How To Apply Self Tanner Like A Pro

Apply Like a Pro Feature

By Ashlyn Noah
October 6, 2021

Have you ever left vacation with a rockin’ tan and wished it could last all year long? Thanks to self tanners, it can!

Self tanning products have been on the rise lately and it’s a no-brainer as to why. With easy application and fabulous results, you can look as if you’ve been in the sun every day of the year!

Maybe you’ve tried a self tanner recently and it left behind streaky results, or you’ve heard horror stories of people looking like Oompa Loompas after getting a spray tan. Or worse, you found out they were stuffed with those harsh chemicals. 

Whatever the case may be, self tanning is a gem that omits the possibility of skin cancer and will leave you with a natural glow. All you have to do is choose the right product (that’s also healthy for your skin) and apply it right!

Looking to stay sun-kissed in the winter? Here’s your ultimate guide for knowing how to apply self tanner like a pro all year long! 

Exfoliate & Skincare

​​​​One of the best tanning tips you’ll find is that the results start in the prep work.

Before applying your self tanner, you have to exfoliate and moisturize your body properly. This gets rid of any dirt or dry skin on your legs and preps the canvas for your fake tan.

Start by finding a high-quality body scrub to exfoliate with and act as a cleanser for the dirt and grime that seeps into the pores on your legs. (Ever heard of strawberry legs?)

But it’s not just to make sure you have the smoothest and cleanest legs ready to go. Having a shower, exfoliating, and shaving beforehand increases your chance at an even application and longer tan. 

Make sure the skincare products you choose to exfoliate and moisturize with are high-quality and don’t cause irritation for the best results. Taking care of your skin and priming it beforehand will leave your fake tan looking flawless every time. 

But you shouldn’t put your lotion on all over your body just yet. 

Only put your moisturizer on the areas of your skin that stay the driest, not your entire body. Before you apply your fake tan, your body should be completely bare of creams, oils, or lotions so the products do not soak in too much color, and it should be completely dry.

Remember, the key to self tanning is to create a natural glow. It is highly recommended that you dry off for at least ten minutes after your shower before applying your self tanner. If your body is still wet, the fake tan could dry in streaks and not rub in evenly. 

Find The Right Option

Have you ever stood at the store looking at the various bronzers and tanning mousses, not knowing which one to trust? There are so many brands to choose from that promise streak-free results, but which one should you choose?

The sunless tanning option you choose depends totally on your preference.

Here are the various forms of self tanners you will find on the drugstore shelves:

  • Self tanning lotion
  • Self tanning mousse
  • Spray tan (be weary of looking orange after application)
  • Self tanning mist

All of these options minus the spray tan can be found at your generic drugstore, and you might have some trial and error before you find the option you like.

When you’re searching for the right self tanner, you should always purchase an applicator mitt to keep your hands from growing orange when you apply the product.

Tanning lotions and mousses are notorious for turning the inside of your palms an unattractive shade from buildup and contact. That’s why experts recommend you use the mitt for even application and keeping your original color.

If you do apply the lotion or mousse on with your bare hands, always be sure to wash them right after to avoid looking like you escaped the chocolate factory.

tan woman sitting on the beach in jean shorts

Select Trustworthy Products

Another important aspect of selecting the right self tanner is choosing trustworthy brands. Most self tanners are filled with chemicals and ingredients that harm your skin and are full of toxins. 

Your best bet? Looking for that brand that’s free of those harsh chemicals and is actually nourishing for your skin. 

Some self tanners come with extra moisturizer and skin firming help or are made oil-free for those with sensitive skin. 

When you’re looking for a trustworthy self tanning brand to team up with, pay attention to the shades that are offered so you can find the one that best fits your skin tone. 

Most self tanners come in 3 basic shades:

  • Medium
  • Dark
  • Deeper

The intensity depends on your skin tone before the self tanner application. It’s important to choose the right shade for your skin tone to give the tan a natural glow. 

While you’re aiming to give your skin a sun-kissed glow year-round, you owe it to your body to make sure it receives the care it deserves by using gentle products. Non-toxic, chemical-free, organic self tanners are going to be your best friend when it comes to achieving this look. 

Self Tanning Blending Rules

Speaking of self tanner application, the actual process of putting your self tanner on is vitally important for the finish of your fake tan. 

If you are using a tanning mousse, whip out your application mitt and get ready. If you’re using a tanning lotion, the same application method applies.

When you begin to put on your self tanner, remember that you’re not baking a cake! Do not apply too much of the product onto your skin because a little goes a long way.

The applicator mitt will be your best friend for reaching the hard-to-reach areas. You should put your self tanner on all over your body, even the areas that will be covered by your swimsuit (if you’re applying during the summer months) or undergarments.

Why? Because it creates an even tan all over with no tan lines!

When your product is on your skin, rub it in with a circular motion. Start with one section or part at a time to focus on making sure the skin is evenly coated and you put just the right amount on. 

Once you’re finished, you might need to remove the excess out of the creases of dry areas such as your knees, elbows, neck, or other places you might have laid the self tanner on too thick.

To remove excess product, take a damp towel and gently brush away any buildup in the areas that need it. 

Don’t Put On Clothes Right Away

Once your self tanner is on, avoid putting your clothes on right away. Depending on the type of self tanner you applied and how much can vary the amount of time it takes to dry off. 

It is ideal to wait about ten minutes after applying your fake tan to let the product seep into your skin and set. Once you’re dry, you can either hop in bed or get ready!

Some products leave behind a sticky feeling and might ask you to not shower for up to 12 hours. It’s important to read the instructions before you apply so you don’t apply the product at an inconvenient time. 

If you are applying at night right before you go to bed, make sure you give yourself ample time to dry off completely so the product doesn’t smear on your covered or leave behind any residue. If your sheets are white or a lighter color, this could occur if you put on a dark product or too much. 

You should also avoid exercising or going to work out soon after you apply. Why? Because sweat can leave behind streaks and totally ruin the even tan you just put on. 

Hold Off Shaving As Long As You Can

We know those cold chills you get right after shaving can bring back some unwanted stubble, but fight off the itch to shave your legs as long as you can after applying your self tanner! 

Once your fake tan is on your skin, the product will start to set. If you exfoliate and shave too early you risk losing the tan by removing the skin cells that are responsible for building the color.

If you can wait between 3-5 days to shave again, your tan has a better chance of setting and building the color with the results you’re looking for. Early shaving will only prolong the process and should only be done if it’s absolutely necessary! 

Protect & Build! 

It’s important to remember that your self tanning is not acting like sunscreen and build with super protective SPF. 

If the sun is still out, apply sunscreen over your tan! 

Self tanner products can also be the culprit responsible for creating dry areas on your skin, which is why you should still find time to use a moisturizer unless your tanning lotion has moisturizing cream built-in with it.

It might take a week or two to start seeing results from your fake tan, but the trick is consistency! Apply your fake tan daily or at least 3-4 times a week to build color faster.

Moisturizer and consistent application is going to be the trick in keeping your color longer and looking fresh off a cruise all year long! 

Ashlyn Noah

Ashlyn Noah is an author in the skin care industry.