DIY Self Tanner: A Natural Sunless Tan That Works

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Homemade Self Tanner

Finally, a DIY self tanner that works! After much trial and error, we have a natural homemade self tanner recipe that works as it should.

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.

Commercial Self Tanners

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.

FDA has received reports from consumers stating that they have experienced adverse events associated with sunless tanning, including rashes and, primarily in the case of spray tanning booths, coughing, dizziness, and fainting.

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.

DIY Self Tanner

After searching around, reading reviews, and experimenting, I have a natural homemade self tanner recipe that does exactly what I want it to do. My legs have gone from looking pallid to a touch golden, and dare I say it, sun-kissed.

DIY 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 teabag 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.

This DIY Self Tanner Works

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.


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 loves spending time with her kids and loves gardening, projects, and chickens.

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  1. DEBORAH says

    When I was in my 20’s.I would lay out in the sun, all day, every sunny day. My skin was so dark and my blonde hair highlighted by the sun.
    In my 30’s I was too busy raising babies for all that.
    In my 40’s an 50’s I used an occasional self tanner.
    Now in my sixties, I’ve come to accept myself, pale white skin and all. I do not have to expose myself to the harmful rays of the sun or the chemicals in a tanner. Nor do I have to spray myself with tea for a temporary skin color change. So silly. I’m happy in the skin I’m in!

  2. Lukrecija says

    You know what? Your skin is tan even without self tanner. Like you haven’t seen my skin and I’m not even a redhead (but I have freckles).

  3. Deb King says

    Question: The vanilla needs to be dark vanilla, right? I have both dark and clear. Appreciate the post. I remember using brewed tea with something in the 70’s when hot pants were popular. Would use it and lay out both. Thanks!

  4. Margie says

    Thank you so much for all the posts that I have received since subscribing. You sound so down to earth and amazing. As to a comment above, this is one I will not unsubscribe from. I am going to try the self tanner tomorrow. Make it now, and leave the tea bags to cool overnight. When I bath tomorrow morning, I will scrub my legs and then put it on after that. THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR POST.

  5. Cheryl says

    A word of warning. Vanila causes the blood vessels to open and allow medicaations applied topically to enter the muscles. Also, your skin is your largest organ–and if you have very dry skin, you could absorb a lot of caffein into your system. Ilike the idea–just be careful if you are sensitive to caffeine or any substance you put on your skin.

  6. Sarah Thomas says

    I’m excited to try this. Just one question: does the vanilla help with the color, or is it just meant as a preservative or for smell? I just realized my vanilla is gone and my beans will need to soak for a long time before I get a good color. If the vanilla is necessary for the color, I’ll wait or buy more. If not, I’ll just use vodka. Thanks!

  7. April says

    How long does this fake tan last for after each use? Does it have to be used everyday? If I get in a pool will I have a big dark ring in the water around me?

  8. Kathy Davis says

    I loved reading your article. I have a daughter with very pale skin. She is so self-conscious about it that she refuses to wear shorts. And considering we live in the south, is almost unbearable for her. I have recently been experimenting with black walnut hulls as a dye for my ever graying hair. It works well, but stains everything it touches. I like the idea from another commenter about using coffee grounds. I have not yet been successful making my hair color into a gel, but am getting closer with the use of corn starch. Perhaps between the lot of us, we can come up with a more permenant and user friendly self tanner. I hope this inspires you to continue working on your tanner and gives you some ideas for future tanners.

    • Sarah Branim says

      Yes I was thinking walnuts- I remember as a kid having to pick up the walnuts out of the yard before my dad mowed and my hands were always stained…. So that’s a thought to experiment with

  9. Jenny says

    I’m a redhead too! Maybe this will help me from getting teased in the summer.
    In Greece last year I got called Feta Cheese every day 😛

  10. Ruth says

    I can sympathize with up Emry. I too am a red head that goes from white to red to white again all summer long. I have tried sunless tanning cream without much success and as you mentioned, I didn’t like the smell. While I haven’t ever used a tanning bed, I have resorted to a spray on tan treatment when I vacationed in Hawaii. Who knows what chemical were in it. Thank you for this natural approach to my white skin.

  11. Sara says

    there are some natural herbal recipes for colouring hairs (henna, cassia, etc..): you can take a bath with a little bit of this, my mom do that’s sometimes. The good thing is that the dark tone don’t go away when your skin get wet (sea bathing, and so), you know that henna decorations are very long lasting. 😉

  12. Stephanie says

    Seems silly and a total waste of time to try and change the color of one’s skin. lol

  13. Terry says

    I’m definitely going to try this. I’m very fair skinned and hate wearing anything where my legs will be showing. I swear, people need sunglasses for eye protection when I do. Thanks for the recipe!

  14. Connie says

    I’m wondering if you could combine the self tanner recipe with the homemade moisturizer recipe to make a concoction that does double duty. Does the tea in the self tanner stain the skin or is it just a film?

    Thank you for this blog–I enjoyed reading it, and I feel inspired to do some experimenting!

    • Emry Trantham says

      I think that’s a great idea. The reviews I’ve read online of tanners/moisturizers together weren’t great, but I’d say it’s definitely worth a try if you’re interested!

  15. Lorie Shaffer AKA %^) says

    First, LOVE your site!! KUDOS!!
    Great idea, especially for people who have naturally oily skin… But, because I have dry skin (man, this thyroid thing sucks and I’m working on it, but, geesh!!), I use Organic Red Palm Oil, from Green Acres Farm Market on Jackson/Hall County line in GA (that carries a very full line of awesome organic, local and retro products, BTW) and to tone it down, you can mix in Organic Coconut Oil if you feel the color is just a bit too heavy. I am of Native American Indian descent, so the little extra red tone is not really noticable on me, but might be a bit much on a lighter skinned person or until you have a bit more of a base tan. Makes a super fantastic organic daily moisturizer and hides a few of the “imperfections”! Give it a try and adjust as necessary! %^)

      • Tresa B says

        Hi, what if we were to add some fresh ground coffee….I know that coffee actually helps the appearance of cellulite and they do put it in tanning lotion. Yes, I’m a culprit of tanning beds and using the sun’s rays to get a tan and I’m not sorry nor apologetic =D Anyway, using some coffee grounds (you’d have to strain the grounds out before adding to the spray bottle) might be beneficial 😉

  16. Alyse says

    Love the candid nature of this article…great information from a very witty source!
    Keep em coming!

  17. Bethany Shoemaker says

    Great writing. I enjoyed reading this. Even though I have no need for a tanner, this article kept my attention…..I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of similar blogs recently, but I’m keeping this one!
    Thank you