self-tanning fake tan

Glow up: The beginner’s guide to self-tanning

10 Jul 2024 | |By Annie Lewis

Thought self-tanning was difficult? Think again. Here’s how to perfect a golden glow at home according to a beauty expert

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We all know the trials and tribulations of self-tanning. The instructions on the back of the bottle promise you the world in the form of a streak-free golden glow, but in reality you can be left with a stubborn orange hue or a patchy tan that seems to linger for weeks – not quite the sun-kissed, fresh-from-the-Mediterranean glow you were looking for. 

However, while this may be news to novices like me, there are actually several ways to build a natural colour without baking in the sun or booking a 15-minute boost on the UV beds (which we advise, for your skin’s sake, to avoid at all costs). Self-tanners – when applied correctly – boasts a whole host of benefits, from being time efficient (some can achieve said golden hue in just an hour) to offering a multitude of rejuvenating ingredients, from hydrating shea and coconut butters to wrinkle-firming hyaluronic acid. 

So, how does one perfect an at-home glow? We called in the big guns. Here JustMyLook’s beauty expert, and self-professed tanning wizard, Hayley Walker shares her foolproof tanning routine. 

Step 1: Picking the best self-tan for you

self tanning
Image: Shutterstock

While this may seem obvious, the first step should be choosing the right product. Religious self-tanners will tell you it takes a lot of trial and error to find the right bottle, and while we don’t disagree, we’d recommend doing thorough research (and adding a dollop of common sense) before heading to the till. “The ultimate aim of using fake tan is to achieve a natural-looking colour that replicates a sun-kissed glow and to accomplish this, you need to use the shade and texture most suited to you and your skin tone. It can come in a range of different applicators, including foam, lotion, or mist. This is down to preference; some might prefer coating themselves with foam, having better control and visibility of where needs tanning, whilst others might favour a gentle mist that feels lighter and less damp on the skin,” explains Walker. 

Now, onto the important bit. “You’ll need to decide on the shade you want to use. A key thing to note is that fake tan always comes out darker than anticipated, so if you have fair skin, for example, and are considering using a medium, you might be best testing out a light shade first to avoid a drastic change in appearance.”

While many products just focus on the end result, there are also several on the market which can nourish your skin in the process. Walker explains: “If you have particularly dry skin, try looking for a product with hydrating ingredients, such as coconut oil or shea butter, as this will help lock in moisture and prevent a streaky, botched application. If you have sensitive skin and are prone to irritations, a formula containing natural ingredients would work best for you, so try looking for a bottle that includes hyaluronic acid. This ingredient is great for hydrating the skin and contains soothing properties that won’t trigger a reaction to sensitive skin. Finally, for oily, acne-prone skin, try using a non-comedogenic fake tan. This oil-free product should prevent breakouts or irritations and is a better match for your skin type.”

The natural one: Evolve Sunless Glow Gradual Tan

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The hydrating one: Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam

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The non-oily one: Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel

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The sensitive one: Tan-Luxe The Crème

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Step 2: Pre-tanning shave

It’s time to schedule the all-important pre-tanning shave. Why? Because it will help ensure a smooth, fur-free surface when you apply. “It’s better to shave the day before you intend to tan, as this will prevent droplets of formula accessing your pores. To ensure a smooth finish, be sure to hydrate your skin prior to shaving by wetting your legs. This will ensure a sleeker shave and reduce the chance of cuts,” says Walker. 

“I recommend shaving in long, steady strokes, bending your legs to carefully shave your knees, and being delicate when shaving around difficult, bony areas such as your ankles. It’s also a good idea to moisturise your legs after shaving as this will help prevent skin irritation as well as give your legs some hydration.”

Step 3: Exfoliate

Exfoliating is a crucial part of achieving a streak-free tan, as it removes dead skin cells which work as a barrier between your skin and the product. Walker explains: “Including this step will ensure the tan blends correctly and is absorbed into the skin. Tough spots, such as your elbows, knees, and ankles, will need some TLC as they are notorious for collecting fake tan in an unnatural, unflattering way. Exfoliating gloves, a loofah, or even a washcloth, partnered with an exfoliating body wash or scrub, should make this process easier.”

Step 4: Moisturise

Applying moisturiser before fake tanning is the best way to avoid a streaky finish. It’s essential to moisturise dry areas on your body – such as elbows and ankles – as rough and dehydrated skin won’t absorb the product properly, which can result in blotches. 

“A day and night cream or lotion will work well here, and wait a good hour before applying your fake tan after moisturising, to ensure that it can be properly absorbed into your skin,” says Walker. “The ingredient to look for in a moisturiser is aloe vera or coconut oil. This natural ingredient will hydrate the skin tissue, enabling your tan to be better absorbed into the skin, as well as complement the final results by helping you achieve a natural-looking, sun-kissed glow.”

Step 5: Blend

While this might sound obvious, we can’t emphasise enough how big an impact blending your fake tan properly will have on the outcome. The technique is everything – but the tools you pair that will also help bring out the best results. Read Walker’s top tips below. 

“To effectively blend on your hands, make a claw by spreading out and bending your fingers. This will help it blend in more easily, especially around the knuckles and in between the fingers. For feet, a great hack is to tan the rest of your body first and use the residue from your mitt on your feet. The technique to use is a gentle glide across each foot and toes, in between the toes, and around the ankles. 

“For a more accurate, controlled application, a makeup brush is an ideal tool to tan those creases. The neck is also a part of the body that can be difficult to tan, so using a small amount of product is key here. Blend this well into the neck, and again bring out the makeup brush to blend along the jawline and neck. This should ensure all surfaces have been covered, leaving you with an even, sun-kissed finish. 

“Using an appropriate mitt will help you blend the product better into your skin, and if you spot any potential streaks, your best bet is to fix it before the tan dries. Do this by applying near a mirror, where you can spot hard-to-see areas, or even better if you have a ‘spotter’ on hand they can direct you to the spot that needs blending. You can apply the initial tan gently on your skin, but you might need to be a bit harder when blending in those streak-prone spots.”

Tanologist Kabuki Brush

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Sunless by Jimmy Choo Buff & Glow

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Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Blending Brush

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Bondi Sands Back Applicator

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Step 6: Give it time to dry properly

self tanning shutterstock

Now for the worst part. Patience is key when self-tanning, and although it might be tempting to quickly put on a dressing gown after standing in a cold bathroom, you need to wait until the tan has properly dried before putting on clothes. Walker explains: “It will have started to dry after 10 minutes, however, to ensure you don’t botch all your hard work, I recommend waiting at least 20 minutes before putting on clothing. You’ll also need to leave the product on for the amount of time instructed on the bottle before rinsing off. A shower is a great way to rinse off any excess, however, if you jump in too soon, you might unintentionally remove all the product before it has time to develop fully.”

What to do if you end up with a streaky tan

If the worst happens, there are methods to try to recover or to carefully remove it. “If you end up having a streaky tan, damage control will need to be executed quickly. First, buff away any excess, which is prone to collect in drier parts of your skin, such as your elbows and ankles. To combat this, use a buffing mitt to gently rub away on darker, drier patches on the skin. 

“Next, exfoliate the darker areas. Give the darker, more stubborn areas a good scrub to help neutralise the overall look. By now, the dark and blotchy parts should have disappeared, leaving you with gaps – and now it’s time to fill them in. In the lighter areas, try re-applying tan to match the rest of your body. To do this, I suggest using a more controlled applicator rather than a spray, such as lotion, as this can ensure the tan doesn’t latch onto the already darker areas. Give it at least 20 minutes to dry before putting on clothes, and hopefully, you should start seeing the results soon.”

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