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The Complete Guide to Self-Tanning

The Complete Guide to Self-Tanning
Fragrance Direct Blog
Writer and expert3 years ago
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Sun-kissed skin is a sure-fire way to feel great. When we’re tanned, we’re usually full of vitamin D and feeling our best. But it’s not always easy to achieve the feeling all year round, especially if you live in the cold and windy UK. Even just a touch of tan can have you looking and feeling healthier. Bronzed skin can also appear more even and toned, helping you stay motivated to achieve your fitness goals. What’s not to love?

But sitting out in the sun or hitting the sunbeds can do lots of damage to your skin, causing wrinkles, fine lines, and sunspots as you age. So how can you get a healthy-looking, sun-kissed complexion all year round without moving abroad or developing skin damage? Tough ask. Luckily for fare-skinned Brits, self-tanning at home has never been easier.

With so many self-tanning products, tools, and tips out there, these days, there’s an accessible routine to suit everyone. Whether you’re low-maintenance and looking for something natural or enjoy the glow of a super-dark tan, it helps to understand the basics before you get started.

In this guide, we’ll discuss some easy ways to get more out of your tanning session. We’ll share a perfect step-by-step routine and reveal some of our favourite products for an even finish that lasts. Leave streaky orange legs in the 2010s; this is your ultimate guide to self-tanning at home.

Top tips for prepping and maintaining your tan

Taking care of your skin is an easy way to get more out of your self-tan. It’s a great way to maintain a real tan, too, so we recommend adding these practices to your regular routine for all-round results and skin to be proud of.


Easy. Exfoliation means using a face or body scrub to gently remove dead skin cells and release any ingrown hairs. When you exfoliate before you tan, you run less risk of product building up in dry areas, like your knees and elbows. Freshly-exfoliated skin also absorbs products much more effectively, which means your self-tan and moisturisers can sink straight in and perform at their best.

Exfoliating is right for your skin no matter what, but be careful you don’t overdo it. Over exfoliation can make your skin inflamed and cause blemishes or dryness. Stick to a product with gentle or natural exfoliating properties, like a salt or coffee scrub, to avoid damaging your skin. You could also use a dry body brush or a loofah to rub away any dryness before you’re ready to tan.

Hair removal first

Hair removal and tanning often go hand in hand. Perhaps you’re prepping for a holiday or special occasion and want every inch of your body looking and feeling just the way you like. Make sure you go through root-hair removals, like waxing or epilating, a day or two before tanning. These processes pull hairs out from the follicle, which can leave your skin a little tender for up to 48 hours afterwards.

If you’re more into shaving, you can do this right before tanning with no problems; enjoy silky smoothness and beautiful colour all at the same time.

Moisturise before, during, and after

This is one of the most essential steps in achieving an even, natural-looking tan. It’s also something you should try to practice every day; well-hydrated skin is a much more suitable canvas for any products. If you have a tanning session on the horizon, start using body lotion after every bath or shower, focusing on common dry spots like knees, elbows, and hands.

If you have any mild eczema, you risk tanning products building up in the layers of dry skin. Keep these areas well moisturised before application, and apply moisturiser directly before your product to minimise the build-up in these areas. If you’re tanning your face, make sure you use a suitable moisturiser for your skin type.

And keep it up! Your skin might look beautiful and bronzed after self-tanning, but that doesn’t mean you should slack on the moisturiser. Apply a good-quality nourishing lotion to your tanned skin every day to make your colour last longer. Moisturiser is also a great way to ensure your fake tan fades evenly; you won’t need to deal with patchiness or streaking in the days and weeks after application.

Use the right tools

Any experienced tanner will tell you that applying it with your hands is a rookie mistake. You’ll end up with dark orange palms and an uneven finish, which are two things we’re definitely trying to avoid.

The best way to apply fake tan is with a tanning glove or mitt. There are lots of brands available, but they mostly always do the same job. Some more expensive options will last a little longer; bargain tanning gloves will be suitable for a couple of applications, but they’re better than your hands!

Whether you’re using a mousse or lotion, apply the product to your tanning mitt and rub it into your skin in small circular motions to enjoy an even finish.

