How to Apply Self Tanner (Long-Lasting + Streak-Free)








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Last Updated: May 10, 2021

When you want a sunkissed glow, there are so many alternatives to sitting in the sun. Not only does a sunless tan avoid exposure to dangerous UVA/UVB rays and cost less than a tanning bed, it’s also quicker and can be done at home anytime.

That being said, it does take some practice to get the hang of a no-streak, orange-free look. We’ll be sharing tips and tricks for how to apply self tanner and how to make it last so you can stay safe and glowing all summer (or winter) long!

How Does Self Tanner Work?

On a basic level, sunless tanners work by reacting with amino acids on your skin. This active ingredient is usually DHA, or dihydroxyacetone.

DHA can be derived chemically or naturally, but it’s always best to go with natural over synthetic when you can. Look for tanners that use DHA derived from cane sugar or beetsthis one from Beauty by Earth is a great example.

Choosing a Self Tanner

There are quite a few options for self tanners including sprays, mousse, lotions, liquids, and wipes. Some self tanners come with mitts, but you can also purchase these separately if you like.

If you’re short on time, the liquid self tanners and sprays tend to be more concentrated and give a darker color more quickly. They’re also a little messier and harder to get a streak-free look. It’s best to apply these with a mitt.

Self tanner wipes and mousses tend to sit in the middle; they’re less streaky than sprays and still give a deep color in one or two applications. We love the Miami Gorgeous Self Tanning Mousse and the L’Oreal Self Tanning Mist.

Self tanner lotions usually take a little longer to see deep color, since they are less concentrated, but they are the best option for zero streaks and they’re conveniently combined with a moisturizer, which is the best way to prolong your sunless tan. Check out the Beauty by Earth Self Tanning Lotion

Wash-off bronzers last only until your next contact with water but they are a great option for a quick bit of color without the time commitment (the Vita Liberata Body Blur is one of our top picks).

How to Apply Self Tanner

First, Prep Your Skin

Prepping your skin is the most important part of self tanner application. Without the following steps, your final result may end up splotchy. 

  • Exfoliate. You’ll definitely want to exfoliate skin before applying your tanner. This helps the formula to go on evenly and the color will last longer. Reach for a dry brush before you shower or use an exfoliating scrub.
  • Always apply self tanners to clean, dry skin.
  • When applying to joints like elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles, make sure to bend at the joint before applying and go a little lighter on the application. Since this skin is constantly stretching and contracting, the self tanner will wear a little differently. These areas are also prone to dryness, so the tanner will “stick” more easily and you won’t need to use as much.

Product Application

  • The best time to apply self tanner is after showering at night before bed. This allows the product to work on clean skin uninterrupted by motion, sweating, hand washing, etc. 
  • To avoid ruining sheets or jammies, pick darker fabrics and wait 10-15 minutes after application before coming into contact with fabric to avoid transferring color and smudging tan.
  • Read the directions on your product and follow them to a tee. Poor application leads to streaking and nightmares.
  • If you are working with sprays or liquids, make sure your space is prepared for possible rogue sprays or drips.
  • Use a mitt for an even application and to avoid staining hands.
  • If you’re working with lotions, you can use your hands, just make sure to wash them thoroughly after application. 
  • Hand application: Dry your hands well and dot a small amount of self tanner on the top of one hand and rub in using the top of your opposite hand, avoiding knuckles. This gives a bit of color to your hands.

How to Make Self Tanner Last

Now that you’ve prepped and properly applied your product, how do you make it last as long as possible?

Depending on the product and number of applications, your tan can last up to 10 days. You’ll start to see fading around day 3 or 4

If you’re using a wash-off bronzer, it’ll last 24 hours or until your next shower.

Here are a few tips to make your tan last as long as possible:

  • Wait at least 8 hours after application before sweating, swimming, or showering.
  • Always apply a moisturizer after showering. If you are prone to dry skin, you may want to moisturize twice daily.
  • Avoid scrubbers or exfoliating body washes since anything abrasive will wear away your tan more quickly.

Can Self Tanning Be Dangerous?

While sunless tanning is lightyears safer than a tanning booth or baking in the sun, it still carries risks. Avoid using self tanners chronically or applying tanner on lips, nose, and around the eyes. It’s also important to continue using SPF since self tanners do not protect you from the sun.

Additionally, some are sensitive to DHA and a few studies have shown that DHA increases free radicals in the body and may accelerate skin aging. If you’re looking to avoid these types of active ingredients, reach for wash-off bronzing products.

While these only last until your next shower, they eliminate any chemical reactions with your skin and sensitivity. Here are a few of our favorite wash-off bronzers:

Bottom Line

While self tanners are a healthier alternative than a tanning bed or the sun, they may not be healthy for constant use. If you’re looking for frequent daily color, opt for wash-off bronzers instead.

For the special occasions, remember to prep skin and moisturize after application to maintain color. Happy glowing!

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