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How to Apply Self Tanner (the Right Way)

How to Apply Self Tanner (the Right Way)

Let’s face it, no one wants to commit a fake tanning faux pas. Whether you end up orange, streaky, or patchy, it’s not a cute look. Knowing how to apply self-tanner so you don’t end up looking unnatural is a skill that can save you much embarrassment and many tears. Believe us, we’ve been there. But we can happily say we’ve now got fake tanning nailed – and you can too! 

If you’ve got an event or vacation coming up, or just want to master a flawless faux glow, read on. Here’s how to apply self-tanner the right way for an even, natural result every time. 



How Do Tanning Products Work?

So, how exactly does a tanning lotion or spray work to give you that golden glow? It all comes down to an ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. All self-tanners include DHA, which is a simple carbohydrate that reacts with amino acids in the top layer of your skin. This generates pigments called melanoidins that appear brown because they absorb particular light wavelengths. This process, called the Maillard reaction, starts a couple of hours after application and continues for up to 72 hours. This is why you’ll sometimes notice your “tan” keeps darkening over time. 

This super cool chemical reaction darkens your skin for anywhere from 3 to 10 days. This depends on how much you exfoliate and shower, and the rate you naturally shed dead skin cells. We’re all different. 

Types of Formulas

Self-tanner comes in several different forms – there’s an option for everyone. Here are the most common you’ll come across.

  • Lotions: Lotions make for a relatively easy, everyday application, but if they’re not applied evenly, it’s streak city. Consider yourself warned. 
  • Mousses & Foams: Many prefer using mousse or foam self-tanners because they’re quick-drying and less likely to streak. This is obviously our pick .
  • Mists: The benefit of a mist is that it’s easier to get even coverage, but they’re hard to apply solo. 
  • Oils: Oils can give you a really nice glow, but they do take longer to have an effect. 

Serums: Similar to oils, serums can give you a deep, bronzy look, but the impact is more subtle. 


A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying Self Tanner

With all that in mind, here’s how to apply self-tanner for even, longer-lasting coverage and a natural-looking colour. Let’s get glowing!

Shave & Shed

Before applying any type of self-tanner, you first need to prep your skin. That means thoroughly exfoliating any area you’ll be applying the product to. You can use an exfoliating mitt for this or simply use your hands and a good exfoliating scrub. With firm (but not too firm) pressure, exfoliate your skin in circular motions, making sure to spend extra time on drier areas like your elbows, knees and ankles. If your skin is hanging onto dead skin cells when you apply self-tanner, you’re likely to end up with dark, unsightly patches. So, give your bod a thorough sloughing. 

In addition to exfoliating, it’s also a good idea to shave so your skin is as smooth as possible. If you shave after applying self-tanner, your glow will fade sooner. If you’re someone who waxes or gets hair-removal treatments, be sure to wait about 24 hours before applying the product so it doesn’t irritate your skin. 

Lastly, avoid moisturising before putting on your self-tanner. While it may seem tempting, this can prevent the product from fully or evenly absorbing into your skin. You do, however, want to put just a dab on your knees, elbows and ankles, as well as between your fingers and toes. This will help prevent product build-up or over-application in these drier, often creased areas so you’ll avoid telltale dark patches.  

Apply the Product

Okay, it’s time. To avoid orange palms, you may want to invest in a tanning mitt. Apply a dollop of your tanner to the mitt, and begin massaging it into your skin, starting with your feet and working your way up. By working your way upward, you’ll avoid the creases that can occur if you put your product on your torso first then bend over to get your legs. 

Apply your self-tanner in a circular motion, being careful to evenly distribute it and get in all the hard-to-reach places. Use minimal product and a gentler touch in less fleshy areas like your feet, wrists and neck. When you’re done, remove your mitt* and apply just a tiny bit of product onto your hands, being careful not to get any buildup between your fingers or under your nails. A kabuki brush is great for applying and blending tan on tricky areas like hands. 

If you feel like you got a bit too much in any area, just blot it gently with a tissue. 

*Make sure not to toss your mitt on anything they could stain. Either throw it in the wash or place on an old towel to dry. 


Now that your self-tanner is on, it’s time to take care of it. Be patient and let it dry fully before you put on clothes, jump into bed, sit on the couch, etc. Essentially, leave it alone until it sinks in. This could take around 20 minutes. Even after that, avoid wearing tight clothes that could draw out and absorb the product. 

Another thing to remember is that you should avoid moisture for a few hours. That means no taking a shower or bath, getting in the pool, washing dishes, or even putting on moisturiser. When you do end up doing these things, be sure to gently pat instead of wiping away moisture. 


How to Apply Self Tanner to Your Face

Applying self-tanner to your face requires a different approach. For the love of self-tanning, please do not use your mitt for this part! To tan your face, exfoliate as you normally would, then use your hands to rub in a small amount of product. Be careful not to get it in your eyes, but do try to evenly coat all areas, including around your nose and lips and into your hairline. And don’t forget your ears, as well as blending down into your neck. Immediately wash your hands when you’re done so there’s no staining. 

Or, for a flawless facial glow, try our bronzing face drops. Made specifically for your face, these are concentrated tanning drops you mix into your moisturiser. Too easy.

How to Apply Self Tanner to Your Back

Applying any product to your entire back can be tricky. Ideally, it’s nice to have a buddy apply self-tanner to your back, but that’s not always an option. If there’s no one available, or you simply don’t want a stripped-down bonding experience, proceed with a bit of caution. With your back to a mirror, use your mitt to work self-tanner into your lower to mid-back and around your sides. Give your arms a break, and then use your dominant hand to reach either up and over or around and up, whichever is most comfortable for you, to get the top part of your back, blending into your shoulders and neck. 

Can’t quite get the middle bit? You can also slip your mitt over a wooden spoon or ruler to avoid dislocating your shoulder. Works like a charm.




Want to shop tanning prods and get more fake tanning tips? At Coco & Eve, we’ve got you covered. Not only is our Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam a fan favourite, but we’ve also got the scoop on your questions, like how to prevent that self-tanner smell and how to get rid of self-tanner. Before you glow, make sure you check out our full selection of tanning products designed to give you a radiant tan – no sun required! 


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Written By: Pip Jarvis

Edited by: Vidhya


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20 Jan, 2022

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