How to apply self tanner cream (the right way)

How to apply self tanner cream (the right way)

Let's be honest, nobody wants to end up with the faux pas of fake tan. Whether it's the dreaded orange hue, unsightly streaks, or blotchy patches, it's far from the charming look we're aiming for. Mastering the art of self-tanning is the key to avoiding these pitfalls and ensuring a natural, sun-kissed glow. Believe us, we've been through it all. But fear not, we've conquered the challenges of faux tanning—and now, so can you!

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If you're gearing up for an event, holiday, or simply craving that perfect faux glow, you're in the right place. Keep reading for the ultimate guide on how to use self-tanning cream the right way, ensuring a flawless and natural-looking result every time.

How Do Tanning Products Work?

Curious about the science behind that golden glow? It all boils down to one key ingredient: dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. Found in all self-tanning products, DHA is a simple carbohydrate that interacts with amino acids in the outer layer of your skin. This interaction triggers the production of melanoidins, pigments that appear brown due to their absorption of specific light wavelengths. This fascinating process, known as the Maillard reaction, kicks off a few hours after application and continues for up to 72 hours, resulting in that gradual deepening of your tan.

This magical chemical reaction tints your skin for anywhere from 3 to 10 days, depending on factors like exfoliation frequency, showering habits, and your body's natural shedding of dead skin cells. We're all unique, after all.

Types of Formulas

Self-tanning products come in various formulations to suit different preferences. Here's a rundown of the most common options:

  • Lotions: These are convenient for daily use but can lead to streaks if not applied evenly. Consider yourself warned!

  • Mousses & Foams: Many prefer these for their quick-drying nature and reduced likelihood of streaking. It's our top pick for a reason!
  • Mists: Mists offer easy coverage but can be tricky to apply solo.
  • Oils: While oils provide a beautiful glow, they typically take longer to show results.

Serums: Similar to oils, serums deliver a subtle bronzed look, perfect for those seeking a more understated effect.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying Self Tanner cream

With all that in mind, here’s how to apply self-tanner cream for even, longer-lasting coverage and a natural-looking colour. Let’s get glowing!

Shave & Shed

Before applying any type of self-tanner cream, you first need to prep your skin. That means thoroughly exfoliating any area you’ll be applying the product to. You can use an exfoliating mitt for this or simply use your hands and a good exfoliating scrub. With firm (but not too firm) pressure, exfoliate your skin in circular motions, making sure to spend extra time on drier areas like your elbows, knees and ankles. If your skin is hanging onto dead skin cells when you apply self-tanner cream, you’re likely to end up with dark, unsightly patches. So, give your bod a thorough sloughing. 

In addition to exfoliating, it’s also a good idea to shave so your skin is as smooth as possible. If you shave after applying self-tanner cream, your glow will fade sooner. If you’re someone who waxes or gets hair-removal treatments, be sure to wait about 24 hours before applying the product so it doesn’t irritate your skin. 

Lastly, avoid moisturising before putting on your self-tanner cream. While it may seem tempting, this can prevent the product from fully or evenly absorbing into your skin. You do, however, want to put just a dab on your knees, elbows and ankles, as well as between your fingers and toes. This will help prevent product build-up or over-application in these drier, often creased areas so you’ll avoid telltale dark patches.

Apply the Product

Okay, it’s time. To avoid orange palms, you may want to invest in a tanning mitt. Apply a dollop of your tanner cream to the mitt, and begin massaging it into your skin, starting with your feet and working your way up. By working your way upward, you’ll avoid the creases that can occur if you put your product on your torso first then bend over to get your legs. 

Apply your self-tanner cream in a circular motion, being careful to evenly distribute it and get in all the hard-to-reach places. Use minimal product and a gentler touch in less fleshy areas like your feet, wrists and neck. When you’re done, remove your mitt* and apply just a tiny bit of product onto your hands, being careful not to get any buildup between your fingers or under your nails. A kabuki brush is great for applying and blending tan on tricky areas like hands. 

If you feel like you got a bit too much in any area, just blot it gently with a tissue. 

*Make sure not to toss your mitt on anything they could stain. Either throw it in the wash or place on an old towel to dry. 


Now that your self-tanner cream is on, it’s time to take care of it. Be patient and let it dry fully before you put on clothes, jump into bed, sit on the couch, etc. Essentially, leave it alone until it sinks in. This could take around 20 minutes. Even after that, avoid wearing tight clothes that could draw out and absorb the product. 

Another thing to remember is that you should avoid moisture for a few hours. That means no taking a shower or bath, getting in the pool, washing dishes, or even putting on moisturiser. When you do end up doing these things, be sure to gently pat instead of wiping away moisture. 

Can I Sit Down After Tanning? 

Just glided on that gorgeous tan and wondering if you can plop down on your favorite chair? Hold that thought! The golden rule post-tanning is patience. Think of your freshly tanned skin as a masterpiece in progress. Sitting or snuggling into your clothes right away is a major no-no. If you do, you might risk turning your fab tan into a patchy puzzle.

Give your tan the royal treatment it deserves. After application, it's time to channel your inner diva and lounge in as little clothing as possible for at least an hour or two. This gives your tan ample time to set, blend, and start its magic. So, dance around, enjoy some me-time, or just bask in your glorious glow. Trust us, your patience will be rewarded with a streak-free, flawless tan that’ll have you feeling like a bronzed goddess.

How to Apply Self Tanner cream to Your Face

Applying self-tanner cream to your face requires a different approach. For the love of self-tanning, please do not use your mitt for this part! To tan your face, exfoliate as you normally would, then use your hands to rub in a small amount of product. Be careful not to get it in your eyes, but do try to evenly coat all areas, including around your nose and lips and into your hairline. And don’t forget your ears, as well as blending down into your neck. Immediately wash your hands when you’re done so there’s no staining. 

Or, for a flawless facial glow, try our tanning gel. Made specifically for your face, these are concentrated tanning drops you mix into your moisturiser. Too easy.

How to Apply Self Tanner cream to Your Back

Applying any product to your entire back can be tricky. Ideally, it’s nice to have a buddy apply self-tanner cream to your back, but that’s not always an option. If there’s no one available, or you simply don’t want a stripped-down bonding experience, proceed with a bit of caution. With your back to a mirror, use your mitt to work self-tanner cream into your lower to mid-back and around your sides. Give your arms a break, and then use your dominant hand to reach either up and over or around and up, whichever is most comfortable for you, to get the top part of your back, blending into your shoulders and neck. 

Can’t quite get the middle bit? You can also slip your mitt over a wooden spoon or ruler to avoid dislocating your shoulder. Works like a charm.

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Want to shop tanning prods and get more fake tanning tips? At UKLOVE, we’ve got you covered. Not only is our Tanning Gel a fan favourite, but we’ve also got the scoop on your questions, like how to prevent that self-tanner cream smell and how to get rid of self-tanner cream. Before you glow, make sure you check out our full selection of tanning products designed to give you a radiant tan – no sun required! 

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