Self tanning- best practice

November 7, 2016

If you have ever wanted to self tan but were never sure of the results, our Grooming & Lifestyle Editor Lee Kynaston has some expert rules for success.


Exfoliation is absolutely key to achieving a natural looking, streak-free self-tan in the same way that sanding down a skirting board is to achieving a smooth gloss paint finish. So, before using any tanning products exfoliate your skin first with a body scrub, focusing on areas like the feet, hands, knees and elbows. Similarly, remove any dead skin cells with a face scrub if applying to your face.

If you don’t exfoliate, the self-tan will just stick to any dead skin cells making your tan look patchy. Avoid washing with soap first as their alkaline nature can sometimes affect the colour of self-tanners. This applies to facial self-tanners like too.


The current popularity of self-tanning as lead to a whole array of new products - from mousses and sprays to creams and lotions. Mousses and sprays are good if you have body or facial hair as they tend to glide through it better than creams. Sprays are great for all-over, even coverage and for reaching tricky bits like your back.

If you are new to self-tanning you may wish to start off with a light-coloured gradual tan which you can use several times a week, slowly building up to your desired colour.


After exfoliation, moisturise feet (including ankles and between the toes), knees, hands and elbows with a little body moisturiser and wait a few minutes for it to be absorbed. This will help prevent dark patches forming where you don’t want them. It’s also a good idea to add a little moisturiser to your hairline and eyebrows to avoid a self-tan build up in these areas.


It might be tempting to slather on self tan but for better results (and a longer lasting tan) you are better off applying a thin, even coat and topping it up with another layer. Remember, you can always build a tan up over a period of days if you want - it’s much harder to reduce it if you’ve over-applied.


Self-tan applicators like the St Tropez Applicator Mitt are a great way to ensure you get even distribution of your self-tan. They tend to speed up the application process and prevent hands from getting stained too.


Apply the self tanner evenly with long, smooth strokes. To avoid dark patches on notoriously tricky areas where skin tends to be drier (like hands, feet, ankles and elbows) dilute the self tanner with a little moisturiser. For best results try applying in front of the mirror - you’ll be able to spot if you’ve missed any areas that way.


Like anything, practice makes perfect so if you are new to self-tanning, start by applying to the areas people aren’t going to see until you master the technique.

If you do apply too much by accident, correct the mistakes straight away (and before the tan develops) by removing the tanner with some correcting wipes or gently blot away any excess product with a buffing mitt. 


After application, wash your hands thoroughly if you haven’t used a mitt and let the tan develop in a cool environment (sweat can interfere with the results) and don’t put clothes on for around 60 seconds or until the self-tan is dry to the touch. Alternatively, apply a few hours before bed and allow to develop overnight.

Finally, shower off after a minimum of 4 hours - to reveal your new tan.


Since DHA (the tanning agent in self-tanners) can make skin dry it’s important to keep skin adequately hydrated in the days and weeks after self-tanning. Not only will using a body moisturiser after showering every day help the colour last longer, it will keep your skin in fine condition too.

Another good way to prolong your tan is to avoid exfoliating for several days afterwards and to pat skin dry after showering rather than rubbing it vigorously with a towel. After a few days you can resume exfoliation as this will help ensure your tan looks even and prepare skin for the next application.


If you require some temporary colour (perhaps to disguise a hangover or for a special occasion, like a wedding) why not try a wash off product. They’re perfect for giving skin some instant colour and for combating signs of fatigue and are easy to use.

Just apply as you would a moisturiser, or mix with your existing moisturiser for an extra subtle effect. If you are concerned about using self-tanners they are a great way to experiment. This one is a staple of my own bathroom cabinet.


Finally, don’t forget that even though your skin might look bronzed, if you are heading for the sun you still need to ensure skin is adequately protected with a sunscreen.

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