Self-Tan Tips & Tricks (including application)

self tanned woman

Applying self-tanner might seem simple but there are a lot of tips and tricks that make it a whole lot better. Keep in mind there’s the risk of patches, streaks, and orange hues, just to name a few.

So, it’s important that everything is done correctly. That is why we have compiled together all the self-tanner tips and tricks you would ever need to know.

Whether you are a beginner or not you are sure to learn something new!

Essential Self-Tanning Tips

Firstly, we will start with some of the most important and essential self-tanning tips.


Before self-tanning it’s important you exfoliate your skin. It helps remove old and dead skin cells. Make sure to spend more time where your skin is thicker such as the knees and elbows.

Doing this will help make the self-tanner application more smooth and not be built up in these areas. Exfoliating also has the benefits of making your tan last even longer.

Dry Skin Works Best

It might not seem important but having dry skin before application is good. It makes application of the self-tanner go more smoothly and evenly.

This means no moisturizing soon before self-tanning (at least 12 hours).

Apply in Sections

Apply self-tanner in sections. Typically, it’s best to start with the face first. Then afterwards you work up from your feet in sections. The sections would be legs, arms, and torso for example.  

The reason we work up from the bottom is to lessen the chance of smearing the tan on the arms or torso for example while stretching to apply to the legs etc.

If you are not using a tanning mitt we recommend washing your hands between each section to prevent your hands from becoming stained and to keep the tan as smooth as possible.

Use a Tanning Mitt

If you don’t already have a tanning mitt, get one. It makes application of self-tan so much easier. It also makes the application smoother and greatly reduces the chance of any errors when applying.

While there are other alternatives you can use instead of mitts none of them offer as great results as tanning mitts do.

Allow Skin Time to Dry

Once the self-tanner has been applied you should wait 20 minutes before putting on any clothes ideally. If not 30 minutes if you have time.

Also, after that initial 30 minutes, it’s a good idea to wear old loose-fitting clothes. This lowers the chance of the tan becoming uneven or smeared which could happen with tighter clothes like leggings for example.

As the tan solution might stain the clothes it’s a better idea to wear older clothes.

Dilute Self Tanner Over Joints

It’s a good idea to dilute the self-tanner over joint areas such as elbows and knees etc. This is because the skin in these areas is more likely to absorb more self-tan. This can result in a slightly darker tan on the joints sometimes. Therefore, we recommend diluting the self-tanner.

The best way to do this is to firstly apply the self-tanner as normal but then after applying a small amount of lotion on top of the self-tanner on the joints. This helps slightly dilute the mixture which should result in more balanced tan.

What Kind of Tanner to Use?

There are four main different types of self-tanning products: mousse, spray, lotion and drops.

Out of all the options, mousses give the quickest, most even, and easiest application, with a tan usually developing within 8 hours. There are also express/rapid mousse self-tan options that only need 2-4 hours to develop.

Lotions are recommended once you have achieved a base tan that you want to maintain. They tend to be more gradual and last around 5-7 days.

Remember to use a tanning mitt when using mousse or lotion.

Drops are a good option for the face since they are more precise. Sprays are also quite a good choice and tend to offer a smooth application. 

We Recommend: St Tropez Self Tanning Mousse

Self-Tanner Face Application Tips

Moisturizing the skin after self-tanning is important, particularly the face. Though keep in mind you should avoid using any moisturizer soon after self-tanning. We recommend no moisturizer for at least 12 hours after self-tanning.

After that initial period, it’s a good idea to moisturize your skin, particularly the face.  Moisturizing frequently keeps the skin hydrated and soft. It will make your tan last for longer and allow your skin and tan to have an even better glow.

When using moisturizer, ensure that it doesn’t contain any oil, especially within 12 hours of tanning, because it creates a barrier between the skin and the tanner.

Don’t forget about moisturizing the sides of your nostrils, as they tend to get very dry without being noticeable. If they are overly dry this can make the tan look darker than it should, so it’s important to keep them as moist as possible.

With the face, self-tanner can last as long as a week and as little as 3 days, also depending on upkeep. Regardless, skin cell turnover on the face is normally quicker than in the rest of the body, so more regular application might be required.

For more information on self-tanning your face, check out our article – how to self-tan your face.

Try Mixing Self Tanner with Moisturizer

If you want a more subtle tan you can mix moisturizer with self-tanner. It also is great for keeping your skin as moist as possible. Just made sure not to use an oil for this but instead a typical moisturizing cream or lotion.

When mixing self-tan with moisturizer make sure it’s mixed thoroughly before applying. If you don’t know the proportions go for half self-tanner and half moisturizer to start with.

How Often Should You Self Tan?

Self-tanner is made up of 2 important parts usually. There is the bronzer that gives the immediate tanned effect and then there is DHA. DHA takes time to develop but once developed cannot be washed off easily like a bronzer can be.

With an understanding of how DHA works, it goes without saying that self-tanner needs to be reapplied regularly.

Self-tanner lasts 5-8 days on average, although it can be made to last as long as 10 days – depending on a number of things, such as keeping the skin moist and not showering as often and for as long.

Knowing that a self-tanner usually lasts around that long it’s best to reapply it after 3-5 days’ time. This is around when the tan will start to fade so it’s the ideal time to reapply.

Before reapplying it’s important to exfoliate and shower. Exfoliating removes as many dead skin cells as possible and allows you to apply to your skin on a clean slate. Showering also helps with cleaning the skin and washing away the older skin cells.

Self-Tanner Special Tricks

If you have applied self-tanner soon before bed be sure to apply a translucent powder to set the tan in place before bed and to prevent smudging while sleeping. Placing a black towel down on top of your sheets is recommended to prevent your bed sheets from becoming stained. For more on sleeping with selfer tanner check our article – can you sleep in self tanner.

Try not to touch your body immediately after application, especially the face. Touching it can smudge or smear the tan and could result in patchiness or worse.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, be sure to choose a self-tanner that won’t clog your pores. These kinds tend to include lactic acid or glycolic acid which is great for those skin types.  For more on this check our article – can you spray tan with acne.

Interesting Related Questions

Should You Shower Before Self-Tanning?

Yes you can. It is recommended to exfoliate before tanning, which is typically done in the shower. What’s important is that you are completely dry before applying self-tanner.

How Long Should I Wait to Put Clothes on After Self-Tanning?

Wait at least 10 minutes before getting dressed, although 30 minutes would be the ideal time to allow for complete drying.

Can I Shave Right Before Self-Tanning?

Although it is important to remove any hair (with any kind of method) before self-tanning, this should not be done right before. Shaving should be done at least 24 hours before, otherwise, the skin may be too irritated and sensitive for self-tanner.

Should You Moisturize Before Fake Tanning?

Yes, it is helpful to moisturize before self-tanning but not soon before. You should allow for at least 12 hours between moisturizing and fake tanning.

The benefit is to hydrate any dry areas you have, which tend to be the elbows, knees, heels, and ankles. Such areas need a bit more attention since they are drier so the tan will still set and develop well.

For more on self-tanning be sure to check our article – How to Self-Tan at Home Explained by Experts.

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