How to Make Your Winter Tan Believable— Even When It's Gray Outside

Woman wearing a sweater showing her shoulder

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It's a conundrum, isn't it? The colder months have drained every drop of warmth from our skin and have left our limbs looking a little gray. For some of us, the answer would be simple. Reach straight for a bottle of self-tanner. But it's winter. If you rock up to work on Monday with a tan darker than the one you got when you spent a week in the Balearics earlier this summer, nobody is going to believe it—especially as all your colleagues saw you Snapchatting from the sofa all weekend. 

But tanning in winter doesn't have to be a complete no-go zone. We asked tanning expert and Tan-Luxe Global Tanning Director Jules Von Hep to share his rather ingenious tips that prove it is possible to add a little warmth back into the skin without your desk buddies suspecting a thing.

Keep scrolling to see how to tan in winter, with seven easy rules.

01 of 07

Exfoliation Is Paramount


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"Exfoliating the body is key regardless of the season when it comes to self-tanning, as it really does make a difference in terms of the final evenness of color," explains Von Hep. But be warned, you may think you're doing your dry, winter skin a service by opting for a nourishing oil-based scrub, but the oils can repel the tan formula. Instead, look for something gel-based like Aesop Redemption Body Scrub and a pair of exfoliating gloves, like Soap and Glory Super Exfoliating Scrub Gloves ($13).

02 of 07

Avoid Alcohol

"It’s important to choose a self-tan product that doesn’t contain alcohol or parabens as these dry out the skin, which causes a tan to break down faster and thus crack and go scaly—not chic," recommends Von Hep. He likes to use Tan Luxe's The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops, which very cleverly work in synergy with your favorite body lotion. Simply add the drops into a dollop of cream and apply as you usually would with a regular lotion. The more drops you add, the darker the tan will be, so try one drop per limb for a believable winter glow on pale skin or two drops if your skin is more olive-toned.

But we're not just talking products here. Yes, we all like a glass of red while we're waiting for our tan to develop, but according to Von Hep, it might not be such a good idea. "The alcohol will dehydrate skin and, thus, encourage the tan to fade before it has even developed," he explains.

03 of 07

Dial It Down

If you have your summer tanning regimen down pat, make sure you ease up on your usage as we slowly slip into winter. Von Hep suggests applying just one coat of tan instead of two. "It'll just give skin a kiss of color and a boost of warmth," he adds. "One coat of self-tan tends to just even out the complexion and will knock back the blue/gray hue in paler to olive skin tones or remove the slightly ashy tone that sometimes appears in darker skin tones."

04 of 07

Watch Your Hands


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"Our skin is drier in the winter, thanks to central heating and switching from hot to cold climates, not to mention that move into red wine season," explains Von Hep. "This dryness can result in our knuckles and palms absorbing more self-tan on application in winter than they would do in the summer months." So hands can all too easily end up streaky, but a good scrub like Byrdie-favorite Margaret Dabbs Exfoliating Hand Scrub ($19) and a rich alcohol-free hand cream should help.

05 of 07

Target Tan With Care

While our winter wardrobes don't show off our entire bodies, there are certain pieces, from cold-shoulder knits to midi-length skirts, that leave flashes of bare skin that you might want to show some love. The patchwork tanning technique is a firm favorite of Von Hep's, but he suggests forward-planning to get it right. 

"If you're tanning dry areas such as hands, elbows, knees, and feet, ensure you add moisturizer to these areas prior to applying your self-tan, and add lip balm to nails and cuticles to prevent excess self-tan absorption in these areas." Those dark streaks are always the giveaway of an at-home job. 

As for Von Hep's greatest piece of advice: "If you’re planning on tanning for ripped jeans, just tan your whole legs, front and back—plans change and you never know, legs might come out. Don’t risk just tanning the front of your legs for one pair of jeans. Trust me."

06 of 07

Approach the Face With Caution

In the winter, we all want to re-inject a little glow back into our tired faces and self-tan can help do exactly that. "It reduces the appearance of redness, puffiness, and fatigue, and it can make your eyes look brighter and teeth whiter," explains Von Hep. But miraculously acquiring a type of bronze worthy of two weeks in Mexico overnight isn't fooling anyone at this time of year, so you've got to make it look realistic.

Again, exfoliation is important here, and Von Hep recommends using an exfoliating mask such as Fresh's Umbrian Clay Mattifying Face Exfoliant or Beauty Pie's Plantastic Micropeeling Super Drops ($60) before applying your tan to make sure the skin is clean, smooth, and even in tone. If you have fair hair, add a light amount of moisturizer to your hairline and eyebrows. Also, brush your teeth before application so the splashes of water don't cause splotches.

Opt for a tanning oil such as Tan-Luxe's Sleep Oil ($50) that will nourish as it colors for an even, undetectable finish and apply in circular motions. Next, Von Hep recommends taking a dry BeautyBlender sponge ($20) or dry face cloth and—this bit is vital if you want it to look authentic—pressing it into the face, neck, around the ears, and along the hairline to blend. 

07 of 07

It's Never Too late to Tan

When impromptu invitations make their way into your inbox, you can still add a little glow to your limbs, should you so wish. The answer here is skin-finishing, which is fundamentally like makeup for the body. For this, you're looking for instant products with built-in golden or bronze pigments to give skin a little lift whatever your skin tone. 

Van Hep says that he uses a body bronzing oil on the models' skin when on photo shoots to give them an instant sun-kissed sheen. "Sweep over the skin in long, vertical motions to give skin a pick up in an instant,” he says. One great option is Patrick Ta Major Glow Body Oil. This shimmering bronzing oil is packed full of antioxidants that moisturize as it also gives you a healthy, tan glow.

You can also sweep a little bit of your favorite liquid highlighter down the middle of the limbs to give the illusion of longer legs. But avoid the knees, warns Von Hep.

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