothing makes you feel skinnier than a tan. Am I right? But tanned skin is so 1980s. Self-tanning and spray tans remain all the rage for the I Wanna Be Brown(er) set. But why do self-tanners smell? Which ones are best for the legs, body and face and how to keep the stuff from turning you orange and streaking?

Here are your burning self-tanner questions answered. Well, at least 10 of them.

Why Do Self-Tanners Smell So Bad?

 Self-tanners contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (or DHA) which has an unpleasant odor.

These days companies try to mask the DHA smell with essential oils, but every self-tanner I've tried has some sort of DHA odor, some stronger than others. Self-tanners tend to start smelling a couple hours after application. I think the combination of product with natural body heat makes the smell more obvious.

To avoid smelling bad, I recommend applying your self-tanner the night before a big event and going to bed in an oversized t-shirt or baggy pjs. The next morning, shower lightly.

Not all self-tanners smell bad, however. Elle Magazine named St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse their best non-smelling tanner. Apparently, it has an "Aromaguard" fragrance that eliminates the DHA odors.

How Do I Keep My Self-Tanner From Streaking?

The best way to avoid a streaky tan is to exfoliate your skin first with a body scrub or with mitts. And when you apply, use circular motions.

If your self-tanning effort has resulted in orange streaks, leaving you looking like a Halloween candy corn you can try these tricks:

  • Cut a lemon in half, squeezing juice onto a cotton ball. Wipe the streaky orange areas. Candy corn effect should be diluted within minutes.
  • Don't have a lemon on hand? Try a baking soda paste made with a few drops of water. Massage the paste into the streaky areas.

To avoid a streaky self-tan, apply moisturizer on your extra dry parts, especially around knees, elbows and fingers, and make sure to blend, blend, blend during application.

Should I Splurge on a Spray Tan?

Nothing beats quality color than a professional spray tan. But they can be pricey, so I recommend getting them for special events like a wedding, prom, homecoming or reunion.

You can even find professionals who use only natural ingredients, no chemicals.

Can I Trust a Drugstore Brand?

In all my research on amazing self-tanners, I've found that women fall in love with drugstore self-tanners as much as they do the pricier tanners. I know women who spend thousands on face creams who swear by Jergens self-tanners, for example. And on the post beauty blog, Into the Gloss, many of the readers tout their favorite Banana Boat or NIVEA self-tanners.

Of course, you can't go wrong with Clarins self-tanners (my favorite brand). But they are pricey.

Here are some great drugstore bets:

See my list of the best self-tanners.

So, I Want a Really Deep Tan. What Do I Use?

For a really deep tan, I recommend getting a spray tan and then applying a gradual tanner every day to keep the color going.

I also read amazing things about St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse.

Do I Need a Special Formula for My Face?

I prefer bronzers to self-tanners when it comes to giving my face a bit of color, but if you do prefer the self-tanner route, choose one that's formulated to be used on the face.

I've read great things about:

What If I Only Want Tan Legs?

You can find self-tanners formulated for the legs only. I know, crazy, right? But they work beautifully. My favorite is Lancôme Flash Bronzer Body Gel.

What This Talk About "Gradual Tans"?

My friend Deirdre swears by Jergens Natural Glow, a gradual self-tanner that she applies right out of the shower. It acts as a moisturizer and a self-tanner. As the days wear on, her "tan" increases. It turns out Jergens is the most popular gradual tanner on the market.

I've also read great things about NIVEA Sun-Kissed Radiance Gradual Tanner & Body Lotion. People swear it doesn't smell as bad as others. For the face, Clinique Self Sun Face Tinted Lotion.

Are There Parts We Forget the Most?

I once asked the owner of a successful spray tan company what parts women skip the most in their self-tanning. She said you shouldn't forget the hairline and under the chin. Other parts people don't think about are their ears.

Don't miss The Right Way to Apply Self Tanner to Your Body for other application tips.

Can I Use Self-Tanner if I Have Age Spots?

Whenever I write anything about self-tanners, I get a flurry of emails from readers wondering how the self-tanner will affect their age spots.

According to editor Valerie Monroe, in "O the Oprah Magazine," if you have hyperpigmentation (dark spots), you should avoid self-tanners, which tend to darken age spots. If you have hypopigmentation --or light age spots -- tanner will help even out your skin tone.

Age spots are caused by sun damage. According to Monroe, you can treat them by applying a topical prescription bleaching agent, have them removed with a chemical peel or treat them with laser OR intense pulsed light (IPL) treatments.

More on self-tanning:

  • How to Fake a Summer Tan
  • The Best Self Tanning Products on the Market Today