DIY Self-Tanner Fail….A Cautionary Tale

diy self tanner

I know you might find this hard to believe….but not every post I do for this blog turns out perfectly. :-)  Witness the great potato crash of August, 2011 and the hard boiled eggs disaster of January, 2012!

But most of the time, when I have a “fail”…I don’t waste your time and mine sharing it on the blog. I just move onto the next idea. For example, a few months ago I attempted to make my own version of gluten-free top ramen noodles for my son Kell because he used to LOVE to eat those pre-celiacs. I worked so long and hard on them…and they were AWFUL! :-( But I just chalked it up to experience, dried my tears, and moved on.

Today I had another unforeseen outcome to a DIY attempt…but I feel like it was such a spectacular FAILURE that I simply had to share it as a cautionary tale if nothing else. :-)

So…what WAS this spectacular failure you ask?

I’m a little embarrassed to even say I attempted such a silly idea!  lol. I mean I really should have known better.

But it’s getting so hot here and I was dying to put shorts on and my legs are so WHITE!  I let my desperation cloud my judgment. :-)


diy self tanner

After an embarrassingly long amount of time spent researching this…I decided that DIY self-tanners mainly followed two “recipes”. One using black tea and one using cocoa powder.

Since I didn’t have any tea on hand…I decided to go with the cocoa powder technique. In hindsight I think I might have had better success with the “tea tan”…but the world will never know because I am NOT doing this again. ;-)

All the cocoa powder self-tanner recipes were about the same:


diy self tanner

Mix together cocoa powder and any kind of lotion at a 1:4 ratio (1/4 cup of cocoa powder, 1 cup of lotion) in a bowl.

Rub it onto your skin after taking an exfoliating bath or shower. (So your skin is nice and ready for a smooth application.)


diy self tanner

diy self tanner

After applying a tiny amount of my cocoa powder fake tanner, the results weren’t too bad. They weren’t that GOOD, but they weren’t that bad either. You can see the tiniest bit of “tan” there.

But honestly, if you didn’t KNOW I’d put on self-tanner, you would never notice a difference, it was so slight. So I decided a second application was in order…and that is when things went very wrong.


diy self tanner

The more I rubbed, the streakier it got! Ummm…even my lily white legs looked better than this mess!

And not only that….but even after I let it dry THOROUGHLY…all it took was one gentle swipe with my fingers and you got this……

diy self tanner

Wow. lol. I’m glad I wasn’t COUNTING on this self-tanner session to work because I would have been very disappointed!


diy self tanner

Luckily it was more of a nuisance than anything….of course I’m not sure if this bath towel will ever be the same. :-/

Moral of the story….save your sanity and your towels and stick with your spray-on tans, or your fake tan in a bottle (just don’t go in those evil suntan beds! Just say NO!)


In case you were curious about the other DIY Self-Tanner that I DIDN’T try, here it is. Make sure to let us know if you try it out. :-)


diy self tanner

Black Tea Self-Tanner


1 cup Water
5 Black Tea Bags

diy self tanner


Brew tea in one cup of HOT water. After it has cooled, put in a spray bottle and apply. Allow to dry completely before dressing or you might stain your clothing.





Enjoy This Post? Never Miss Another!

Subscribe to Jillee's FREE email newsletter and receive more great tips and ideas!



  1. Txgg says

    HaHa that sounds like some cockamamie thing I might try! But fortunately I did not. I used Jergens Daily Moisturizer Natural Glow. And it worked beautifully. I am now on Waikiki at the Hilton Hawaiian Village blending in with the “natives”. At least no one at home said anything because it looks so natural. Thanks for the laugh though!

  2. Lucy Smith says

    Hi Jill

    With all the DIY you try, there are bound to be times when a trial doesn’t work out as good as you’d like. You’ve had much more success than failures, so I have the highest regard for all the great things you are successful with! I am sure that white towel will come up lovely with your home made washing powder!!! I don’t doubt you at all Jill!!

    I am grateful for all the great items you share – love the hints & tips to use household items for cleaning etc., I usually share them on my FB page and have some friends who share them too! Of course I do pass on your website details too!! ;)

    I’ve shared the FAB mattress cleaner with quite a few friends – love a clean bed!!

    Keep up the great work you do!! Hope life is treating you & yours well!

    Lucy UK

  3. says

    Thanks Jillee for giving me the biggest belly laugh in ages!! I nearly fell off my chair when I scrolled down to the pic of your streaky leg! Rest assured though, I am definitely laughing with you, not at you. After many self tan mishaps my daughter and I were discussing only yesterday our plans for this year. We are both pretty white at the mo, although it is so cold here in England that I am probably blue!!