Know how to get it off

It’s one thing knowing how to get self-tan on. Getting it off is another story and can be one of the biggest challenges when tanning at home. Suppose you’ve chosen a colour that’s significantly darker than your natural skin tone. In that case, you might find it starts to fade unevenly or peel away where your skin is unavoidably dry. When this happens, it’s best to remove all traces of the product and start afresh.

To remove your fake tan, start with a long shower or a soak in the bath. The warm, soapy water is excellent at softening stubborn products and can encourage dead skin cells to loosen. After your wash, polish your tanned areas thoroughly with a towel, and you should see the darker skin and product start to rub away. If some patches are still clinging on, try buffing an oil into your skin to loosen the pigment further. Once is usually enough, but you might like to repeat this process the next day to ensure all traces are gone before reapplying fake tan.

A step-by-step guide to self-tanning

Once you’ve chosen your perfect product and removed any old fake tan, you’re ready to go. You might have a mousse, spray, or lotion tan, and the one you’ve picked will mean a slightly different application. This is a step-by-step guide to liquid tans, like mousses, lotions, and tinted moisturisers.

  1. Make sure your skin is well moisturised
  2. Deposit a raspberry-sized blob of product onto your tanning glove
  3. Rub the self-tanning product into your skin. If you’re doing your whole body, start at your lower legs and work upwards
  4. Avoid applying too much product to areas that don’t naturally darken, like your bikini area and underarms. You can use a little here
  5. Wait for your self-tan to absorb before dressing

If you're chosen a product that develops overnight, complete these steps in the morning:

6. Wash away excess product in the shower, never the bath

7. Pat dry your skin to avoid polishing away your new glow

8. Moisturise all over

Choosing the best self-tan for you

The type of self-tan you choose will depend on lots of things. Suppose you’re looking for a natural glow that’s easy to maintain. In that case, you might be best sticking with a tinted moisturiser that helps take the edge off a naturally pale skin tone.

Lots of excellent fake tans develop overnight and can last for many weeks after application. Others wash off straight away; these are best for bare legs only, as they can rub off onto clothes. Instant fake tans should also be avoided if there’s any chance you’ll get wet, or you might find yourself in a total mess. Here are some of the best products you can buy:

The best fake tan for your face
  1. Garnier BB Cream Original Tinted Moisturiser
  2. L’Oreal Paris Skin Paradise Tinted Moisturiser
  3. St Tropez Gradual Tan Tinted Moisturiser + Primer
  4. NUXE Organic Multi-Perfecting Skin Tinted Cream
The best tinted moisturisers for a gradual tan
  1. L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Gradual Tan Lotion
  2. Dove Derma Spa Summer Revived Body Lotion
  3. Garnier Summer Body Gradual Self Tan Moisturiser
  4. Gatineau Golden Glow Gradual Tan
  5. DECLÉOR Neroli Bigarade Gradual Glow Face & Body
  6. St Tropez Gradual Tan Body Lotion
  7. St Moriz Golden Glow Tanning Moisturiser
  8. B.Tan it’s love Gradual Tan Moisturiser
The best fake tans for long-lasting results
  1. Garnier Natural Bronzer Self Tan Mist for Body
  2. Bondi Sands Self-Tanning Mist
  3. Technic Tan Out of Ten Tan Lotion Dark
  4. B.Tan Forever & Ever Self Tan Mousse
The best instant self-tans
  1. St Moriz Instant Self-Tanning Lotion
  2. St Moriz Instant Wash Off Tan
  3. Rimmel Sun Shimmer Instant Tan Matte
  4. Sally Hansen Airbrush Sun Instant Tanning Mousse
  5. Lancaster Sun 365 Instant Self-Tanning Gel Cream
  6. Australian Gold Instant Sunless Lotion

And there you have it! Whether you’re looking for a quick tan that washes off after a day or a longer-lasting product that’ll keep you glowing all year round, there’s something for everyone here. Choose the formula that works best for you, from newbies’ mousse to experienced tanners’ lotion or super-easy spray. Be sure to prep your skin, then wave goodbye to your winter complexion once and for all.

For more tanning tips as well as skincare, makeup, and fragrance advice, keep exploring the Fragrance Direct blog!

Fragrance Direct Blog
Writer and expert
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