Self tanning lotion can be a mystery if you’ve never learned to use it before. How does it work? Can it be as simple as just putting on lotion? And how can you avoid looking like you just got a horrendously fake tan? Is self tanner the same thing as sunless tanning lotion?
First, the answer to the last question is yes. Self tanning and sunless tanning refer to the same thing. Each refers to being able to tan by yourself, without the sun.
(image from bestproducts.com)
As for how to use self tanning lotion, once you understand how it works, it can be as simple to use as putting on lotion. But in addition to just putting it on, there are also a few things you can do to avoid giving away that your tan is fake. By learning about self tanning and following the instructions here, you’ll be on your way to maintaining that healthy glow without those trips to the tanning salon.
How Self Tanner or Sunless Tanning Works
The main ingredient in practically all sunless tanning products is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA darkens the old layers of skin on your body, the dead skin cells that are due to come off in a few days. That’s why a sunless tan starts to fade after a few days.
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When use as directed, DHA is known to be a safe product to use on your skin. Be careful of getting any DHA products on or in sensitive parts of your body like your eyes, nose, or mouth. Don’t use DHA products if you have any open wounds. Although DHA has been tested and studied for use on your skin, the effects of ingesting it or it entering your body are unknown.
Now, since DHA works by darkening old layers of skin, any parts of your body with more dry or old skin than others can get noticeably darker after you apply self tanner. The other common miss when using self tanner is not keeping product off of parts of your body that you don’t want to get darker.
Because of how DHA works and the things you might miss when using self tanner, these instructions will lead you step by step through getting that natural glow without the awkward giveaways that your tan is fake.
Prepare Your Skin
Before you just start putting on self tanner, your skin needs to be ready for it. This means making it fresh, clean, and ready for the perfect sunless tan. To do this, there are just a few simple steps you need to take. Wash and exfoliate, then dry.
Wash and Exfoliate
The first step is to make sure your skin is perfectly clean and freshly exfoliated. Since self tanner darkens your old skin cells, any area with more old skin than the others will look darker.
If you don’t exfoliate regularly, it’s highly recommended to spend the week before your first sunless tanning session exfoliating your skin every time you wash. By trying to get a full exfoliation all at once, you might not get some spots as well and you’ll irritate your skin.
When you exfoliate, pay special attention to areas that are more likely to have thicker layers of old, dry skin that can get darker when you’re self tanning. This includes your hand, between your fingers, your wrists, elbows, knees, and around your ankles and feet.
(image from mauieleganttan.com)
One last thing to keep in mind for this part is to not use oil based washes and products. As great as they leave your skin feeling moisturized, they leave behind residual oil on your skin. That oil prevents your self tanning lotion from binding well to the old layers of skin on your body to achieve that darker color you’re striving for. In the worst case, it might block your self tanner from some areas of your body while letting more through in others, leaving you with a blotchy tan.
As obvious as this might sound, you want to be completely dry before you put on any sunless tanning products. Just like how using oil based washes can leave behind residual oil that prevents your self tanner from working, any moisture left on your skin can do the same.
After drying yourself thoroughly with a towel, give yourself a good 10 minutes to let yourself air dry completely. Only once you’re completely dry are you ready to start putting on product.
When it comes to applying your self tanning lotion, it’s just as important where you choose not to apply any product as where you do. Here’s a checklist to follow to make sure you haven’t missed any details.
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Don’t skip out on product. By trying to get more spread out of a limited amount of product, you’re more likely to end up with lighter patches on your body where your lotion was spread too thin. With a liberal coating of tanning lotion on your body, your skin can only take up so much color. Apply generously everywhere you’re trying to tan, then remove tanner anywhere you want to avoid.
Use a Mitt
Using a mitt gives you two important advantages when applying self tanning lotion. The first is that it can help you apply product evenly across your entire body. You won’t leave finger streaks across hard to apply areas like your shoulders and back by using a mitt.
(image from tuscantan.com.au)
The other key thing a mitt does for you is keep product off of your hands and nails. Getting your hands too dark, especially your palms or between your fingers is an easy mistake to make when you’re first starting out. DHA also likes to bond with your nails to color them. Avoid the mess of getting product around your nails by using a mitt.
If you must absolutely apply product without using a mitt, keep your hands clean as you apply product on different parts of your body.
Wipe and Blend Key Areas
For easy reference, here are the areas of your body you need to watch out for possibly getting too dark or even tanned at all:
(image from totalbeauty.com)
- Palms – Your palms naturally don’t get tanned like the rest of your body. Leaving too much product on your palms is a recipe for a disastrous look. Wipe your palms clean to keep them from getting dark. You should, however, use a mitt to avoid this problem to begin with.
- Nails – Just like with your skin, DHA in self tanning lotions can bind to your nails to make them darker. Just like with your palms, using a mitt can help you avoid getting DHA on your nails at all, but give your nails a good wipe and clean to prevent unwanted coloration.
- Hands and Feet – Your hands and feet often have more dry or old skin hanging around in some areas. Wipe off any product from between your fingers and toes as well as your wrists and ankles. If you do so, blend in product from the rest of your hands and feet to give yourself a natural fade all throughout.
- Elbows and Knees – Elbows and knees are also common problem spots for many tanners. There’s a lot of extra skin at the points of your elbows and knees to account for all the bending they need to do. Dilute product in those areas or give them a wipe so you don’t end up with dark patches of skin in those spots.
After you’re done applying your favorite self tanning product, you might think you’re done, but you’re not quite in the clear yet. Don’t forget to follow these two critical steps to ensure you get the best results possible.
Follow any instructions that come with your lotion to dry completely. Don’t put on any clothes you don’t want to spoil or lay on anything until you’re sure that the product is dry. Don’t worry. It shouldn’t take too long for your product to set.
2. Avoid Water
This is the magic step. You need to avoid water for as much as 4-6 hours after your self tanning lotion has dried. Some people even encourage you to go as long as 6-10 hours. Avoiding water also means that you need to avoid sweating. For this reason, many people apply self tanner at night and just sleep with the dry product overnight. Some sunless tanners swear by this approach, but find out what works for you and your product.
Fixing Self Tanning Mistakes
Self tanning mistakes largely come in two varieties. You either have areas that are too dark or areas that are too light. Or, you can have streaks or blotchy areas that have both. Luckily, sunless tans aren’t permanent for long. In the meantime, however, there are really only two things you can do to fix these mistakes.
(image from brownallyear.com)
If you’re too dark, you can exfoliate to lighten your skin or blend in any streaks or splotches. Regular exfoliation in the shower should work just fine, but you can also try using a baking soda and lemon juice scrub to lighten your skin.
If you’re too light, you can just apply more product in that area. Be sure to blend it well against darker areas or any visible streaks and lines.
You now know everything you need to know to go use self tanning lotion. Remember, even though you look tanner, your tan doesn’t give you any extra protection from the sun. Continue to use sunscreen whenever you’re out in the sun.
Keep an eye out for my sunless tanning routine to learn how you can make this a fun and regular part of your weekly care.