    • says

      Oh my goodness, do not try turmeric! I use it a lot in Indian food and it stains so badly! You will come out looking yellow and probably stain your bathtub, towels, clothing and anything else it touches. I save a special spoon for cooking Indian food because it stains so much. Even plastic!

  4. melissa says

    lol…ok, now that ive stopped laughing, or at least its down to giggles only…im sorry that didnt work out for you. my thought is this, i wonder if it would have worked better if you used coconut oil or evoo instead of a lotion. an maybe if there is a dark chocolate powder. tho that could be more expensive to do a fake tan. now im wondering if it would work or not…lol. i dont have the dark chocolate powder, but i do have regular powder and both the evoo an coconut oil.

    tho i dont really need to tan, im a darker skin person in the first place, but i think im goin to give that a try…lol

  5. Kel says

    Try bean thread vermicelli, aka glass noodles. They’re not very similar to ramen, but they cook fast, are pleasant to slurp, and have a nice texture. Good for a ramen sub cooked in some bouillon or ramen seasoning. At the Asian market or probably on Amazon.

    • Dawn says

      I bought some of these from Costco 2 weeks ago. They are a great sub for Ramen. Not exactly the same but a great sub for our family. No nasty ingredients either and totally wheat and gluten free. Ingred: peas, green beans, and water.

    • Esther says

      Lol me too… Was totally confused how as to how the glass noodles would work (hm, maybe they do a better exfoliating job??!)

      Well at least yours was wash off Jillee. I made a really crazy error of putting self tanner on just my ankles and lower calves the othe evening as my lily white ankles were showing up a shocker against some black evening trousers. Looked great on the night!

      But(!) when I came to go to aqua aerobics the next morning, I looked like I had been standing in a bucket of henna all night and now had lovely brown ‘socks’ to go with my even more noticeably white knees and thighs.

      OMG the shame I felt for being so silly… How could I not have thought through the plan to the next few days??!?!

      I have scrubbed and scrubbed to no avail and am currently waiting with patience and an amused smile for the ankles to become lily white again.

      Vanity eh?!!!

  6. Marianne says

    Hmmm…Great tips AND entertainment too! {{{Giggles}}} I have a mental image of dogs following you around outside and licking at your legs! LOL If you’re really desperate for a bit of colour on your legs, try a great big soft brush and some non-glittery powder bronzer until you get a little sun!

  7. Becky says

    Some things we should just not try to DIY:) I use a product called Fake Bake. It works beautifully, does not turn orange, is made from very natural ingredients and looks very natural. I use some every day made especially for my face as a base for my mineral makeup. I am allergic to a lot of things and this stuff has worked great for me. I am thinking I really would not want to stain my legs with tea:) You rock Jillee that you would even try it and save the rest of us who like to experiment!

  8. Jenna says

    I’m sorry that this use for coffee didn’t work for you, but I have a use that works for me: Use coffee grounds as an exfoliant in the shower that helps with making cellulite less prominant. I have done that with great success along with using a brush at every shower. I even dry brush 2x a day! I am a pleasingly plump lady (I HAVE to shop at plus size stores) and I don’t have much cellulite. I have 2 sisters who are thinner than me and they have more cellulite than I do (they won’t use my recipe, they think it sounds crazy), so it’s definitely in my family. It may sound like a lot of work, but it’s worth it not to be covered in dimples! I’m sure there are lots of different recipes that you can use, but I just use the grounds in a little bit of organic coconut oil in my shower before I wash up. I use it on my problem areas: top of arms, mid section…concentrating on my belly, buttocks and thighs and I go ahead and do all of my legs because it makes them really soft! Of course it can be used all over your body if you want. First, I apply using just my hands, then I finish with the brush! Finish showering with the soap of your choice using a brush. I shave after I do all of this since you get a closer shave with all of the exfoliation. If anyone decides to try this I hope you have as much success as I do! Good Luck!

    • laughingmoonx says

      Question for Jenna….used coffee grounds or fresh or does it matter? With the cost of coffee I’d hope for used (I need my morning coffee!) As someone who has lost 135 pounds I would love to get rid of the cellulite that I used to hide under my clothes!

    • Jamie says

      I’d like to know fresh or used grounds, also. I had my one baby at 39, so the body didn’t exactly snap back like it does with a lot of younger women. lol I would like to try this.

  9. Chaundelle says

    I really appreciate it when you share your “fails”. Is it really a fail when you learn something from it? As a new DIYer, I find it inspirational that not all things turn out perfect. Lord knows I’ve had my share of fails. At least I know that I can still move forward and continue to try new things, so this actually inspires me to continue trying!

  10. says

    Thanks for taking the time to warn us DIYers that this doesn’t work!! I was just reading about a DIY translucent face powder using cocoa and corn starch, after reading your experience I think I’ll pass. Love your blog, and use most of the things you post, detergent, cleaners etc. have a great day!!!! :-)

  11. Kristi Tarnowski says

    good to know! guess I will be rocking white legs all summer with the rest of you! Since I am from all Norwegian heritage – there is never any color-just more freckles if anything!

