Homemade Self Tanner – A Natural DIY Sunless Tan

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I’m going to start this out with a confession: when I was in high school, and even a few times in college, I occasionally visited a tanning bed. Looking back, I can’t believe I did that; tanning beds are dangerous for everyone, but I’m a redhead. My skin is the color of a cotton ball in its natural state, and at its very darkest approaches something you might call “light beige” if you were in a generous sort of mood. It was downright stupid of me to go to a tanning bed, and I’ll never do it again.
When I stopped visiting tanning beds, I looked for some other methods to darken my skin. I tried a few self tanners over the years, but I never used them much for a few reasons: they smell terrible, they’re messy, and they’re made from an unknown assortment of chemicals. When cutting down chemical usage, self tanner is a pretty easy thing to toss.
After I stopped using self tanner, I pretty much just embraced my pale skin. I still believe that there is no shame in having skin that doesn’t tan, and most of the time I wear shorts and skirts with confidence. But it’s springtime now, and I have to admit that I have been wishing that I could add just a touch of color to my legs. They’ve been hidden all winter, after all.
After searching around, reading reviews, and experimenting, I think I have a natural homemade self tanner that does exactly what I wanted it to do. My legs have gone from looking pallid to a touch golden, and dare I say it, sun kissed.

Homemade Self Tanner Recipe

Homemade Self Tanner 1



  1. Bring 16 oz. of water and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract to a boil.
  2. Pour boiling liquid over tea bags and let steep for at least 8 minutes.
  3. After you’ve removed your tea bags (and put them in the compost), give your DIY self tanner plenty of time to cool. This could take 30 minutes or more, but believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to spray nearly-boiling tea on your legs. You are not that tough.


There are a few steps to take before you apply the homemade self tanner. First, make sure your skin is exfoliated. You don’t have to do anything fancy, but give the target area (legs or arms, probably) a good scrub with a washcloth a few hours before you need to use your tanner. I say this because I did not do it, and I wished that I had. I will next time. It’s also a good idea to moisturize your skin. Have you made your own lotion yet? This is a great use for it. Moisturizing your skin will make it easier to get a good, even skin tone.
After your skin is primed and your DIY self tanner has cooled and been transferred to a spray bottle, it’s time to apply it. I used the simplest method I could think of: I sprayed the stuff on my legs and rubbed it in with my hands.
When I had rubbed it on evenly and let it dry, I added another layer. I did this four or five times, which sounds like a lot, but the tanner dried quickly. I didn’t spend more than ten or fifteen minutes applying it.
Homemade Self Tanner 2

Recipe Alterations

As I said before, I have a very light complexion. This particular recipe worked well for me, but darker-skinned folks might want something stronger. I used a ratio of 1 tea bag to 2 ounces of water, but for a stronger solution you could use a 1:1 ratio. I steeped my tea for 8 minutes, but steeping it longer would definitely result in a darker solution. One thing I would not do is to add more vanilla, though, because I think that adding much more would result in a sticky solution.

Okay, but does it really work?

It does! It really does. I’m not saying that my faux tan is going to cause people to ask me if I had a nice, sunny vacation, but I am saying that my legs are a darker color and I feel better about wearing shorts. My favorite thing about this homemade self tanner is probably that it smells so good. It’s not perfume or anything, but if you’ve ever suffered through the chemical smell of store-bought tanner, you will agree that this homemade tanner has a much more pleasant aroma.
I’ll be honest: I do have two issues with this solution. First, it isn’t completely waterproof. It doesn’t rub off, but it didn’t last through the shower, either. Second, tea is perishable. This self tanner is best kept in the refrigerator in a glass container, but even when refrigerated it won’t keep more than a week or two. If you find that you aren’t using all of yours before it goes bad, consider cutting the recipe in half.
Even considering those two caveats, I think this stuff is great. I haven’t been able to have tan legs in years. Since neither tanning nor chemical-filled, store-bought tanners are options for me, this DIY self tanner is perfect. It was easy to make, easy to use, and I plan to keep it around for the rest of the summer. Looks like you’ll be calling me “light beige” for at least the next few months.

Emry Trantham

About Emry Trantham

Emry is a writer, teacher, photographer and mother. She is interested in all things DIY and is willing to try any project at least once. She blogs about her kids, garden, projects and chickens at Emry at Home, and you can also find her on G+.

Homemade Self Tanner – A Natural DIY Sunless Tan was written by Emry Trantham.

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