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How To Apply Self-Tanner For A Flawless Look

Our Customers Asked:

What’s the best way to apply self-tanner for a flawless look? 

Our Experts Answered:

If you’d rather fulfill your sun-kissed aspirations without earth’s shining star, self-tanners are your saving grace. But with all those disaster stories from friends and even unfortunate photos of celebrities on the red carpet featuring way-too-orange tones and misplaced streaking, self-tanners can be a bit intimidating.

“Self-tanners offer gorgeous results, but in order to get there a lot of prep work is involved.”

We understand, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Follow our tried-and-true tips to ensure you look naturally bronzed and glowing. When done correctly, people will be none the wiser (they might even ask you about your trip from the Bahamas)!

Plan your other beauty treatments in advance

Self-tanners offer gorgeous results, but in order to get there a lot of prep work is involved (in fact, preparation is really the key). If you’re planning to do anything to your body, like getting a hair removal treatment or mani-pedi, do so before you slather the self-tanner.

Shave clean and shave close

If you have any hair you need to shave off, make sure you’re not using your months-old razor. In fact, get a brand-new razor so you can shave as closely as possible. The hope is to prolong your next shave as long as possible to, you guessed it, prolong your tan as well.


It’s essential (or rather, non-negotiable) to remove any dead skin cells and dry patches before applying self-tanner to avoid dark orange areas that look obvious and fake. Exfoliate your body with a scrub and place emphasis on dry areas like your heels, ankles, knees and elbows. Exfoliate your body with a physical scrub; in other words, something with agents like walnut shells. To exfoliate your face, you can either use a traditional scrub such as our C.O. Bigelow Sugar Crystal Face Polish or a chemical exfoliator that contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHA).

Some self-tanners like Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glotion for Body contain AHAs and BHAs, which help keep your skin flake-free and smooth. Plus, it contains a special ingredient that minimizes hair texture, length, growth, and reduces shaving frequency.

Dry off and moisturize (but not too much)

After exfoliating, towel off by patting gently all around. You don’t want to be completely dry, though, so apply a lightweight moisturizer to replenish a bit of moisture. If you feel greasy or leave residue on your couch after you sit down on it, it means you have too much moisturizer on. Pat it off.

Apply your self-tanner

First, make sure the self-tanner you choose is formulated for your existing skin tone—not the outcome you want! There are also amazing self-tanners out there that blend into all skin tones, such as St. Tropez Self Tan Luxe Dry Oil.

Second, using a tanning mitt, latex gloves or clean hands, apply a small amount (about a teaspoon) of the self-tanning product into the palm of your hand, then close your hand. Rub your fingers into the product so it spreads a bit on both the palm and on your fingers. This is recommended so that you can use your fingers for smaller surface areas, like near toes and hands, and your palm for larger areas like your thighs and stomach.

Third, starting at your feet and ankles, smooth the self-tanner over your body using circular motions and work your way up. This way, you can do your hands last.

How to master the rough, bendy areas

When you get to areas that bend, make sure to actually bend so the product applies on “stretched out” skin—not when it’s bunched together. In other words, when you get to your hands, bend your fingers. When you get to your legs, bend your knees.

Also, take note of the areas most prone to an unnatural look, such as knees and elbows. Instead of applying self-tanner on these areas directly, first spread the product to the adjacent area, then blend into the joint area. For example, apply the self-tanner on the area of your arm right next to your elbow, then smooth over into your elbow from there.

Once you’re done applying all over, scrub the palms of your hands to remove color and use a makeup remover to clean it off (you don’t you want to rinse under a faucet since the top-side of your hands still need to dry the self-tanner).

Dry strategically

Once you’ve applied tanner all over, get a mildly damp paper towel and lightly sweep it over your wrists, knees, feet, elbows and ankles. These zones are most vulnerable to getting oddly dark or uneven, so you want to sweep away excess color.

Afterwards, wait for the self-tanner to thoroughly dry. In fact, add more minutes to the number of minutes suggested on the bottle to be extra sure.

After you’re completely dry, get some talc-free baby powder! Gently pat the abovementioned areas with powder to prevent creasing. You can also powder all over to avoid getting any self-tanner on your clothes.

Post-tanning caveats

Avoid showering, sweating or any moisture for six to eight hours. If you can help it, try to avoid long-sleeve clothing as well. You want your skin to dry in clean, open air. Now all you have to do is wait!

If you get the technique right, the only thing you’ll need the sun for is to feel happy and for that daily dose of vitamin D. Have fun!

Ask A Beauty Expert: How To Apply Self Tanner For A Flawless Look
Article Name
Ask A Beauty Expert: How To Apply Self Tanner For A Flawless Look
Follow our tried-and-true tips to ensure you look naturally bronzed and glowing. How to apply self tanner, (and how to remove self tanner from your hands.)
Publisher Name
C.O. Bigelow
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