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How to Contour With Self Tanner for a Youthful, Sculpted Face — No Makeup Needed

Plus, it works great for the body too

It’s amazing how dusting a little bit of bronzer on the face to contour and carve out features can make a big difference. But it can be a bummer that the face-chiseling results go away the second we take our makeup off. That’s why women have turned to using self tanner instead of bronzer for contouring. All is takes is a strategic application of self tanner to “lift” cheekbones, slim the jawline and enhance your features — and the technique can also be used on the body so it appears toned and trimmer. Here, tanning experts explain all you need to know including how to contour with self tanner, what products to use and more.

The benefits of self tanner contouring

self tanner and tanning mit

“Contouring with self tanner gives the appearance of a more sculpted and defined look without the need for makeup,” says Mel Brownlow, tanning expert and founder of St. Moriz. “It’s also very practical because once the self-tan has developed, you have a contoured, glowy base to follow with your makeup. Self-tanner can create a more natural contour than some makeup products.”

Sophie Evans, celebrity self tanner and ST. TROPEZ skin finishing expert, points out that self tanner can also be used to make your body look more toned, sculpted and lifted. Plus, it can help camouflage any skin imperfections like cellulite. And “for the face, you will look naturally more chiseled and firmer and your features will appear to be lifted or appear smaller depending on the look you are going for,” she says.

Why use self tanner for contouring instead of bronzer?

mature woman contouring face with self tanner

Evans says that one reason to reach for self tanner instead of bronzer is that self tanner contouring will last two to three days and will not disappear like it does once makeup is removed. “No makeup is required, and the look is overall more natural versus wearing makeup bronzer,” she explains.

Brownlow adds that there’s no fear of your self tanner smudging throughout the day, which is a possibility with makeup. “With spring and summer days quickly approaching, we can expect some humidity,” says Brownlow. “Using self tanner to contour is a great sweat-proof makeup option in humid conditions, especially if you are also swimming or exercising.”

“You can avoid harsh streaks or uneven coverage that sometimes comes with bronzer by instead using self tanner that will blend seamlessly into the skin,” says Brownlow. Her favorite benefit? There’s no transfer risk! “Once self tanner has fully developed, there is minimal risk of transfer onto clothing or other surfaces.”

Related: 10 Best Self Tanners for Mature Skin

How to contour your face with self tanner

Step 1: Prep skin

Brownlow says that the first step should be cleaning and hydrating your skin. “This will aid in a smooth and seamless application,” she says. Just make sure skin care is absorbed and full dry before the next step — waiting 5 minutes should suffice.

Step 2: Pick your self tanner

“Select a formula that is suitable for your skin tone and type,” says Brownlow says. “If you’re new to self tanning, consider using tanning drops or a gradual tanning lotion for a more subtle effect. You can always add more!” See below for face self tanner product recommendations.

Step 3: Chisel the jawline and cheekbones

Use a makeup sponge or brush to apply a small amount of self tanner along your jawline and under your cheekbones, says Brownlow. Blend it well to avoid harsh lines.

Step 4: Define the nose and forehead

Brownlow says to apply a thin line of self tanner along the sides of your nose and across your forehead to create a more sculpted look. “Blend carefully to avoid a noticeable contrast,” she advises. For nose contouring, Evans says it’s best to use a small brush to apply. “You can also apply over the eyelids to create everlasting eye shadow or even create freckles and beauty marks,” she says.

Step 5: Let the self tanner develop

Follow the instructions for the recommended development time before showering, says Brownlow. This is crucial to achieving the desired contouring effect. “Don’t worry if it looks severe as once the tan has developed the first shower/cleanse will erase all hard contour lines and reveal a natural contoured look,” says Evans.

To see an in-depth tutorial on how to contour with self tanner for the face, watch the below video from @PetaJaneBeauty on YouTube.

How to contour your body with self tanner

Step 1: Select a self tanner

ST. TROPEZ Suprême Violet Mousse is great when it comes to the body, says Evans, as it has a deep guide color and will be the easiest to apply. Another one to try is Iconic London Prep Set Tan Mousse. Evans notes that your base tan must be lighter than the formula you use to contour. “Pick a self tan formulated to create a light to medium tone for your overall base tan,” she says. You cannot tan and contour with the same formula on the first day as applying more to an area to contour will simply wash away on your first shower.

