Learn How To Self-Tan for an All-Over Summertime Glow
Summer’s the best — it’s warm, filled with fun outdoor events, and you get to wear favorite outfits. Plus, the summer sunshine delivers a beautiful, confidence-boosting sun-kissed glow. Understandably, you want to extend your tan and stay bronzed for as long as possible.
But baking in the sun or sitting in a tanning bed both present risks, like dark spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Exposure to harmful UV rays also increases your risk of skin cancer. Aging gracefully is something to aspire to, but there's no reason to speed up the process.
Thankfully, there’s a way to maintain your tan into autumn and beyond: self-tanner. You’ve probably laughed at more than one horror story about a fake tan gone wrong. It can be intimidating, but if you take your time and follow our self-tanning tips, you’ll achieve a flawless, sun-free result. Here’s everything you need to know about how to self-tan.
How to choose your best self-tanner
If you’re a self-tanning beginner, it’s best to start slowly. Choose a lighter-toned formula that complements your skin tone. As you build confidence and perfect your technique, you can work up to a darker tan.
Also, check the formulation. You want a self-tanner that contains between 4–8% dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This ingredient generates a long-lasting, natural sun-kissed color. Avoid ingredients like collagen, urea derivatives, amino acids, and proteins. These nitrogen-based compounds speed up DHA’s browning effect but reduce the time the tan stays on your skin. They can also lead to streaky, patchy results.
Avoid this unfortunate state of affairs by trying one of our favorite tanning products. If you can’t decide and are new to self-tanning, we love the light, golden glow of Tanologist’s Gradual Tan Lotion. If you’re a sunless tanning veteran, give their Extra Dark Self Tan Mousse a whirl.
How to apply sunless tanning lotion
Using tanning lotion is a two-day process that takes a little preparation if you’re going to achieve a flawless, streak-free glow. You can accomplish the same results in one day if you’re in a rush, but be careful not to miss any steps. Here’s how to apply sunless tanning lotion.
The day before
Exfoliate. Hop in the shower and give your skin a good scrub with an exfoliating scrub, mitt, or brush, removing dead skin cells and providing a clean slate for the self-tan application. It’s also the time to shave, wax, manicure, or touch up your roots, as the ingredients in these products can disrupt the tanning process.
If you’re applying your self-tanner the day of, exfoliate and rinse with cool water to close up your pores. Towel off and let your body dry completely (10–15 minutes) before moving on to the next step.
Moisturize. Moisturize your body from head to toe. Smooth, hydrated skin is key to an even tan. If you’re applying tanning lotion right away, put lotion on before self-tanner, focusing only on those areas prone to dry skin, like hands, elbows, knees, and feet. Everywhere else should be dry and free of cream.
Important: Self-tanner can color hair. If you have blond hair and brows, coat your eyebrows and hairline with a light layer of moisturizer to prevent accidental coloring.
The day of
Protect your bare hands. The last thing you want is orange palms, so cover your hands before applying tanner. You can use ordinary latex gloves or something designed for applying self-tanner. If you want more control over your application, try Tanologist’s Blending Kabuki Brush for a seamless result.
Get tanning. Put a liberal amount of tanning product on your applicator mitt or brush, or spray the product directly onto your skin. Starting at the bottom of the body, spread the sunless bronzer in long, smooth strokes from ankle to knee. Lightly skim over your knees, then go back down and use any excess product on your glove or brush to tan your feet. Continue applying the tanning lotion in sections, and make sure to buff the product into your skin before moving on. Keep the application light on your ankles, knees, elbows, neck, face, and hands to give you an even, all-over glow.
Spot moisturize. To get an even result, blend oil-free moisturizer over your hands and onto the crease of your wrist. Do the same for your foot, starting at the heel and applying moisturizer to the crease of your ankle. Blend well. If you missed a spot, exfoliate the area, then reapply more self-tanner.
Correct your mistakes. Prevent your skin from darkening where you don’t want it to by using cleansing wipes to remove excess tanner. If you have a few dark spots or streaks after your tan has developed, use an exfoliating mitt in the shower to remove them. Once you're dry, reapply tanner to those spots.
Let it dry. Sit still, or use your blowdryer’s lowest setting to speed things along. You can also brush loose, talc-free powder onto your skin to lock in the tan. Once everything sets, wear loose, dark clothing to prevent any color transfer. Try to avoid sweating for at least 3–8 hours. If you’re using a wash-off product, let it develop for 4–8 hours before rinsing under cool water, making sure not to rub or scrub your skin.
To keep your tan looking great, gently exfoliate your skin every 3–4 days. Moisturize with high-quality body lotion and generously use dermatologist-approved sunscreen with a high SPF.
If you follow these steps, your tan should last 7–10 days.
Here are a few tips for enjoying the perfect glow all year long.
- No scents. Avoid using perfumes and deodorants when applying your sunless tanning lotion or spray. They create a sticky layer that prevents the product from sticking to skin.
- Get fuzzy. If you want your tan to last, avoid shaving after application. If hair removal is a must, use a hair removal cream instead.
- Perfect the face. Make sure your face has an even, natural glow by applying tanner everywhere, including under your eyes, eyelids, lobes, your neck, and the back of your ears. If you’re worried about being overpowered by color, blend a little tanning lotion with your face cream or moisturizer for a more gradual effect.
- Start with a clean slate. Remove all traces of your old color before reapplying. You can use a sunless tan remover, baby oil, and your exfoliating gloves to turn your body back into a blank canvas, ready for the next tanning session.
Your perfect tan
Applying sunless tanner doesn’t have to be overwhelming or result in patchy, streaky skin. Take your time and use the right products, and you’ll enjoy that summer glow year-round.
If you’re still on the fence about which sunless tanner to use, check out the most-loved products on Flip. Our community reviews the beauty industry’s best items so you can feel confident and excited about your next purchase.