how to self-tan: a beginners guide to self-tanning

If you want to achieve a sun-kissed, bronzed look all year round, and not just for the summer holidays, self-tanning is the answer. With so many solutions available, there is no need to ever not feel your most confident self, with a year-round tan.. Of course, many of us have seen horror stories or experienced for ourselves some serious fake tan faux pas, but there’s no need to fear stained palms and streaky legs if you use our guide for achieving a flawless self-tan.

Before you start 

For many fans of a fake tan, applying a self-tanning product is only one step in a longer body care routine. Getting a flawless tan at home requires a bit of preparation. Before you start applying a self tanning product, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve taken care of your skin and that you are starting with a smooth base, so that your tan will look as even and healthy as possible. It’s crucial to do any shaving or hair removal before you apply self-tan. Not only does this ensure that your skin is smooth when you are applying the tan, you also shouldn’t shave soon after self-tanning because it can scrape away the product, so it’s best to do it before you get started.

Our step-by-step guide to self-tanning 

Step 1: Exfoliate your skin 

It’s important to prepare your skin properly before you self-tan. Exfoliating means getting rid of dry and dead skin, as well as any dirt and impurities. Your skin is primed and left smoother, allowing you to apply your chosen self tanner seamlessly. You can use a chemical exfoliator, such as a lotion containing glycolic or lactic acid, or a physical exfoliant or scrub. You can find a wide array of body scrubs in most beauty stores and aisles. When exfoliating, pay particular attention to areas of your body where you tend to experience the most dryness, such as your knees and elbows. 

Step 2: Pick your self tanner  

When picking the right self tanning product for you, consider your skin type and the properties/benefits of different products. Picking the correct shade is also, of course, essential for getting a tan that’s flattering and natural-looking to you. There are plenty of self tanning products on the market which are tailored to different skin tones and which will result in different depths of colour, so you can opt for a light or medium self tan if you have fairer skin, or choose a darker product for a deeper tan. There are even gradual tanning products and self tan drops which allow you to gradually build up a subtle tan, for the most natural look possible.

Step 3: Remember to moisturise 

Before you start applying your tan, it’s vital to make sure that your skin is well moisturised so that the tanning product slides on nice and smoothly. This can help you get an easier, neater application and reduce the chance of you being left with a patchy tan. 

Step 4: Start applying your tan 

Apply your tanner in small sections, so that you can ensure that each area is evenly and fully covered before moving onto the next. As you apply it, keep buffing in the tan to prevent it looking streaky. To apply a self tan foam or mousse we recommend using a tanning mitt to avoid any staining to the hands. If you don’t have a tanning mitt, you should wash your hands regularly throughout the process, to prevent the product sinking into your skin and staining your hands. If you’re using a tanning mitt, don’t put too much product onto the mitt at once and focus on getting an even layer all over.

Remembering to wash your hand is an essential part of the process no matter which self tanning product you are using; mousse, lotion, oil, cream etc. Be particularly mindful when using a water or drops without guide colour as the formula is transparent and you may well forget you have tan on your hands until it has developed.

Step 5: How to tackle your back 

Whether you’re moisturising or self-tanning, getting your back is always a tricky thing to do. If you want to get that summer glow but you don’t have a helpful partner or friend nearby to help you apply your self tan to your back, there are some tips and tricks you can use to get those tricky areas. If you’re using a tanning mitt, try turning it round the other way, so that you are applying the tan with the back of your hand. This can make it easier to reach your back. Using a tanning mist or similar dispersing dispenser can make it easier to cover all parts of your body.

Step 6: Relax and wait for that summer glow 

Giving your tan time to dry is really important. Don’t start putting on clothes or going for a sweaty workout, both of which can rub off your tan in uneven, blotchy patterns or stain clothes. The next hour or two is a perfect time to lounge around in your dressing gown or some loose pyjamas. Don’t apply any perfume or deodorant during this time, because this can prevent the tan soaking into your skin or even react badly with the product. 

Step 7: Moisturise again to blend 

To prevent streaking and patchiness, blend in your self tanner using your favourite moisturiser until you’ve got an even coverage. The areas around your joints will need particular attention, as this is where product tends to settle, giving you suspiciously orangey-brown elbows and knees. Because your joints often have drier skin and absorb more of the self-tanner, it’s important to dilute it ijn these areas with plenty of moisturiser.

Step 8: Fix up any mistakes before they set 

Give yourself a thorough check over when you’re done, using a mirror to get a glance at the parts of your body you can’t see so easily. This is your chance to cover any spots you’ve missed, to get rid of excess product, and to blend out any streaks. You can make these corrections with a very slightly dampened cloth or paper towel, as well as by massaging moisturiser into areas which need blending. 

Step 9: Time to rinse

Some self tan products such as gradual lotions can simply be left to sink into your skin without any need to wash them off. With other self-tan products such as foams and mousses you need to rinse the guide colour off to reveal the final tan. When you hop in the shower to rinse off the guide colour, don’t do any shaving or scrubbing, as this will rub away some of the tan, leaving you with a patchy finish. It can also be better to keep the water slightly cooler than you normally would; no boiling hot, steamy showers!

Maintaining your tan 

Hopefully, you shaved or waxed before you applied your fake tan, so you won’t need to do this in the days immediately after you have applied the tan, and you should avoid the temptation to do so. Of course, moisturising regularly after self-tanning is vital because it keeps your skin glowing, helping to lock in the tan for longer and to keep the tan looking fresh, while preventing the dryness and flakiness which can lead to imperfections and blotches. Be sure to avoid any oil based moisturising products which can strip your self tan and avoid roughly towel drying skin. And, of course, make sure you’re wearing sun cream, so that you’re getting the benefits of sun protection while also looking perfectly bronzed.