How to apply self-tanner like a pro – so fetch daily

Image credit: Flickr user SayLuiiiis

We don’t just apply the self-tanner. Okay you can, but you’ll end up looking spotty, streaky, and maybe orange. You know what I mean, weird striped shins, random dark spots, orange palms… and everywhere else. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A little planning ahead and a lot of following these directions can get you a natural self-tan glow that doesn’t remind people of an oompa loopa.

First step: buy your supplies!

First of all, you will need a good exfoliating body scrub. You can find one in pharmacies. I wouldn’t go buy a fancy one with a lot of scent dyes because you don’t want it to leave residue on your skin afterwards. You can also search online for how to make your own salt and sugar exfoliating scrubs and go this route. You will also need a facial scrub and moisturizer.

I also recommend purchasing a pair of exfoliating gloves or a loofah to use before tanning (to exfoliate) and after (to help even out too dark spots).


You will also need a good moisturizer to apply before and after tanning. Again, I wouldn’t go with something with a lot of dyes and scents. You’re going to be rubbing your skin and then applying bronzer to it, so take a break from the moisturizer and choose a brand like jergens or lubiderm.

A box of rubber gloves is a must in my book, but this one is your call. If you think you can wash your hands enough times during application to avoid the dreaded orange hands and nails without running or splashing water on your body, be my guest. I find it much easier to use gloves and not wash my hands fifty times. If you do decide to use gloves, be sure to buy the smallest size that will work, as loose gloves can cause streaks and stains.

It’s also a good idea to buy garbage bags big enough for you to place on the floor and painter’s tape to stick the bags to the walls to avoid tanning your home as well as your body (especially if you decide to to use a spray tan), clear nail polish and a few lemons (I’ll explain).

And of course, you will need a self-tanner. Make sure you read the bottles and choose the shade appropriate for your skin tone. If you’re fair, don’t buy the one for medium skin tones thinking you’ll get a darker tan faster, this is one of the ways people end up turning orange. Personally, I like to buy one with an immediate tint so that I can be sure of exactly where it’s been applied and how even it is, but if you’re careful it’s not necessary. I also prefer the mousse or lotion spray for body application as they seem to dry faster and stay less sticky afterwards. Make sure you get a separate face formula of the same brand and skin tone. This is important if you don’t want to end up with a pretty tanned face filled with pimples from the body formula that isn’t quite as soft. I also recommend taking Jergen’s Natural Glow moisturizers (one for the face and one for the body). I have found that I can prolong my tan without putting on more self-tanner (after the first application) by using Jergens Natural Glow moisturizers daily.

Second step: prepare your skin!


I recommend exfoliating and moisturizing (along with your regular moisturizer) for three days before planning the tan. It may sound extreme, but you will get the best tan base coat. Focus on maximum exfoliation of your elbows, knees, hands, and the heels of your feet, as these tend to be the hardest areas. Make sure to hydrate after each exfoliation. Your facial skin shouldn’t need as much exfoliation. I recommend moisturizing for the three days before tanning (which you should do every night after washing your face anyway) and then exfoliating and moisturizing your face the day you plan to tan. It is also good to give your nails a quick coat of clear polish before tanning. It helps prevent fading if you can manage to put bronzer on it and not wash it off as quickly as you should.

Step three: get ready to sunbathe!

Make sure you have everything you need in one place before you start. You don’t want to run around the house half naked half clingy with a tanner trying to find stuff. Place your trash bags on the floor and secure them with tape or something heavy so they don’t slip off and break your hip. Tape your trash bags to the wall with painter’s tape if you plan to use self-tan spray of any kind.

Then you need to prepare. Remove all jewelry. Make sure you are showered, clean, and hydrated before starting the process. If you shave normally, be sure to do this in advance as well. Depending on how much of your body you plan to tan, you’ll either need to find clothes that don’t cover the area you want to tan and don’t mind breaking the bank. You absolutely want to tie your hair back and if you have blonde or very light hair, I suggest putting it in a towel, shower cap, hair genie, or some other type of coating that will keep it from tanning. Depending on how dry your hot spots are, you may want to re-hydrate those areas before you begin.

Then line up your tanners, grab your gloves (or make sure you’re near a sink and have soap and a towel ready to wash and dry your hands) and go!

Fourth step: get a tan

I find it best to start from the bottom and work your way up, so that you don’t lean down to press the already tanned skin against the non-tanned skin. Make sure you rub the tanner well and get an even coat over all areas. Once you’re done with everything except your hands, take off your gloves (or wash your hands again) and do your face. Be careful not to get it in your eyes, but do your best to get an even layer all over your face and neck. Wash your hands well and make sure they are completely dry. If you’ve purchased a self-tanning spray, you won’t have a problem getting your hands on. Just give the tops a quick spray and you are good to go. If you’ve purchased lotion or mousse, I recommend putting some on a cloth and gently rubbing the tops of your hands. This will save you from having to wash them again (wash the tanner) and have orange palms and nail beds.

WAIT. This is the hardest part for me, but it is necessary. Be sure to wait the amount of time recommended by the product (and a few extra minutes if you have the patience) before getting dressed or going about your business. Using a hair dryer on your body is supposed to speed up the drying process, but I’ve never found it much more effective than just sitting there air drying. I recommend waiting 24 hours before taking a shower again.

Fifth step: interview

You will need to continue to hydrate every day after tanning (hopefully you bought a big enough bottle), but don’t exfoliate or you will just rub off the tan right away. If you shave frequently, you may need to reapply the tanner to your shins every few days and in this case exfoliate before doing so. You can usually extend your tan without having to reapply the tan by using a product like I mentioned above by moisturizing daily with Jergen’s Natural Glow.

If you find that you have particularly dark or patchy spots, try rubbing them gently with some of your body scrub and your hand. If that doesn’t work, try the scrub and your exfoliating mitt or loofah. If that still doesn’t work, squeeze a few lemons and try rubbing the area with a washcloth soaked in lemon juice. One of them should work (unless you passed out with an entire bottle of tanner slit on your stomach and in this case, I don’t even know what to tell you).

It is that simple. Ok… maybe not that simple, but it’s definitely worth it to get a natural-looking tan without paying ridiculous spa or salon prices!

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