How to Apply Self Tanner

how to apply self tanner

Since fake-baking is a big no-no (you don’t want skin cancer or wrinkles, do you?) and we don’t all have the time/weather to get a nice natural tan, sunless tanners are the way to go. I’ve experimented with quite a few different formulas and brands and have had plenty of practice applying them. It’s important to make sure you prep beforehand, choose the right formula, apply carefully and moisturize afterwords. Here’s my step-by-step routine of how to apply self tanner.

how to apply sunless tanner


Step 1: Prep. Before applying the tanner, you want to exfoliate your entire body. Use a body scrub (like Soap & Glory Flake Away Body Polish) and a loofah to do this. This prevents self tanner from looking splotchy and staining certain areas of dry skin. Pay extra attention to your knees, feet, hands and chest.

Step 2: Choose your formula. Self-tanners are available in lotions, moisturizers, wipes, sprays and more. Moisturizers with self-tanner in them are great for those who want just a hint of color. Lotions and wipes are good for beginners and experts- they are easy to apply. The sprays require a bit more talent- and maybe a partner to help out. For a lotion, try L’oreal Sublime Bronze Pearl Tinted Lotion. For wipes, try these Tanning Towelettes. For a spray, try Neutrogena Sunless Tanning Spray Micro Mist. For a mousse, try St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse.

Step 3. Apply. The best time to apply self-tanner, in my opinion, is at night before bed in a well-light room. Make sure your body is clean of fragrance, lotions and makeup. If you’re using a lotion, invest in some plastic gloves (the cheap kind you can buy anywhere for like $3.00) to prevent staining your hands. Apply the self-tanner is small sections. I always start at my legs and work my way up. Do one leg, then the other, then your stomach, chest, face, arms, etc. Rub the lotion in until you can’t see it anymore and make sure you cover all areas (don’t forget about armpits, feet, fingers and ears- it will show!) Check yourself out in a mirror to make sure you don’t see any splotches or missed areas.

Step 4. Relax and wash. Let yourself air dry for a good 15-30 minutes before doing anything. I usually wait about 20 minutes and then put old pajamas on just in case any tanner rubs off on my clothes. Then I go to sleep and let the tanner absorb for those hours. In the morning, I shower with a scented body wash (like this Olay Body Wash with Shea Butter) to wash off the scent of the tanner. Showering does not make your color fade since a good amount of it already is absorbed into your skin.

Step 5. Moisturize. To keep any type of tan, real or fake, make sure you keep your skin moisturized. Lotion after each shower with a rich formula (like my favorite, Vaseline Cocoa Butter Lotion). There are even special lotions made to extend your tan. Repeat the self-tanning process until you have achieved the color you want.

What are your secret tricks and tips for self tanning?


  1. I’ve forgotten to exfoliate before and it’s turned out awful. Now self tanner scares me! I may give it another try though – I’m SO white!

  2. Great tips! I’ve used the Loreal one in the past but I think it looked a bit orange on me. I can’t wait till it’s warm enough here to get a natural tan!

  3. I’m big into self tanner I swear by that St Tropez gradual one. It’s the best and it comes with a mitt that makes it virtually impossible to streak. love it!

  4. i am a huge advocate for safe sun so I absolutely love these tips!! need to try your suggestions!

  5. I wish I could use self tanner, but my skin is so dry that no matter how much moisturizing and exfoliating I do, I still turn orange 🙁 I’m determined to find a way though. I’m wayyyy too pasty!

  6. I am sooo bad at applying self tanner! I get all orange and it’s a good chance that there’s streaking going on somewhere haha

    1. Practice makes perfect! haha I used to start it on my legs or stomach where people wouldn’t see it until I got good at it and then applied it everywhere

  7. such great tips. i use clarins self tanner for my face but should also use a self tanner on my body. i don’t let my skin get much sun (don’t want to be wrinkly!!)

    1. I use mine on my body and face- although I find that it absorbs so much better on my face, so I don’t need to use as much on that area!

  8. This post is great! I have usually just been using Jergens Natural glow, but I really want to try something to give me that extra tan in one night! I would have never thought to prep or moisturize afterwards, thank you!

  9. I avoid the tanning bed, but self tanning just always sounds like so much work. Maybe I’m just lazy.. haha

    1. true! I use a lotion so it’s just like applying regular lotion. Then I just stand around for 10 minutes while it dries- that’s it!

  10. Love Soap & Glory products!! This one is perfect for exfoliation!!! And yes, the gloves are a MUST! I don’t think many people know that or think to use them. Thanks for the tips!!

    1. haha I didn’t add that since I wrote that you should use gloves! but if you don’t use gloves, then yes- wash your hands!

  11. The gloves are a BRILLIANT idea! I’ve gotten more careful, but I definitely had a mild case of Cheeto hands last year at grad LOL.

    1. haha! I get it on my fingers sometimes. I mean I always add a little so I don’t have pale hands/fingers, but sometimes I don’t blend enough!

  12. I finally had my first positive self tanning experience with St. Tropez lotion! I also used their application mitt which is awesome! (It still washes off too quickly for my liking, though!)

    1. Blegh- that’s always a problem it seems like! I sleep with the lotion on overnight and then shower in the morning and it doesn’t wash off TOO much

    1. it took me A LOT of practice to get it right! I always practice on an area most people won’t see (like my stomach or legs if I’m not wearing shorts)

  13. Great tips! I want to try wipes this year – I’ve used both spray and lotion but the wipes seem like they could be really convenient!

  14. Such a great post! I added it to my favorites… it will come in handy for beach day with the girls 🙂

  15. This is extremely helpful! I’m always so nervous I’m going to come out looking like a streaky person after I use self tanner. Thanks for the tips!

  16. I’m all about the faux glow 😉 love your tips! I’m always looking for ways to keep the look natural–not orangey! Thanks lady! xoxo

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