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The Ultimate Guide to Self-Tanning

Get a sun-kissed glow like a pro.

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A sun-kissed tan can give your skin a radiant glow and a healthy appearance. However, prolonged exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays can have detrimental effects on your skin. Luckily, self-tanning has become a popular alternative for achieving a beautiful tan without the risks. To help you achieve a flawless, natural-looking tan, we have compiled the top five self-tanning tips. Whether you’re a self-tanning novice or an experienced tanner, these tips will ensure you get a streak-free, long-lasting tan that leaves you feeling confident and summer-ready.

Prepare Your Skin

The key to a successful self-tan lies in proper skin preparation. “You always want to exfoliate your body beforehand,” says Rachel Lee Lozina, Laser Technician & Oncology Esthetician and owner of Blue Water Spa in Oyster Bay, NY. “This will not only ensure an even absorption of self-tanner but it will help extend the life of the self-tanner because your skin won’t be shedding or exfoliating off as quickly.”

Use a gentle scrub or exfoliating mitt to buff away any dry patches, paying extra attention to areas prone to roughness like elbows, knees, and ankles. This will help the self-tanner to adhere evenly to your skin, preventing patchiness and streaks.

After exfoliating, it’s essential to moisturize your skin, focusing on drier areas, to create a smooth canvas for your self-tanner. Avoid oil-based moisturizers, as they can interfere with the tanning product’s absorption. Opt for a lightweight, water-based moisturizer instead. Make sure to wait for the moisturizer to fully absorb before moving on to the next step.

Choose the Right Product

Selecting the right self-tanning product for your skin type and desired results is crucial. There are various options available, including lotions, mousses, sprays, and wipes. Consider your preferences, skin tone, and the level of control you desire during application.

Look for a solution that contains dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which works with dead skin cells to darken your body where it’s applied, says Lozina. Self-tanners should have nourishing ingredients such as cocoa butter, coconut oil, vitamin E and jojoba – these moisturizing ingredients help maintain the hydration level in your skin to maximize tan retention, she explains.

For beginners, mousse or lotion formulas are generally easier to work with due to their smooth texture and visible application. Sprays are ideal for hard-to-reach areas and offer a quick, convenient application. Wipes can be handy for touch-ups or when you’re on the go.

Additionally, pay attention to the self-tanner’s DHA (dihydroxyacetone) concentration. Higher concentrations will deliver a deeper tan, but they may also increase the risk of streaks or unevenness. Opt for a moderate DHA level and gradually build up your tan over multiple applications for a more natural and foolproof result.

Master the Application Technique

 To achieve an even and streak-free tan, it’s essential to master the art of self-tanning application. Start by applying the product in sections, working your way up from the feet to the face. Use circular motions and apply the product sparingly to avoid overloading any particular area.

When tanning the hands and feet, use a lighter touch and blend the product carefully into these areas. To avoid telltale signs of self-tanning, gently wipe the product over the elbows and knees, as these areas tend to absorb more color. Finally, blend the product into your hairline and neckline for a seamless finish.

Consider using a tanning mitt or gloves to prevent staining your hands and ensure a more even application. Remember to wash your hands immediately after applying the product to avoid orange palms.

Allow Time for the Tan to Develop

Patience is key when it comes to self-tanning. After applying the product, allow sufficient time for the tan to develop before getting dressed or coming into contact with water. Read the instructions on the product for specific guidance on development times.

Avoid sweating or engaging in activities that may cause excessive rubbing or contact with water during the development process. This can lead to unevenness or premature fading.

Maintain Your Tan

Once you’ve achieved your desired tan, maintaining it is key, says Dr. Harikiran Chekuri, a Dermatologist and Cosmetologist with ClinicSpots. “Make sure to moisturize regularly so your skin doesn’t become dry and patchy, and avoid activities that cause excessive sweating such as the gym or long hot showers, which could make your tan fade faster,” he says. You should also use an oil-free sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays and keep your tan looking fresh for longer.

To extend the lifespan of your tan, it’s important to take proper care of your skin.  Here are some additional tips:

  • Avoid long baths, hot tubs, or extended exposure to chlorinated water, as these can strip away your tan. Opt for gentle, moisturizing body washes and pat your skin dry instead of rubbing.
  • Moisturize your skin daily to maintain hydration and prevent your tan from becoming patchy or flaky. Choose a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer to avoid interfering with the tan’s color.
  • Exfoliate your skin every few days to ensure an even fade. This step helps remove any dead skin cells that can cause your tan to become patchy or uneven. Consider using a gradual tanning product to touch up your tan between applications and keep it looking fresh.

Now that you know the basics, you’re well on your way to achieving a flawless, sun-kissed glow without the harmful effects of the sun. Remember to prepare your skin, choose the right product, master the application technique, allow time for development, and maintain your tan for a long-lasting, natural-looking result.


1. JOAH Beauty GOLDEN DAZE Sunless Tanning Butter ($16.99, Joahbeauty.com) is a moisturizer and self-tanner in one. This luxuriously rich butter hydrates skin with a blend of jojoba oil and chamomile flower. Light-reflecting pigments create a luminous glow as you unlock a golden tan in 4-6 hours.

2. SOL by Jergens No Wait Tropical Tan Tinted Mousse ($30.49, Target) works instantly to recreate the sun’s perfect color with no waiting, washing, or worrying required. Develops in 5 minutes!

3. FunSun Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion ($39, Arbonne.com) dries quickly and develops into a streak-free, natural-looking tan within two hours. Infused with Aloe Vera Leaf Juice and Green Tea Extract, this bronzing face and body lotion helps you always look like you just got back from a tropical vacay.

4. BE YOU BODY – Body Perfecting Bronzer ($57, hibeautifulyou.com) is an all-in-one wash body bronzer that glides on effortlessly to instantly melt into the skin to improve skin tone, reduce the appearance of redness, bruises, varicose veins, scars, stretch marks and dry rough skin leaving the most natural looking tan EVER.

5. Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Body Mousse, Self Tanner for Light Bronze Tan, Sunless Tanning Body Bronzer ($13.47, Amazon) gives you a flawless, fast tan with gradual, natural-looking color for gorgeous skin and blended color for fair to medium skin.

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Janene Mascarella