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Self (Sunless) Tanning Guide

Self (Sunless) Tanning Guide


Article by All Things Tanning, adapted from Skwigg |

In the modern era of depleted ozone, scorching UV indexes, and soaring skin cancer rates, radiating yourself for hours on end under a hot summer sun is no longer considered a beauty treatment.

In fact, it’s the clear-cut fast track to sagging skin, wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer. If you long for a perfect tan but you don’t want to turn yourself into shoe leather, bottled sun is the way to go.

Today’s formulas are light-years ahead of the orange concoctions of decades past. A great sunless tan can be indistinguishable from the real thing – the key is a good product and a skilful application.



You want something that will compliment your natural skin tone. If you have blinding white skin, start with a product labelled light. You may be able to work your way up to a medium over time. With today’s natural looking products it’s kind of hard to go wrong, but if you apply deepest darkest glow to porcelain skin, you can still turn yourself into The Great Pumpkin. Products marked deep or dark look best on people who have naturally dark complexions and tan very easily.


Once you’ve narrowed down a shade, you need to decide if you want to spray it on, or apply a cream or mousse. Some creams can be longer lasting. That can be good or bad depending on how your first application goes. Sprays seem to be easier to apply evenly and make it easier to hit hard to reach places like the middle of your back. Some self tan products go on clear, but many are ingeniously pre-tinted so you can see if you’ve applied it evenly.


This is a critical step. If you skip it, you’re almost guaranteed uneven results. Sunless tanners work by colouring the dead surface layers of your skin. So, the faster the dead skin cells flake off the faster you lose your tan. Dry rough areas also tend to absorb more tanner and become too dark. If you don’t exfoliate, you’ll end up with some really dark areas and some areas losing colour quickly. The overall effect is a splotchy one. To avoid it, you want your skin to be as clean and smooth as possible before you start. Sensitive or older skin? – an old fashioned soapy washcloth can often work almost as well as scrubs, loofahs or mitts. Pay special attention to dry areas like knees, elbows, ankles, and the tops of your feet, but be gentle, you want to have some skin left when you’re done! – and don’t forget to shave or wax beforehand.


Someplace on your bottle of tanner it will tell you to wash your hands when you’re done. They’re joking, right? If you wait until you’re done to wash your hands you’ll never get it completely off. Your glowing copper hands will scream to the world that you have a fake tan. Spare yourself the trauma and pick up a box of latex gloves at any pharmacy. Get the kind without powder. (Powdered ones will leave a little bumpy, streaky powder trail through your tan). If you insist on attempting this without gloves, you must scrub your hands with a brush several times during the application. Do your legs, scrub your hands. Do your torso, scrub your hands. You get the idea. Or you can save yourself the agony and embarrassment of tanned palms with a Self Tan Applicator Mitt. These are the latest and greatest reusable self tan accessory and absolutely ideal for perfect streak free results.


Do one whole leg at a time. Remember that knees and feet tend to be dry areas that can grab too much colour. If you’re paranoid about blotches apply a little bit of regular moisturising lotion to elbows, knees, ankles, feet, and hands before you start. Carefully blend the tan down onto your feet from your legs for a more subtle effect.


Do your torso, neck and face next. If you’re using a spray and you’re fairly flexible you can reach the middle of your back without help. If you’re using lotion and you’re stiff as a board, find an assistant to help you with your back. You may also be able to pull it off using a sponge on a stick. This probably goes without saying, but don’t spray yourself in the face. Put some tanner in the palms of your hands, rub your hands together and then apply it to your face. Be sure to blend it into your hairline and into your jaw and neck area. You don’t want to get any in your eyes, but you do want to carefully blend around them to avoid a masked raccoon effect. If you have short hair, don’t forget your ears.


If you look at somebody with a natural tan, the tops of their arms are usually slightly darker than the underside because of the increased sun exposure. To mimic this effect with your faux tan apply the tanner to the top of your arm only and carefully blend it all the way around. Blend it really, really well. Then pull your gloves off, pat your hands dry, and put a little tanner on a cotton ball. Apply a light coat to the backs of both hands first. Then do the backs of your fingers, looking out for the knuckles, which don’t need very much colour. When there’s not much left on the cotton ball and it’s almost dry, blend it around and between your fingers, and don’t forget your thumb and the underside of your wrist. If you feel like you have too much on your hands or you want to play it extra safe, go ahead and lightly rinse them after this application (no brush scrubbing required). You’ll still get colour there because it is hard to get rid of with a normal washing.


Once you’ve applied your sunless tan, you need to allow it to completely dry. Some self tans dry in just a few minutes, while others may take 30 minutes or more. Either way, you need to wait at least 1-8 hours (or as instructed) before swimming, sweating, or wearing tight clothing. Any of the above can streak and ruin a new tan. If you want to go darker, you can repeat the process the day after you tan – light exfoliation the second time around so that you don’t remove your first layer. Once your tan is set, keep yourself well moisturised. The longer it takes the skin to flake off, the longer your tan will last. Most bottled tans begin to fade after a few days. You’ll need to reapply regularly to keep your colour, or invest in a good tinted moisturiser/gradual tan.

Self (Sunless) Tanning Guide
Left: “Be sure to blend it into your hairline and into your jaw and neck area” – Bradley Cooper’s self tanning mistake. Middle: “Avoid the dreaded bronze palms” – Kim Kardashian’s self tanning mistake. Right: “Choose your shade. You want something that will compliment your natural skin tone” – Lindsay Lohan’s tanning mistake.

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