How To Apply Self-Tanner Like a Pro: Tips & Videos

You don't need to ruin your skin with sunlight to get that beautiful glow. Here's how to apply self-tanner like a true bronze goddess.

Once upon a time, I was 12 years old and ghostly white. I was so pale, kids in class called me a vampire. Due to health issues, I couldn't tan. When I did tan, it caused hormone flareups that made me pretty unbearable to be around.

As a preteen, I wasn't happy about being called a vampire in class. So, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I decided it was time to use self-tanner.

Now, this may seem like a great solution—save for three small details:

  • First, I didn't know how to apply self-tanner and just assumed that you smear it on and it'd work itself out.
  • Second, it was the 1990s and almost all self-tanners were orange.
  • Third, I took the darkest self tanner and applied it to my blue-white body.

When I finished applying it, the final result looked like the beginning stages of leprosy. I had bright orange-brown splotches running up and down my body. I looked like a leopard that got shaved, then got hit with malaria. It was awful.

It was anything but cool. I was so embarrassed by my skin, I wore jeans in 90-degree weather to avoid the remarks. It took weeks to get that stain off my body.

These days, I know how to apply sunless tanner pretty well—even if I don't actually use it. Here's what you should know when giving it a shot.

First, choose your self-tanner wisely.

Before we even go into how to apply self-tanner, you need to select a self-tanner that won't be prone to botched results. One of the most common newbie mistakes is choosing a tanner that's too dark for your complexion.

Overly dark tanning lotions will cause your skin to get that gross orange look, and are more prone to streaking. If you're not sure what tanner to get, choose the lightest color you can for the most natural and subtle change.

Additionally, it's worth pointing out that sunless tanning lotions aren't something you should be cheap on. A cheap tanner will give you cheap (and potentially hilarious) results.

Choose the right time to start tanning.

Self-tanning is not like other beauty treatments. You have to time things right if you want the results to look different. Beauty experts agree that it's best to do everything else in your beauty routine first—including your mani-pedi, your eyebrows, your body waxing, and more.

One of the struggles of working at a tanning salon is explaining to people that it's not always a good idea to use sunless tanner.

Exfoliate before you apply a drop on you.

You simply can't learn how to apply self-tanner without learning how to exfoliate well. After all, self-tanner that clings to dead skin cells will shed faster and also look darker—and that can lead to very uneven tanning within a matter of days.

Before you whip out your tanner, take time to exfoliate your skin carefully. The better you do it, the more effective your sunless tanning exploits will be. It's important to choose an oil-free exfoliant, since oils can actually block tanners from working.

Next, gently dry your skin and you're good to go.

Then, start applying your self tanner in sections.

The key to learning how to apply self-tanner like a pro rests in how you actually put the lotion on your skin. Most professionals will apply it in sections. Ideally, you will start at your feet and work your way up, ensuring that you don't need to bend too much in order to finish up.

You should consider using tanning mitts to apply self-tanner, or be prepared to wash your hands every time you finish a section. Otherwise, you'll end up with stained hands.

When you're dealing with joints or delicate skin, dilute your self-tanner.

A common sign that people notice involving applying self-tanner is very dark joints. You can actually avoid that issue by adding a little moisturizer to your self-tanner before you apply it to your pain points.

This helps even out your tanner and also makes it easier to blend it in hard-to-tan places. A little Jergens is all you need to make it work. If you want to consolidate your tanning goodies, get Jergens Natural Glow, which has a little tanner and glitter added in.

Be careful around your face, and don't use too much tanner.

I'll be honest. This is where it gets to be very tricky, and in many cases, you might be better off just using a bronzer to even things out. Tanning your face is tricky and can turn into a nightmare if you botch it.

Your best bet for your face is to use your tanner sparingly and follow instructions on how to use self-tanner on your face from a professional. If you do choose to add sunless tanner to your face, put it on your forehead, nose, and cheekbones.

Wait 10 minutes before you even consider putting on clothing.

I'm not sure if you've heard this, but self-tanner has a tendency of smearing. When it smears, it stains clothing pretty badly—and those stains don't come out.

A good rule of thumb is to wait for 5 to 10 minutes before you consider toweling off. If you notice some light streaking on your towel, you may want to wait a little longer, and add some slightly tinted tanning moisturizer to the area that smudged.

Don't try to contour using tanner.

As much as you may want to learn how to apply self-tanner like a pro, it's important to realize that there are certain techniques that are best left to the professional realm.

One of these is attempting full body contouring using self-tanner. Part of this is because it is really hard to do without a spray tan system. The other part is because it often doesn't come out the way you want it to.

If you want to get a better and safer option, consider using highlighter or bronzer to get the cuts and angles you want. This will give you a natural, sun-kissed glow and the contours you want—minus the potential unevenness.

Clean up self-tanner mistakes using lemon.

Lemon juice is really good at buffing away self-tanner mistakes. To get rid of streaks or splotches, rub a lemon on your skin for two minutes and then exfoliate your skin. The area that you rubbed will be free of stains sooner than you know.

Finally, add powder and sleep on it.

If you want to avoid having your "summer glow up" session stain sheets, douse your body in talc powder. Also, you may want to take a nap after you self-tan. The heat your body generates from sleep actually helps the tanner work. Happy tanning!

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