Of all the beauty treatments you choose to embrace, self-tanning can feel like quite the quandary. Sure, a sun-kissed glow year-round is nice (as long as you’re not damaging your skin with UV exposure), but when it comes to actually mustering up the energy to self-tan, it’s a process many put off — and between splotchy knees and orange streaks, it’s easy to see why. Whether you're a tanning newbie or are committed to your bottle of golden glow, everyone has experienced a tanning faux pas at some point or another. Unintentional tiger strips aside, fake tanning can be a messy process that entails more than just stained fingers. That being said, achieving a golden glow at home doesn’t have to be a drag. And with summer around the corner (and dull quarantine complexions hopefully on their way out), 'tis the season for achieving a sun-kissed glow — the right way.
Hack #1: Apply Self-Tanner With A Makeup Brush
If you’re on a bad luck streak with your tanning mitt, Brittney Bennett, owner of BeBronze Studio in Los Angeles, says to use a makeup brush — especially for thinner areas like your hands and feet. “You’re more likely to use firmer pressure and over-apply self-tanner if you use a mitt, which can cause places like your hands and feet to turn out much darker,” she says. “Instead, I like to apply one pump of self-tanner onto a mitt, then use a powder makeup brush as my tool to pick up the product and apply.”
And because makeup brushes have bristles (unlike a tanning mitt), they’re better able to reach spots that are missed often (such as the space in between your fingers). If you’re still unsure how to apply tanner on your hands with a brush, follow Bennet’s sage advice: “Make sure you spread your fingers as wide as possible, otherwise you’ll run the risk of webbed white splotches on the area that connects your fingers,” she tells TZR. “Also, keep your fingers in a bent position to ensure you evenly tan the creases of the knuckles.” Most importantly, make sure you’re using light pressure and circular motions with the brush.
Hack #2: Put Self-Tanner In A Continuous Misting Bottle
TikTok is home to a slew of viral beauty hacks — this one involving filling up a misting bottle with spray tan included. To try this at home, pour your self tanner into the bottle, shake it, and mist it onto the areas you wish to tan for a mess-free, all-over glow. This hack is especially useful to ensure the tan on your face is even. One caveat? According to Courtney Claghorn, founder of sugaring and airbrush studio Sugared+Bronzed, it’s important to note that not just any sunless tanning product can go in any spray bottle or mister. “Different product consistencies require different types of application, and the wrong combination could lead to a freckle effect,” she warns. Save the misting bottle for your liquid formulas.
Hack #3: Shave 24 Hours Before Tanning
If you thought shaving right before a self-tanning session was the golden rule, turns out it’s better to do it a whole 24 hours before. “When you shave your legs too close to the time you self tan, you are allowing those hair follicles to open up, which allows the product to settle in there and cause dots,” warns Bennett. “You also run the risk of your spray tan turning out streaky, as razors can leave a film on your skin, which makes it harder for the solution to adhere properly.” Bottom line: Shave the day before you plan on getting your glow on.
Hack #4: Blast Skin With Cold Water Pre-Tanning To Avoid Clogging Pores
Those aforementioned pores? You’ll want to close them up with a cold water rinse before you begin your tanning session. This will reduce the risk of them clogging, thus contributing to an uneven tan — remember, you want as smoother and seamless a surface as possible to apply your self-tanner. Plus, according to Bennett, the cold water helps the skin maintain the perfect pH balance, which ultimately creates a more even, natural-looking tan.
Hack #5: Apply Moisturizer to Porous Areas Prior To Tanning
“Hands and feet are more porous areas and therefore don't require as much self tanner,” notes Bennett. “By applying a little bit of moisturizer before tanning, it creates a small barrier that ensures you don't place too much product on those areas.” But beware of using too much lotion — the goal is to moisturize the area, not create a barrier that’s super thick and won’t dry evenly. Bennett recommends about a dime size per area.
If you’re prone to dryness on your elbows and knees (as many are), applying lotion on those areas can help your application as well. “Dry areas tend to absorb sunless tanning products more intensely than other areas, which can make them appear unnaturally dark if not handled properly,” says Claghorn. “It’s important that you rub [the moisturizer] in completely before you self-tan and only cover the area once [to avoid over-applying].” Most non-comedogenic lotions or creams will do the trick, but Claghorn recommends avoiding oil-based moisturizers prior to sunless tanning in order to prevent the self-tanner from separating or appearing splotchy.
Hack #6: Remove Splotches With An Exfoliating Mitt
Even the most experienced self-tanners have had their fair share of splotchiness. Bennett’s tip? Exfoliating mitts. You may be familiar with them when it comes to removing an old tan or a tan that has started to fade poorly, but they can also help with removing splotchiness — just make sure you don’t push too harshly on the skin. This slight exfoliation can soften those harsh edges as your self-tan begins to fade, and help you prolong your old product until you’re ready for your next session.
Ready to master your faux tan? Find the best self-tanning products to help you out below.
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Don’t have someone to help you self-tan your back? Claghorn says your best bet is a bronzing mist. “It’s much easier to spray your back from different angles than it is to apply a lotion or a mousse,” she says.
A moisturizer is key to a glowing (and long-lasting) faux tan. Go for an oil-free formula since they’re less likely to break down your tan. This one from St. Moriz is the ultimate tan enhancer: it preps skin, maintains your tan, and even features aloe vera to get rid of dry spots.
Whether you’re looking to bronze up your skin pre-tropical vacation or you just want a hint of tan (the sunless way), gradual tanning products are a winner. This spray-lotion from Supergoop! offers just that, and features SPF 40 for skin that’s glowing, tanned, and protected.
What do you get when you mix a bronzing formula with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C? Bondi Sands’ sleeping mask, an overnight lotion that applies just like your regular night cream, except it delivers golden, hydrated, and radiant skin come morning.
Tanning wipes are to newbies what avocado is to toast — a match made in heaven. These wipes from M-61 not only offer a foolproof way to build a gradual tan, but they exfoliate the skin with glycolic and salicylic acids, soothe with chamomile, and promote an even skin tone with vitamin K.
Beautiful things happen when the worlds of skin care and tanning collide, as evidenced by Drunk Elephant’s bronzing drops that merge everything beauty buffs know and love about serums with a complexion-flattering bronzy glow.
Color transfer is a non-issue with this self-tan spritz that goes on clear. Plus, you can use it over top makeup for a glowy pick-me-up throughout the day.