  12. Kathy says

    I have fish-belly white skin and live in a SoCal beach town, where tans reign supreme. 30 years ago, at the tender age of 20, I gave up trying to tan. Like the others here before me, I say — “Rock your white legs!”. Look at all the Hollywood stars who are doing it — tans are no longer “necessary” for beauty, and skin cancer is not a sign of beauty!

    • Jamie says

      So true. I lived in Santa Monica for a short time just before I turned 20 and I met a celeb (can’t remember her name right now but I can still see her face in my mind) who apparently worshipped the sun. She literally had leather for skin. That was “it” for me. I have had a few summers when I got good color from being outside a lot, but mostly I just proudly Rock the White Legs!

  13. Julie says

    Awww, ((((Jillee)))). Sorry that didn’t work out, but someone has to be our lab rat (?). I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience, even if it is a less than desirable outcome. I can just imagine how your legs would have looked if you’d gotten hot enough to “glow” a little outside.

    I’m in the lily white camp too. What works best for me is using your lemon sugar scrub 2-3 times per week & applying Ocean Potion’s Ever Glow lotion after showering. Once capri & shorts weather arrives I use it daily until I achieve the color I want, then every other day or two to maintain. As long as I stay exfoliated I don’t get any orangey spots & the color looks natural. It’s a sunless tanning daily moisturizer that can be found in a large clear plastic bottle with an orange pump sitting with all the other sunscreens at Walmart. The lotion itself is a skin tone shade if that makes it easier to spot. I want to say it’s a 32 oz. bottle, but without going to look I’m not sure. It IS a lot of lotion for the price though & works. Less than $5 a bottle here.

  14. Ellen G says

    I’ve had really good luck with L’Oreal Sublime Bronze. One tube lasts me all season. At less than $10, its just not worth the trouble to try the homemade ones. Just remember to really scrub your palms, inside wrists and between your fingers with soap mixed with baking soda to get all the bronze off, as soon as your finished with your legs. Sublime does have a bit of sparkle to it, which some don’t care for. I like a little bling so it doesn’t bother me. I hate looking pastey and this helps with just a little color.

  15. Amy says

    I don’t comment often but can sympathize with your ramen plight. They do have packets of rice noodles with flavorings like garden vegetable. It took my son a little while to get used to them but now he thinks ramen noodles are disgusting.

  16. Bennie says

    But I bet you smelled really good, kinda like chocolate.

    Last year I purchased some self-tanning lotion from Avon and I thought it worked pretty good. I used it mostly on my face so that I could use less make-up. My arms and legs get a little natural color over the summer, my left arm getting the most simply due to driving and the window on my left side. ;)

    I don’t mind staying on the pale side if it means less wrinkling in my ‘golden years’ and also a less possible chance of skin issues.

  17. Karen says

    So funny! I was cleaning out my pantry a few weeks ago and found a generic package of black tea (I only drink flavored or green tea) and couldn’t think why I would have bought it. Your column reminded me that I had tried the “tea” tanning method and it had obviously failed miserably. I hate the scent of self tanners so white legs are my only choice!

  18. Gwyn says

    Thank you for sharing “one not so good thing’s” too. This was just as…well almost just as valuable to me and timely since I had just been wondering if there where any homemade self tanners that might work and admittedly a little disappointed you didn’t seem to have any. I was kind of holding out figuring you might come up with something, hahah. Anyway things that don’t work are really valuable too. Made me wonder though what that means about the lotion that’s leaving that much on the surface of your skin after completely drying. How much is getting wasted and blocking pours that we’re unaware of when it’s non tinted, maybe that smooth skin isn’t our skin after all…hmmm. Melissa’s idea of using coconut or olive oil is interesting for that reason (might be the lotion and not the coco that’s the problem). Me, I finally had to break down and shave the whole bottom leg to break out the shorts!

  19. Ann/alba says

    Thankyou & I’m sorry.
    Thankyou You had me laughing for 5min. I’m sorry I feel your pain. I too am lilly white well with pink bloches even the cream ST streak no matter how well I apply it. Last year I went & got spray tanned $70 it was a lovely glow that lasted almost a month….
    I bought a $10 bottle of 60 sun lotion worked in the garden No Burn this time….
    Have a good one Ann.

  20. Jamie says

    I read a story about a missionary who was paler than the people she was working with. One day, there was some kind of political upheaval and her life was in danger. She used coffee to darken her skin (I think mostly hands and face) and was able to get to safety. Read it years ago. Never tried it, though. lol

  21. silverdust says

    Jillee, Jillee, Jillee, don’t you know that each failure puts you that much closer to success? That’s what Edison said, IINM!

