Self Tan 101: How to Fake Tan At Home, According to The Experts
Self Tan 101: How to Fake Tan At Home, According to The Experts

Self Tan 101: How to Fake Tan At Home, According to The Experts

7 minutes read

The pursuit for tanned, radiant skin isn’t a recent occurrence, but has been ongoing for decades. It’s growth in popularity throughout the 20th and 21st century has hit all time highs as people crave that year-round just-got-back-from-holiday glow.

However, as scientists have since discovered, laying out in the sun to achieve this is never a good idea. According to Harvard Medical School, there is more than enough evidence suggesting that continued sun exposure causes skin cancer, as well as age spots, leathery skin and wrinkling.

Self-tanning products offer a simple and safe way to achieve sunless tan. When you apply self-tanner, a molecule called DHA (which stands for dihydroxyacetone) reacts with the amino acids in your skin, darkening it. They’ve been around since the ‘50s, and yet, most of us haven’t perfected the art of self-tanning at home. To solve this, we’ve put together a complete, error-proof guide to fake tan in your own bathroom.

From prep steps to the process and aftercare, here’s a complete rundown of fake tan tips for beginners.

How to get a fake tan at home

Yes, it’s nice to get a fake tan done professionally. But a sunless tan carried out from the comfort of your home can be just as good. Plus, it has its benefits:

“Finding a decent home tanning regimen has been a revelation as I’m not genetically blessed with bronze-hued skin,” says Sarah Joan Ross, Beauty Daily Editor.

“It gives me confidence before sporting a swimsuit and sinking my toes into the sand in the summer. I usually just add some Booster Drops to my everyday lotion and build up the colour gradually. I find this better than trying to fit in a salon appointment and avoid the brown colour transfer that can be left onto your clothes.

Plus, once my swanky salon tan was ruined by a sudden British downpour – leaving me with tiger-style streaks all down my legs. It was good money literally washed down the drain and not the desired look for my Barbados break!”

Self-tan drops for the body

Here are the best fake tan tips to help you prep your skin for the summer…

How do you find the best self-tanning product for you?

A few decades ago, self-tanning was tricky business – the products were densely pigmented, stained badly and smelled terrible. They left you with streaks all over and we’re a nightmare to remove quickly. Thankfully, we now have so many fake tan options available that look natural and apply seamlessly. Pick one that suits your needs.

A gradual tan like the Self Tanning Milky Lotion offers natural-looking colour along with loads of hydration. “You would apply this self-tanner just like a body lotion,” Clarins Beauty Coach, Rebecca Jones shares. “Apply it to all areas, making sure you’re taking extra care around the hands, the fingers, the wrists and the ankles to avoid any uneven application, and then shower off the guide colour the following morning, as normal.”

For more instant results, try the Self Tanning Instant Gel that’s non-greasy and absorbs into the skin quickly, delivering a golden glow within minutes.

But if you prefer to customise the exact level of colour you want on your skin, the Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Boosters (with different variants for the face and the body) are for you. The oil-concentrated base texture mixes in with the day or night cream, or body lotion of your choice.

Think you need some more colour the next day? “Apply the same amount of drops the following day if you desire a much deeper tan,” Jones recommends. “However, if you’re happy with the tan that you got from the first application, just top up the colour every three to four days.”

Model with sultry bronze glow

Do you shave before or after fake tanning?

It’s always a good idea to shave before you self-tan. Shaving mildly exfoliates the top layer of your skin, which means that the razor could shave off some colour along with the hair it was intended to remove.

However, shaving right before you fake tan could lead to open pores. If you’ve ever noticed small brown spots on your skin after fake tanning, this could be the cause. It’s the result of the tanning product accumulating in your pores and darkening them. A simple solution? Conduct all hair removal at least 24 hours before you plan to tan. Alternatively, you could also use an ice pack on your skin post-shaving to shrink the pores. Then, go ahead and apply your self-tanner.

How to prep for fake tan

Everything from patchiness to uneven fading can be avoided with good skin prep. The process begins a few days before you self-tan. There are three main steps to remember:

Exfoliate: You don’t want your self-tan clinging to skin cells that are on the verge of shedding, which is why exfoliating is vital.

Use a gentle exfoliator like the Exfoliating Body Scrub that polishes away dry, flaky skin. It also contains shea butter which ensures your skin feels moisturised post-scrub. For the face, you could try the Fresh Scrub that’s packed with natural beads made from wood cellulose.

Ideally, exfoliate 24 hours before you plan to self-tan to ensure there’s no oil residue on the skin that could interfere with the tanning agent. However, exfoliating after you fake tan can be really beneficial. More on that ahead.

Moisturise: Skin that’s well-moisturised works as the best canvas for a fake tan. Follow a thorough moisturising routine for a few days before you plan to self-tan. On the day, however, keep it light. A rich moisturiser could prevent the tan from adhering to your skin.

But, if your knees, ankles and elbows tend to get dry, coat them in a light layer of moisturiser just before you tan. Similarly, rub some lotion on areas where the product can build up like the gaps between fingers, the wrists and toes, and also on any sunspots that the tanner could cling to. This will prevent them from developing a darker tan.

Cleanse: You want your skin to be free of all oil, dirt and product residue before you begin fake tanning. Choose a gentle option like the Hydrating Gentle Foaming Cleanser that cleans without stripping the skin.

What’s the best way to apply fake tan?

Face: Massage the product into the skin using circular motions, blending it into the hairline and then bringing it down to the neck and décolletage. Remember to use a little less product than you think you need for a natural look. You can always add more later.

Pro tip: using a fluffy powder brush to apply your tan will help you buff the product into the skin. You could also use a little extra to sculpt your face by sweeping the product into the hollows under your cheeks, the temples and the jawline. This works almost like semi-permanent makeup.

Body: Use a tanning mitt for your body, starting from your feet and working your way up. Apply the product using long sweeping motions. For hard-to-reach areas like your back, attach your tanning mitt to a wooden spoon or body brush with a handle so you can spread the product with ease.

Can you moisturise after a fake tan?

You can and you must. Keeping your skin hydrated at all times is the key to ensuring maximum glow and a slow, even fade. In addition to moisturising, Jones recommends that you “exfoliate the face and the body twice a week to enhance the colour of the tan.”

The do’s and don’ts of fake tan


  • Use an applicator mitt to apply fake tan. It protects your hands from staining and helps achieve an even colour.
  • Wear sunscreen. Self-tanner absolutely doesn’t replace your SPF. You may be a bronzed goddess but If you’re heading out in the sun, don’t forget to slather on a sunscreen of your choice. The Sun Care Body Lotion-in-Spray UVA/UVB 50+ is perfect for on-the-go applications and SPF touch ups.


  • Apply retinol along with your fake tan. Retinol and other exfoliating ingredients like
    glycolic, salicylic or lactic acids could cause your tan to come off. It’s best to use these active ingredients a few days before you self-tan.

Pregnant and want a golden glow? Read all the do’s and don’ts in Your Complete Pregnancy Safe Self-Tan Guide.

For more tips on the best methods to self-tan, read our piece on How To Remove Fake Tan Like A Pro.


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