Step 2: Apply your base tan

The skin can only absorb a certain amount of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is the active ingredient in self tanner that makes skin tan. “So to make the contour stand out and last, you either tan and contour over two consecutive days,” says Evans. “Or use a darker self tan with a higher amount of tanning agent.” She shares this tip: If you only have one self tanner to use, you could allow your base tan to fully develop then apply the contours the next day or after your first shower depending on the tanner that was used.

Before applying your base tan exfoliate, moisturize dry areas only. Then, apply a lighter self tanner using an applicator mitt to keep palms clean and an easy blend, says Evans.

Step 3: Add a second layer of self tanner

“For contouring, apply your darker self tan directly onto a brush and smooth over all curves and natural muscle lines — make sure you apply liberally so you can really see it on the body,” says Evans.

To ‘trim’ the torso: Shade self tanner down the sides along the abdominal muscles to define or create the appearance of a six pack.We can also blend in between the breast, over the breast curve to create fullness and definition,” explains Evans.

To sculpt arms: “Then for arms, apply [self tanner] under the inner upper arm to create tone,” says Evans. Then, “follow the natural line of the biceps and blend from the top of the arm down the wrist to add definition.”

Step 4: Let the tan develop, then shower

Evans notes that your application is going to look quite severe at this stage, but don’t panic! “Any hard lines and excess product will fade away once you take your first shower after the tan has fully developed,” she says. “Showering will wash off all the guide color to reveal a naturally tanned and contoured body.”

For more tips on contouring the body with self tanner, check out the below video from @CCClarkeBeauty on YouTube.

What self tanners work best on the face?

For your overall face tan base, use a product designed for the face, says Evans. “Face tans are formulated lighter as the face tends to develop darker due to a higher pH level,” she explains. These products also ensure skin issues won’t arise as they tend to be more gentle and won’t clog pores.

For a face base tan, Evans likes ST. TROPEZ Luxe Tan Tonic Glow Drops, which contain niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. Plus, they can be added to your favorite face moisturizer. Brownlow recommends St. Moriz Advanced Tan Boosting Face Drops for an easy, buildable glow. “Add three drops to your moisturizer for a natural glow or up to a maximum of six for a more bronzed glow, and mix in your palm,” she says. “Apply evenly in circular motions to your face and neck and wash your hands immediately after application.” For a drugstore option, try Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Drops.

Then, for contouring, Evans says you need a tan with a built-in bronzer. She says for this that you can use a formula for the body like ST. TROPEZ Suprême Violet Mousse. This is safe to use on the face because you’re not using it all over and it offers the best contouring results.

How to fix a self tanner mishap

woman dry brushing and exfoliating self tanner off legs
Moyo Studio/Getty

Mistakes happen! If you slip up while applying self tanner, simply wipe off the tan with a cleansing wipe and reapply, says Evans. “Once the tan has developed and you wish to remove color, there are a few ways.”

Severe mistakes need a strong remover. “My favorite product is the ST. TROPEZ Tan Remover Prep and Maintain Mousse as it’s the quickest and easiest way to remove mistakes or tan build-up,” she says. And for light mistakes, she says to use the ST TROPEZ Tan Build Up Remover Mitt on damp skin, working in circular motions to buff off color and even the skin.

Brownlow’s first piece of advice is that if you are new to self tanning, “less is more.” If you aren’t happy with your glow or tan, you can always add more later. But if you do make a mistake, Brownlow says to exfoliate. Using a body scrub or dry brushing can help. “Focus on areas with uneven application or streaking, but be gentle to avoid irritation,” she says. Also, hydrate and moisturize. “Well-moisturized skin tends to shed dead skin cells more evenly. Regularly apply a hydrating lotion or oil to keep your skin hydrated,” she says.

Another trick is to soak in a warm bath, as this will help to soften the skin and aid with exfoliation. “Use a loofah or exfoliating mitt during the bath to help remove the self-tanner,” suggests Brownlow. And avoid reapplying self tanner immediately after removing it, as this can exacerbate the issue. “Always follow the specific instructions of the products you are using, and be cautious not to over-exfoliate, especially if you have sensitive skin,” she says.

For more beauty tips to get you ready for warm weather, click through these stories:

Skincare Pros Reveal How to Get Rid of Keratosis Pilaris for Smooth, Bump-Free Skin

Dry Brushing Your Skin Fights Cellulite & Leaves You Glowing: How to Get the Perks

This $5 Medicine Cabinet Staple Prevents Ingrown Hairs After Waxing

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