how to self tan

How to Self Tan: The Ultimate Guide to a Perfect Self-Tan: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques

Self-tanning has gained substantial traction in the beauty and wellness community. Unlike traditional tanning methods that require sun exposure or the artificial light of tanning beds, self-tanning products, which are often referred to as self-tanners, work by temporarily staining the outermost layer of the skin. This creates the appearance of a tan without the need for ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

This guide will cover the vital steps of preparation, from exfoliation to moisturizing, and master the application techniques to bypass the dreaded streaks and unnatural tones. We’ll cover maintenance for lasting results, answer top questions, and tackle the tricky zones like your back and face. With advice tailored to various skin types and expert-recommended solutions for missteps, this guide is your essential companion for a flawless self-tanning experience.

Pre-Tanning Preparations

Achieving a flawless self-tan starts well before the tanner touches your skin. It’s the preparations you make beforehand that set the stage for a smooth, even tan. Among these, exfoliation is paramount.

The Importance of Exfoliating

Exfoliating removes dead skin cells from the surface, ensuring a more uniform application of the tanner. Start by gently scrubbing your skin, ideally 24 hours before tanning, to give it time to recover. Use a body scrub, loofah, or exfoliating mitt in a circular motion, paying particular attention to thicker-skinned areas like knees, elbows, and heels. Avoid oil-based scrubs as they can leave residues that might interfere with the tanner.

Proper exfoliation involves being thorough but gentle. Over-scrubbing can cause irritation, which could lead to an uneven tan. Use warm water to soften the skin, apply the exfoliation product, and use circular motions to lift and remove dead skin cells. Rinse with lukewarm, not hot, water, which can dry out the skin.

Choose an exfoliator that’s designed for the body and is effective yet gentle. Sugar or salt scrubs work well, as do exfoliating gloves when used with a regular body wash. Products containing glycolic or lactic acid can provide a more intensive exfoliation but should be used with care, especially if you have sensitive skin.

To Shave or Not to Shave?

Shaving can act as another form of exfoliation, but timing is crucial. Shave at least 8 hours before applying your self-tanner. This allows time for the pores to close and prevents the tanner from settling into them, which can leave visible dots on the skin.

Shave the evening before if you plan to tan in the morning, or shave in the morning if you plan to tan in the evening. Always use a sharp razor and a protective shaving gel or cream to minimize irritation.

Should You Moisturize Before Self Tanning?

Moisturizing can significantly enhance the results of your self-tanning regimen. Hydration prevents the tanner from clinging to dry patches but should be done with precision.

Moisturizer acts as a barrier, so it’s crucial to use it strategically. Applying a light, oil-free moisturizer to dry areas helps balance the absorption of the tanner.

Focus on elbows, knees, ankles, and wrists – areas that tend to absorb more product. Apply moisturizer sparingly and wait at least 30 minutes before applying the self-tanner to ensure your skin is not too slick.

Setting up the Right Environment for Application

Your environment can affect the application’s success. Choose a well-lit room and make sure you have enough space to move around without touching walls or furniture. This helps ensure an even application and prevents smudging.

Good lighting is essential – natural daylight is best, but if that’s not possible, bright, even lighting will help you spot any missed areas. Ensure the room is warm enough to prevent goosebumps but not so warm that you begin to sweat.

These pre-tanning steps are the backbone of a successful self-tan. Exfoliating, shaving correctly, strategic moisturizing, and preparing your space all contribute to the canvas that will be your bronzed skin. Take the time to execute these steps properly, and you’ll create the perfect foundation for your self-tanner to work its magic.

How to Apply Self Tanner

Achieving a seamless self-tan is an art, but with the right approach and careful technique, it can be mastered with ease. The key lies in meticulous application and following a few tried-and-tested tips to avoid the common pitfalls of streaking and blotching.

General Application Tips for an Even Tan

To ensure an even tan, apply the self-tanner in sections, such as arms, legs, torso, and back. Work quickly but carefully, blending the product into your skin in circular motions. This technique helps to prevent streaks and ensures coverage without missed spots or overlapping application, which can lead to blotches.

Begin with a small amount of product and gradually build up where necessary. Use light strokes and don’t over-rub, as this can remove the tanner from your skin. Make sure each section is fully dry before moving to the next to avoid smearing. It’s imperative to wash your hands immediately after each section to avoid staining your palms.

Best Ways to Apply Self Tanner

Consistency is crucial for a streak-free tan, and the right tools can make all the difference. Use a tanning mitt to apply the product, which not only gives you a more even distribution but also protects your hands from staining.

A mitt allows for a smoother application, while brushes can be used for detailed areas like the face or more defined tanning like contouring. For areas that require precision, like the hands, feet, and face, a makeup sponge or a stippling brush works well for a subtle and even application.

Step-by-Step Application Process

  1. Exfoliate and moisturize dry areas before starting.
  2. Apply a dollop of tanner to your mitt and start with one section of your body.
  3. Use circular motions to blend the product into your skin.
  4. Work in sections, ensuring each is dry before proceeding to the next.
  5. Wash hands after each section to avoid staining.

Section-by-Section Guide

Different body parts require tailored application methods, particularly the face and back.

How to Self Tan Your Face

The skin on your face is more delicate and often has a different texture than the skin on your body.

Preparation and Precautions for Facial Skin

Use a non-oily exfoliant and ensure any moisturizers are fully absorbed before application. Test the product on a small area to avoid any adverse reactions.

Detailed Application Method

  1. Apply a small amount of tanner to a brush or sponge.
  2. Blend into the skin starting from the center of the face, moving outward.
  3. Be mindful of the hairline and eyebrows, and blend into the neck.

How to Self Tan Your Back

The back is notoriously difficult to reach, but not impossible to tan evenly.

Tips and Tricks for Hard-to-Reach Areas

Stand with your back to a mirror to see where you’re applying the product. Alternatively, use a mitt on a stick specifically designed for self-tanning.

Use of Applicator Tools and Techniques

  1. Apply the product to the tool and use long strokes to cover the entire back.
  2. Work from the bottom up to ensure full coverage and prevent bending and smudging.

How to Self Tan Your Hands

Self-tanning your hands can be one of the more challenging aspects of applying self-tanner, mainly because hands can easily end up looking patchy, too dark, or too orange if not done correctly. 

Start by exfoliating and moisturizing, especially around dry areas like knuckles. When applying self-tanner, use the leftover product from your arms or a small amount on a mitt, blending it gently onto hands and lightly over fingers. Be cautious around knuckles, using minimal product. 

Feather the tanner at the wrists to merge with your forearm tan. Clean excess tanner from nails and cuticles with a Q-tip. Wash palms immediately after to avoid staining. Let hands dry completely, using cool air from a hairdryer if needed. Touch up any streaks or patches once the tan develops.

Immediate Aftercare

What you do after applying self-tanner can be just as important as the application itself.

Allow the tanner to dry completely, which typically takes around 10-15 minutes. Avoid any activities that may cause sweating, as moisture can interfere with the development of the tan.

Once dry, wear loose, dark clothing to prevent rubbing and staining. Avoid tight or light-colored fabrics until after your first shower, which should be at least 8 hours after application.

Following these steps, you can achieve an even, streak-free tan that looks professionally done. Remember to work systematically, use the right tools, and handle aftercare with patience. By doing so, you’ll enjoy a beautiful tan that lasts.

Maintaining Your Tan

Your journey to a perfect self-tan does not end with the application. The maintenance of your tan is critical to ensure that your sunless glow lasts as long as possible and fades evenly. Proper care during the first 24 hours sets the stage for the longevity of your tan.

The First 24 Hours After Application

This initial period is vital in determining how well your tan sets and how long it will last.

Once you’ve finished applying your self-tanner and have allowed it to dry, keep your skin free from moisture for at least 8 hours. During this time, avoid activities that induce sweating, and refrain from bathing or swimming.

When it’s time to shower, opt for lukewarm water and avoid harsh soaps. Pat your skin dry with a towel rather than rubbing, which can cause the tan to fade unevenly or come off in patches.

Moisturizing Strategies for Tan Longevity

Keeping your skin hydrated is essential for maintaining your tan. Moisturized skin will not only prolong the life of your tan but also ensure it fades evenly.

Moisturize daily with a hydrating lotion or cream that is free from oils that can strip the tan. Products containing aloe vera or hyaluronic acid can provide deep hydration without affecting the tan’s color. Avoid products with alpha hydroxy acids or retinoids as they can accelerate exfoliation, causing your tan to fade more quickly.

Touch-ups and Managing Fading

As your tan begins to fade, you may notice uneven areas or lighter patches emerging.

Touching up your tan can be done as needed, but wait at least 4-5 days to allow the initial application to wear off somewhat evenly. Use the same product as before for consistency, applying it to the faded areas using a light hand and blending thoroughly.

Troubleshooting Common Self-Tanning Problems

Navigating the world of self-tanning can sometimes lead to less-than-perfect results. Understanding how to fix common issues will ensure your tan looks flawless every time.

Dealing with Streaks and Patches

Even the most experienced self-tanners can encounter streaks or patches. These imperfections are often the result of uneven application or skin that wasn’t properly prepped.

For mild streaking, gently exfoliate the area with a mix of baking soda and water to soften the lines. For darker streaks, lemon juice applied to a cotton ball can lighten the area, or a tan corrector product can be used for more precise adjustments. Always follow up with a moisturizer to soothe the skin.

Color Correction

Sometimes, the self-tan color can turn out too dark or too light, not matching your natural skin tone.

If your tan is too dark, a gentle exfoliation can remove some of the color. Soaking in a warm bath with oils can also help to lift the tan from your skin. For too-light areas, careful reapplication of the self-tanner to the specific areas is key. Make sure to blend the edges into the surrounding skin for a natural transition.

Removing Self-Tanner

There are several methods to remove self-tanner, particularly in cases of significant application errors or when you’re ready to reapply fresh.

A self-tanner removal product is the most straightforward method. If you don’t have a specific remover, a DIY scrub made from sugar and olive oil can exfoliate the skin and break down the tan. Another method is to apply baby oil to the skin and let it sit for a few minutes before exfoliating.

Sensitive Skin Considerations

For those with sensitive skin, self-tanning can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be avoided altogether.

Choose a self-tanner formulated for sensitive skin to minimize the risk of irritation. Perform a patch test before applying the product to your entire body. When tanning, use gentle, hypoallergenic products for exfoliation and moisturizing. If any irritation occurs, rinse the product off immediately and consult with a dermatologist if necessary.

Through these troubleshooting tips, most common self-tanning problems can be managed or avoided, ensuring that your self-tanning experience leads to a beautiful, even bronzed glow.

Self-Tanning Tips for Different Skin Tones and Types

Achieving a beautiful self-tan requires consideration of your unique skin tone and type. What works for one person might not be the best option for another, so tailoring your approach is crucial for the best results.

Tailoring Self-Tanning for Fair, Medium, and Dark Skin Tones

Every skin tone reacts differently to self-tanning products, which means you need to choose a formula that complements your natural coloring to avoid an unnatural or orange finish.

Fair Skin Tones: Individuals with fair skin should opt for a light to medium tanning product to avoid a stark contrast that could look unnatural. It’s also beneficial to use gradual tanning lotions that build color over time, allowing for more control over the depth of color.

Medium Skin Tones: Those with medium skin tones have the versatility to go a shade darker without it looking unnatural. A medium to dark tanning product can offer a richer color, but it’s still crucial to apply in thin layers to achieve the desired depth gradually.

Dark Skin Tones: For darker skin tones, self-tanner can enhance the natural skin color, giving it a vibrant, even glow. A darker tanning product can help to even out the skin tone, reduce the appearance of scars, or simply add a beautiful sheen to the skin. Those with dark skin should look for tanners with a bronzy finish rather than a purely darkening effect to avoid an ashy look.

Addressing Dry, Oily, and Combination Skin

Different skin types require different preparation and maintenance routines to ensure the self-tan adheres well and fades evenly.

Dry Skin: Dry skin can cause self-tan to cling to rough patches, resulting in an uneven tan. Exfoliation and hydration are paramount. Apply a rich, oil-free moisturizer to dry areas like elbows, knees, and ankles immediately before self-tanning to prevent excess absorption of the tanner.

Oily Skin: Oily skin might make the self-tanner slide off more easily, leading to a lighter tan. Use an oil-free self-tanner and avoid heavy moisturizers on the day of application. You might benefit from a longer-lasting formula like a tanning mousse, which can be more resistant to the skin’s natural oils.

Combination Skin: If you have combination skin, you may need to use different types of tanners for different areas or apply a light layer of moisturizer on dry patches while keeping oily zones clean. Always start with a light application; you can always build up more product where needed to balance the tan across your skin types.

By considering these tips and choosing the right products for your skin tone and type, you can achieve a natural-looking tan that enhances your natural beauty. Remember to patch test new products, especially if you have sensitive skin, to ensure you achieve the desired result without irritation.

Expert Advice and FAQs

Professionals in the self-tanning industry often have a few secret tactics up their sleeves. One key tip is to mix a bit of moisturizer with the self-tanner when applying it to notoriously tricky areas like the feet, ankles, wrists, and hands, which can absorb more product and turn darker. 

Another secret is to use a makeup brush for precise application on the face and hands. Also, cooling the skin with an ice pack before application can prevent pores from absorbing too much tanner, avoiding those telltale dark dots.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to the most common questions surrounding self-tanning:

1. How long does self-tanner last?

Self-tanner typically lasts about 5-7 days, depending on the formula and your skin care routine. Regular moisturizing and gentle exfoliation can extend the life of your tan.

2. Can you swim after self-tanning?

It’s recommended to wait at least 8 hours after self-tanning before swimming. Chlorinated pools and saltwater can cause the tan to fade more rapidly and can even lead to uneven wear-off.

3. How to even out a tan that’s developing unevenly?

If your tan is developing unevenly, you can correct it by lightly exfoliating the darker areas to remove some of the color. For lighter spots, carefully apply a small amount of tanner to blend into the surrounding areas.

Do’s and Don’ts Checklist


  • Do exfoliate before applying self-tanner.
  • Do use a tanning mitt to avoid stained palms.
  • Do apply in sections to ensure full coverage.
  • Do wait until the product is fully dry before dressing.
  • Do moisturize daily to maintain the tan.


  • Don’t apply self-tanner on damp skin.
  • Don’t wear tight clothing immediately after tanning.
  • Don’t exercise or sweat heavily for at least 8 hours after application.
  • Don’t over-apply on areas with thick skin, such as knees and elbows.
  • Don’t forget to wash your hands if you’re not using a mitt.

These expert tips and the handy checklist can serve as your guide to achieving and maintaining a streak-free, golden tan that rivals the results of any salon service. With the right techniques and a bit of practice, that coveted sun-kissed radiance is within easy reach.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, mastering the art of self-tanning is within reach for everyone. This ultimate guide has equipped you with essential tips, tricks, and step-by-step techniques to achieve a flawless, sun-kissed glow without the sun’s risks. 

From selecting the right product to proper skin preparation, application nuances, and maintenance, we’ve covered all the bases to ensure your self-tan is as perfect as can be. Remember, the key to a beautiful self-tan lies in careful preparation, mindful application, and diligent aftercare. 

With patience and practice, you can confidently showcase a beautiful, bronzed complexion that radiates health and vitality. Here’s to embracing a safe and stunning self-tanning routine that leaves you glowing, inside and out.

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