How To Use Self-Tanner: Tips, Tricks And Techniques
How To Use Self-Tanner: Tips, Tricks, And Techniques

Before you reach for the self-tanner, there are a lot of important things you need to know first.

As a very pale lady, I am familiar with self-tanner. While I haven’t braved it in a while (but will in the near future, just you wait!), I have tried it in the past and learned many lessons due to a bold and naive lack of preparedness. Considering it is summer now, and I am quite certain we will all begin spotting tons of awkward Oompa Loompa-like mishaps, I think it is time to go over the basic dos and don’ts of applying self-tanner.

There are certain things we should all make sure to do beforehand, lest we wind up looking like Christina Aguilera circa 2001. (Of course, regardless of what aesthetic silliness occurs, at least you will never have a horrible tanning booth accident.) Here’s what you need to know and do before bronzing up.

1. Determine What You Want

Do you want a deep bronze tan or a light golden one? Do you already have fairly dark skin, or are you extremely pale? Do you want gradual results or instantaneous ones? These are all questions you should ask yourself beforehand so you can figure out which type of products you should be using, as well as what techniques.

2. Read Up

Not only is it important to read about self-tanner (ahem, this post), it is also important to do your research regarding which products you want to use. After asking yourself the questions in #1, make sure you choose a formula that matches your needs and has good reviews.


  • Best Bronze Easy Bronzing Spray
  • Karora Tinted Self Tan Mist Light/Medium
  • bareMinerals Beautifully Bronzed Deluxe Faux Tan with Brush

3. Exfoliate

This is one of the most important steps, and yet tons of people (i.e., me circa 2003) wind up skipping it. The sad fact of the matter is that most of us do not have totally smooth skin all the time, so we need to exfoliate in order to get rid of the excess dead skin cells from the surface of our bodies. This way, any product that gets applied to the skin afterward is able to absorb better and more evenly. Use a good body scrub and a solid (yet gentle) face scrub, too.


  • MSC Skincare Grapefruit & Spearmint Exfoliating Sugar Scrub
  • Zirh Aloe Facial Scrub
  • Nyakio Kenyan Coffee Body Scrub

4. Because If You Don’t Exfoliate…

It will look awful, in all likelihood. Perhaps there are some folks who are naturally ultra-smooth or whose skin is fairly tan who can get away with not exfoliating properly, but if you have a very fair complexion like myself as well as rough patches on your skin, the self-tanner will clump up and appear very uneven, especially as your tan develops. Remember: preventing the problem before it happens is always much easier and quicker than fixing it later on.

5. Apply The Same Day As Exfoliating

Don’t wait a day and then use your self-tanner–just do it the same day. That way, you can get your tan to absorb evenly, avoid splotchiness, and result in the best tan possible.

6. Moisturized Vs. Dry Skin

According to ELLE, some experts believe that after exfoliating, you should moisturize your skin prior to the application of self-tanner, while others feel it negatively impacts the way the product’s active ingredients react to skin. To avoid the whole argument, Victoria’s Secret “tanning guru” Meredith Baraf says you can use a moisturizer that contains self-tanner:

“A moisturizer that contains self-tanner is formulated to work with DHA, so you don’t have to worry about it clogging the pores. Plus, if you miss a spot with the full-fledged self-tanner, you’ve already covered it with the gradual tanner.”

7. Test It Out First

Like millions of other folks, I have sensitive skin and occasionally react negatively to products. Prior to using a formula on my entire body, I like to test out a bit on the inside of my elbow. The skin there is discrete, so if you have a reaction, it will not be nearly as noticeable as if you tested the product on your neck or hands. If you experience redness, itching, pain, or other negative symptoms, discontinue using it immediately.

7. Bring A Buddy

If you have a friend (or partner) who might be able to spot you while you do your sunless tanner for the first time, it can be pretty beneficial to how even your results wind up being. Trying to strain in the mirror to see every inch of your lower back, upper thighs, and shoulders aren’t easy, whereas a friend can tell you exactly what’s going on and where.

8. Skip The Contouring

Contouring is a wonderful thing, but if you are doing self-tanner for the first time, you should leave it to the experts. Trying to blend it and make it look realistic is no easy task, and you really don’t want to wind up looking like Snookie crossed with a Kim Kardashian selfie, do you? If you are very familiar with contouring with makeup, though, then it is probably worth giving it a try.

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