8 Tips For How To Apply Self Tanner For A Flawless, Glowing, And Not Totally Orange Tan Job

As a very fair-skinned woman, I have experimented with plenty of self-tanners, but on my journey for the perfect fake tan, I finally realized that while the lotion, mousse, gel, or whatever you use is important, the most important part of the whole process is the application. From exfoliating before to hydrating after, I have come up with all the answers to your how to apply self tanner questions.

I used to think I could apply a fake tan just before leaving the house. But I quickly learned that this was not the case. Self-tanner looks much different in the first 30 minutes than it does in the next couple of hours. After a lot of blotches and a few too many stained palms, I finally learned my lesson: Don’t fake tan on a time crunch! I now approach self-tanner in a more methodical way. I carve out 45 minutes to an hour to apply my tanner and let it sit. While 45 minutes may seem like a lot of time, I can assure you that my pale skin has never looked so bronzed, and I am positive it is due to my flawless application technique.

So whether you are looking for a light glow or a deep dark tan, I’ve got you covered! Scroll down to see my seven tanning application tips, as well as a guide to which type of tanner to choose for your skin tone.

1. Primp Before Tanning

If you are going to a special event and have appointments for a wax, a manicure, or a dye job, do it before you apply fake tanner. All of these treatments can possibly fade your flawless tan.

2. Exfoliate

This means take a nice, long shower, shave your legs, and wash your entire body with an exfoliating scrub or just hot water and a luffa. Make sure not to use bar soap as it can leave residue on the skin that will mess up your tan.

TIP: If you have sensitive skin, shave the night before you apply, as even the most sensitive self tanners could possibly irritate your skin.

3. Moisturize

This does not mean moisturize your whole body! You should only moisturize really dry areas like knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, feet, and the palms of your hands. Leave the rest of your skin alone.

TIP: If you are tanning your face as well, apply moisturizer to your eyebrows and put conditioner or a thick moisturizer all around your hairline to protect your precious locks.

4. Pick Out Your Product

  1. Mousse: Bronzing mousses go on easy, are lightweight, and dry quickly. This is great for beginners and tanning pros alike.
  2. Liquids: Depending on the darkness of the liquid, this tanning method is a bit trickier and can leave streaks. I prefer to apply this type of product with a special mitt or cotton swabs.
  3. Wipes: Wipes deliver even color almost every time, but don't take that for granted as it is still possible to wind up with a few streaks.
  4. Gel: Surprisingly, gels aren't sticky and they dry super fast, this is a great product if you need to get dressed immediately after.
  5. Mist/Spray: This is not for beginners, but if you are a self-tanning pro it is a great way to get instant color.
  6. Tinted Lotion: If you are new to self-tanning, this is the product for you. It may take a few more applications to get bronze, but I have never had streaks from tinted lotions.

5. Wear Gloves Or A Mitt

I thought if I cleaned off my hands right after applying tanner that there would be no problem, but that is not the case. Always wear gloves or an application mitt when applying self-tanner.

6. Apply Evenly

There are two techniques for self tanner. 1. Apply in small, circular strokes. 2. Apply in long, vertical strokes. While I have tried both techniques, I personally prefer applying in long, vertical strokes because it is less blotchy than circular ones, but you have to be very careful because long strokes run the risk of looking streaky.

This is why I prefer using a mousse or a tinted lotion, as they are lighter and don't tend to cause streaks or blotches.

TIP: Let your tan dry completely before you put on clothes, or wear loose clothing for a few hours.

7. Don't Miss A Spot

It is common to forget the neck and the ears or to avoid tanning your dryer areas like knees and elbows. Since you have moisturized all your dry spots, they wont take the tan so heavily, so it is important to still tan them or else your tan will turn out blotchy. Also for your neck and ears, don't forget them or it will give away your faux glow.

TIP: For dryer areas I like to apply with a cotton swab.

8. Banish Blotches

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Almost every time I apply self-tanner, I get a little stripe just underneath my arms. I know this sounds weird, but I was once told to use ketchup to remove the discoloration, and it works! Just apply to a wipe and rub on the area to soften the appearance of the darker spots.

Images: Fotolia; byrdiebeauty, the_file, bettybrown_co/Instagram; sttropeztan; Getty