Get Ready: Tanning — Self-tanners, Part 2 The Application

Looking for product recommendations? Expect several reviews of self-tanning options from sprays to creams to gradual to intense over the coming weeks!

Applying Your Tan | After you’ve properly prepared you body to take on a self-tan, you’re eager to get to the tanning part, right? I want to preface this piece with the fact that I am new to self-tanning, I spent the past two weeks learning about self-tanners, application, etc., and for the most part, it’s really not as daunting as it may seem.

  • Wash hands frequently and vigorously with soap. You don’t want dark orange palms, so you can avoid this by washing your hands multiple times during the application to minimize any orange palm effect.
  • Make a mistake? Try toner, acetone, or hydrogen peroxide to help minimize or erase it.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. It is much better to give yourself time to apply the self-tanner and let it dry appropriately rather than hope it will all come together in fifteen minutes.
  • Dry land only for at least eight to twelve hours if you’re able to. Your self-tan should develop within three hours, but it may continue to darken for as long as twelve hours. Avoid sweating, exercising, bathing, etc., as all of these can lead to undesirable effects (streaking, fading, etc.).

1. Get everything you need together. Self-tanning will probably take you at least twenty minutes to apply from head to toe, plus additional drying time. I recommend the following products/items to gather: self-tanner of choice for body, self-tanner of choice for face, moisturizer (lightweight), hair tie, soap, back sponge, fingernail scrub brush, sink, dark towel/dark robe.

2. Extra dry skin? It is probably best for you to moisturize either as you go (diluting your self-tanner in the process) or applying a light amount to extra dry areas like ankles, toes, knees, elbows, etc. I would only recommend this for those who have really, really dry skin. It is better to dilute self-tanner with a moisturizer than applying moisturizer before the self-tanner.

3. Apply from bottom to top. You want to start applying your self-tanner to your feet and legs, being sure to apply sparingly on any dry parts (e.g. ankles) if you have them. If you’re using a lotion, be sure to squeeze it onto your fingers/palms, and then work it into your skin in circular motions. If you merely squeeze it onto your skin, you may end up with visible streaks from where it was squeezed! If you’re using a spray or aerosol tanner, make sure that you follow directions (usually says how far to hold it and not to exceed a certain distance).

4. Dry spots, joints, etc. may require diluted tanner. Judge your skin – if you have dry knees and luscious elbows or you’re like a sahara on both, know about it! You do a half-and-half combo with moisturizer with self-tanner or go a little heavier on the self-tanner, just depends on how dry you’re skin is. Nevertheless, go sparingly over these areas, because they tend to darken more heavily than other parts of the skin.

5. If you’re doing your entire body, some people want tan lines. If this is the case, make sure you’re wearing something that you can put the tanner right up against (e.g. a black bathing suit), as the tanner will stain light clothing. I personally hate tan lines, so self-tanning is totally up my alley and I just stand in the bathroom naked while applying. Back issues? If you can’t reach your back, try investing in a handled sponge to help you get those hard-to-reach areas.

6. Work your way up to your upper chest. Apply your self-tanner for body all over your body (arms, legs, etc.), but you may want to switch to a gradual tanner or your self-tanner for face. The neck tends to tan better and darker than the rest of your body (like the face). Otherwise, dilute your self-tanner with moisturizer when applying to the neck.
7. Switch to a self-tanner for face. I always recommend using a product targeted for the face to avoid getting an ultra dark or orange face. You can, of course, dilute your body self-tanner with moisturizer if you feel confident doing so. Make sure you apply your self-tanner up to your hair line and behind your ears (often missed spots).

8. Let it all hang out! Optimally, you’ve given yourself three hours of time before you need to get dressed. Realistically, you may only have an hour or two–don’t worry, you can probably get away with it. After you’ve done applying the self-tanner, let it dry for at least 15 minutes. If you’re able, walking around the house naked for awhile is a good move. Otherwise, slip on your dark robe or loosely tie a dark towel around your body and busy yourself for the next 45 minutes to an hour.

9. Your tan develops in 3 hours usually. This does mean that waiting three hours before putting on clothes is the best course of action, but waiting simply a half hour or so is usually enough. I like to put on some ratty, loose-fitting clothes after about 30-45 minutes. Even when I put regular clothes on, I opt for dark colors and nothing too tight.

10. Enjoy your new tan! You’ll want to check out part three of this guide, though, which will offer you some tips on making your sunless tan last longer and how to let it fade without looking like a molting bird.

Feel free to share your tips, horror stories, and advice for self-tanning!

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Thanks so much for doing a section on self tanning!
I consider myself a self-tanorexic, and another pointer that I have is to wear gloves so that you do not end up with self tanner in between your fingers. Also, make sure that you don’t mind getting a little self tanner on your bed sheets because it is bound to happen. Finally, the best self tanner I ever used is from Sally Beauty Supply – the entire Tanwise line is great. My favorite is the Tanwise Self Tanning Mousse. It delivers a natural brown color and it doesn’t streak. I went through about 10 bottles of it last summer! If you can, you should def try it!

It’s my pleasure, Heather! I think as suntanning and tanning beds become less and less palatable, people will definitely be looking towards self-tanners!

I loved Tanwise. It’s such a bummer they discontinued it here in MI. I had the whole line because it was so affordable, considering it was all on the 90% off table. I substitute with Fake Bake mousse (which is expensive) or another Sally gem, Quick Tan spray. Both have great color guides and provide realistic color. They also fade nicely and dry quickly. VERY quick actually.

When I self tan, EVERYDAY, I’ll use a non shedding kabuki brush to buff in the product. It works the best and you can get the tops of your hands without looking like a freak of nature. This method works great with sprays and mousse… I have yet to try a lotion because I barely use them. Best way to fake tan, orange hands down.

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