    Sounds like you’ve got plenty of company in the fish-belly-white-legs gang, myself included. My legs WILL NOT tan with the sun or with a self-tanner. I just accumulate more freckles as the years roll on. Freckles are the body’s way of screaming, “I’m trying to defend myself, here!”

    That said, the best way I think to get around glow-in-the-dark legs is to wear lighter colored shorts so there’s not as much of a contrast! Hah!

  22. says

    I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you, Jillee:-( I have actually used the cocoa powder one quite a few times this spring – and while it doesn’t make me unbelievably “tan”, I’m ok with the darker shade it gives to my pale skin. However I never tried to do more than one application at a time, but I do use more powder – I do 3:4 ratio:-(… And to be honest I’d rather go for a very slight shade naturally than for a super dark shade chemically – I still don’t understand how commercial chemical tanners are “healthier” than the sun… May be they are, it’s just hard for me to embrace that:-( I hope we’ll find a perfect option one day;-)))

  23. brenda says

    the tea tanning is interesting because it is what my mother did for my poor father when he turned beet red every year and need some soothing. Sorry but it did not create a tan BUT it did prevent so much blistering. He is 92 next month and has not developed any skin cancer. (Not offering the tea as a cancer prevention, just a side note)
    they originally used the tea in a bathtub and later the spray.

  24. says

    Im very curious about the boiled egg disaster. Was it by chance the baked eggs? I’ve been leery to try it. And the other bad experience too. I’m relatively new to you sight. Just a brief overview or a link of possible. Thanks

  25. Gail says

    I don’t get the whole tanning thing… We live in a country where people with brown & black skin face continual racial prejudice, yet it’s fashionable to make our white skin tan? That is just so weird.

    • Julie says

      Gail, when Jillee has words in her blog post that are colored they are often links to other things. If you hover over that mention at the beginning of the post you’ll see that you can click to read about both the potato & the egg debacles. :)

  26. Patty says

    Thanks for being the “guinea pig” on this!!!! It reminds me of my Mom telling me about how during World War II nylon stockings were almost impossible to get due to the “war effort” – so they used a product they rubbed on their legs that looked nice and tan, and worked well — until it rained!! Then she said it would drip & streak down their legs. What a mess…..

  27. CTY says

    First reason: my lotion of choice would probably be cocoanut oil.
    Second reason: the oil with mixed the cocoa would have me craving Almond Joys.
    Third reason: I would consider buying a case of Almond Joys as sign self-control, because it would prevent me from licking my legs in public.

  28. Sharon says

    Soooo funny, Jill. You started my day off with a good laugh. I think all of us ‘pale faces’ have a story or two like this. AHHHH, the price of (percepted) beauty.

    I had to add my FYI. I have used ‘Nivea Sun Kissed’ for a number of years. Living in Arizona, I needed to stay out of our harsh sun but I didn’t want to look like I was a mole that lived in
    my house 24/7. I fit right in using ‘Nivea’. It used to smell HORRIBLE but they changed their formula a few years ago and now there is no tell-tell odor.

  29. Jo says

    I really appreciate your reporting on failures! Just this week I had an EPIC fail with Trader Joe’s Gluten Free flour. It said it replaced regular flour “cup for cup”. Even though I had had many successes with Bob’s Red Mill GF, I had TJ’s on hand; So I went ahead and made a DOUBLE batch of Biscotti. If you have ever made this before you realize the time involved…Not only did I have a crumbly mess on my hands They tasted awful “(.
    So, yes, I DO think it’s just as important to share in our failures!

  30. says

    Hi Jillee! I love following your blog.
    I am actually the owner of platinum glo sunless tanning. We have the best tan in a can. The color is the best out there. Trust me I looked for years and years and finally found this solution that we helped improve and perfect. If you are interested you can email me at or message me on Facebook at platinum glo airbrush spray tanning. Also if you feature products I would be willing to do that too. Thanku!

  31. says

    Oh Jill, I’m laughing with the rest of em’…this story reminds me of the many things I’ve tried in the past that have failed. I don’t even know how many but most of them were funny to others and just plain frustrating to me…usually the cleaning up part! At least I’ve provided my family with cheap entertainment! : )
    Just want you to know, the hubby wanted to know what was so funny so I had to stop my reading and start over so he could get the full effect. Let’s just say if laughter was a drug he just OD’d!
    Thank you for being our testing lab. We don’t stop to think how many “recipes” you’ve tried before finding the perfect one.
    Keep up the great work. Hugs!

  32. Murielle says

    Hi Jill

    I am so glad you posted your failure because that saves us a lot of grief. I have tried so many things from the internet and many of them are not worth the time. Thanks for sharing your failure along side your successes.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *