How Does Self Tanner Work?

How Does Self Tanner Work Feature

By Ashlyn Noah
March 20, 2022

If you are not familiar with self tanning products, then prepare to meet your new best friend all year long.

With these products, it’s now possible to achieve a beachy golden glow without sun exposure or harmful UV rays.

Sunless tanners are a game-changer in the skincare products world that every tanning-obsessed person should have. 

If you’re curious as to how these products work and how to use them, we’ve got you covered. 

What Are Self Tanning Products?

It’s time to say goodbye to sun damage. 

As the name suggests, self tanning products work to give the skin a tan without you having to tan the traditional ways of in the sun, getting a spray tan, or laying in the tanning bed.

While these are effective methods for achieving a sun-kissed glow, sun damage and UV rays can lead to skin cancer and skin damage problems.

Sunless tanning products come in the forms of lotions, bronzers, and mousses and are meant for a person to apply themselves at home. 

They provide natural-looking results and give the person who uses the self tanning lotion an artificial sunkissed glow without having to step foot outside.

While there are a plethora of self tanners on the market advertising themselves as the best self tanner, they often have harmful active ingredients that are bad for your skin.

Fragrances and other dyes are added to the active ingredient we will discuss in the next section to most self tanners on the markets, which can cause reactions and endocrine disruption. Many of these ingredients are banned in other countries.

That’s why it’s important to look for a sunless tanning product like Naru Organics, that are entirely naturally-derived with no synthetic fragrance.

Naru Organics uses safe ingredients that are FDA approved to treat your skin well and still provide a beautiful tan. 

tan woman with glasses looking to the right

How Do Self Tanners Work

So now that you know what self tanners are, you may be wondering how they work since it’s different than normal sun tanning.

Sunless tanning lotions and mousses work to provide a tan that sits on the top layer of your skin. Sun damage occurs from UV rays in the tanning bed and from the sun by penetrating through several layers of skin, whereas self tanners absorb through one.

You will apply the body lotion to your skin using a tanning applicator and rub it in to apply an even coat of product that, after having time to set, will result in a flawless-looking glow others will mistake as an actual tan!

The technical and scientific activation of self tanning was discovered by the American Academy of Dermatology. They found that the active ingredient Dihydroxyacetone, shortened to DHA, commonly found in most self tanners is what activates the darker color.

DHA is a natural colorless sugar that reacts with amino acids on the top layer of skin to create a bronze tone. 

While tanning lotions and mousses are the most common methods of self tanning, there are constantly new revolutions being made in the scientific world, and one of them is a pill.

These pills are known as tanning accelerators and contain the amino acid called Tyrosine. This amino acid is responsible for creating the formation of more melanin, a skin pigment, to create a tan but there’s currently no data on this method at the moment.

If you’re wanting to break into safe, dermatologist-recommended self tanning, it’s best to stick with lotions and mousses that contain DHA. However, pay close attention to the ingredient list. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t recognize it or can’t pronounce it, leave it on the shelf! 

How To Find The Self Tanner That Works For You

Finding the right product is the first step to achieving the self-tan you’re looking for.

When you start shopping for a self tanner to use, you will notice that not only are there different forms of these skincare products, but there are also different shades. That’s because you should try to accurately find a product that is best for your skin tone.

Finding the right self tanner for your skin tone is like shopping for the right foundation and concealer. 

The key is to build a gradual tan that looks natural and not fake, so choosing the option that matches your shade will give you the best possible results.

Here are the general shades offered:

  • Fair to light skin
  • Medium/olive skin
  • Dark skin

The products will say on the packaging which skin tone works best for that particular shade, although you may find that upon using the product, you could bump the shade up.

For gradual tanning products like Naru Organics, a darker tone can be achieved through two applications at least an hour apart. 

It takes time to find the right self tanner product that you like because you may find that you prefer certain methods for particular body parts.

A mousse will likely cake onto your face and make the skin appear darker and fake whereas a lotion would build the gradual tan. 

We, of course, recommend Naru Organics, which can be used on your entire body (without a mitt!) and doesn’t have these issues that other traditional tanners do. 

Whichever options you choose for your face and body, it’s important that you also know how to prep your skin from start and after application to have the product work properly.

What to Do Before Your Self-Tanning Session

Before you apply the first drop of your sunless tanning lotion, there is prep work you have to complete in order for the product to work as it should.

The first thing you should do is make sure your body is cleansed and exfoliated before applying the product. To do this, you should use a high-quality cleanser and exfoliator to remove the dead skin cells sitting on top of your skin so the lotion can absorb best.

While you’re exfoliating, shave your legs and anywhere else you normally shave so that you’re not shaving after applying the product. 

Shaving can also remove dead skin cells or the first layer of skin, which is where self tanning products sit. You do not want to remove any of the product after putting it on, so you should time your application and shave perfectly.

Also, it’s important to note that you should have dry skin before applying the self tanner. Many people feel as though they should use their daily moisturizer before applying their self tanner, but that’s actually not the case.

Your body needs to be a dry canvas so the product can accurately set, and most self tanning lotions have moisturizers in them, so there’s no need to use a normal lotion.

If you’re wanting to avoid streaks and an uneven tan, waiting ten minutes after your shower so you have completely dry skin can make all the difference in your results. 

Applying Sunless Tanning Lotion

Now that you have found the product you want to use and have prepped your body, it’s time to finally apply the product! 

Applying a self tanner is a skill that takes time to learn, so do not be discouraged if your tan comes out looking different than it should the first time.

The first rule in applying traditional self tanners is to use an applicator mitt. Never use your bare hands (unless you’re using Naru Organics, which doesn’t stain your hands or streak!)

Using your bare hands with regular self tanners can result in staining the palm and coming out with a burnt-orange residue. 

Not only do applicator mitts protect against discoloration, but they also help to rub the product in evenly and reach the hard-to-reach surface areas.

 When you’re using the mitt, be sure to rub the self tanner in a circular motion instead of back of forth. The back and forth motion only smear the product in the way your hands are rocking instead of coating the skin evenly.


It is very easy to use a self tanning lotion to have an envious natural glow, but without knowing how they work and the rules to applying self tanners, you can end up with a very natural-looking self tan.

​Remembering to find a product that uses safe ingredients, drying off after your shower, and using a tanning mitt will help take your tan to the next level in terms of the results.

Want to skip all that research? Try Naru Organics naturally-derived streak-free self-tanner instead. 

Note: Want to give yourself an even, natural-looking sunless tan without exposing your skin to toxic chemicals, dyes or synthetic fragrances? Get Naru Organics self tanner and try the very first flawless self tan with no nasty ingredients. Learn more now!
naru organics self tanner

Ashlyn Noah

Ashlyn Noah is an author in the skin care industry.