In Which I Attempt To Make DIY Self Tanner (And Take Photos)

DIY self tanner

Last week, I wrote about how, despite a lot of scary headlines, spray-tanning isn’t some stealth killer–but that some store-bought self tanners do contain crappy ingredients, like parabens and fragrances that may be toxic (or at least icky). Which started me on a rabbit hole of DIY self tanner recipes, courtesy of (who else?) the Internet. Turns out, making your own self tanner is actually a pretty popular thing to do. And, because I am a hero and I am willing to sacrifice my own appearance for you, the readers…I tried two of them. On my own skin. That’s how much I love you all.

There are basically two kinds of DIY self tanner that I’ve found on Pinterest and other places on the internet. They are:

  • Some combination of cocoa powder and lotion
  • Very strong black tea of some variety, possibly mixed with oil

Of course, there are various iterations and recipes, but for the most part, these two were the ones that most people swear by–and the ones where I had every ingredient in my bathroom and kitchen.

And while most store-bought self tanners contain DHA (a vegetable derivative), which colors your dead skin, self tanners like these actually work better with exfoliated skin, because the color is actually in them. So before trying either of these, exfoliate your skin.

Cocoa Powder Fake Tanner

cocoa fake tanner

You need:

  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Some kind of lotion that you like, preferably without parabens or sodium lauryl sulfate or other undesirable chemicals

Then you:

  • Mix together the cocoa powder and lotion at about a 1:4 ratio (1/4 cup of cocoa powder, 1 cup of lotion) in a bowl.
  • It will smell delicious and look like chocolate mousse. Resist the urge to lick your finger.
  • Pop it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, to ensure that the cocoa powder has a chance to really mix in.
  • Put it on your skin.
  • Give it plenty of time to dry.

Here are my actual arms, for comparison.

DIY fake tanner

I’m going to be honest–I do not recommend this method. If you could see my face, you’d see how displeased I am.

It’s really messy, makes your skin predictably sticky, and is damn near impossible to get even. See that giant streak? I couldn’t get it to go away. Though it kind of looks like I have very toned forearms, so maybe that’s a plus. Also, my dogs kept trying to lick me afterward, and chocolate is not good for them. Moving on!

Share This Post:
    • Erica { }

      I really can’t imagine this working out well for anyone! I’m working on weaning myself off of tanning … I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years since I worked at a salon right out of high school and it’s ruining my skin. I’m down to once every two weeks and am trying to muster up the motivation to go in and officially cancel my membership this weekend!

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Good luck! It’s hard to do–and I still really miss it (which is why I’m on a quest for a good self tanner!)–but so important. You can do it!

    • Kj

      Wow, I applaud your sacrifice! How long did the cocoa one last?

    • Jaye

      I’ve worked at a baker’s supply store dividing up huge bags of cocoa into smaller bags to sell- and it sucked. It gets everywhere, and any bit of sweat and you’re a gross sticky mess. And no, it does not come off easily- it kind of balls up on your skin. I could not imagine leaving my house covered in cocoa powder. *shudder*

      As for the tea… you can see it a bit on your ankle =P

    • Boston Shellie

      I tried the tea on my face this evening and put like 30 coats and let dry and I still can’t see a difference :(

    • Bekah

      I’ve tried both too I also wanted to love them but neither worked too well but I can say the coco w coconut oil makes a nice body treatment (but not a leave on) and you will glow a little. I think moderation of self tanners or real tanning isn’t too bad as long as you don’t go crazy (I’m an aesthetician) I am hoping to find a better alterbative to any tanners. Embrace your skin as it is eat lots of carrots and you should glow a little.

    • Jessie

      Use PURE cocoa powder, add more cocoa for more color, and DON’T put it in the refrigerator! :)

    • belle

      I originally tried this because DHA products seem to clog my pores and paying for facials is expensive but this also clogged my pores! In order to see a difference I had to spray the tea tanner three times and then I broke out a week later. So I guess it’s back to DHA and facials since at least that doesn’t wash off right away or need to be reapplied throughout the day. I might try chocolate facials to see if anything sticks and like the aesthetician mentions in her comments, eating more carrots.

    • Alice

      This does not work. I tried it like 20 minutes ago and it was really dark and easy to come off. Besides it gets over everything. My suggestion is to get an actual self tanner, or just wait until summer.

    • Alice

      This does not work. I tried it like 20 minutes ago and it was really dark and easy to come off. Besides it gets over everything. My suggestion is to get an actual self tanner, or just wait until summer.