Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Sunless Tanners: How to Choose and Use

How to Apply Self-Tanner

Whatever type of self-tanner you choose, the rules for smooth, even color are the same.

  1. Prep your skin. For a streak-free tan, you need to start with smooth skin. Before she tans, Kelly takes a shower, shaves her legs and sloughs away dead skin and rough spots with a mild liquid cleanser and exfoliating gloves (you can find these slightly nubby mitts in any drugstore). A loofah and a bar of soap or an oil-free body scrub are fine, too. Just be sure, Vezirian says, to stay away from salt or sugar scrubs since those usually contain oils that linger on the skin and prevent the tanner from absorbing.
  2. Pat yourself dry. "You don't want to feel damp at all," Kelly says. If there are body parts that are parched, apply a light layer of moisturizer, and give it a few minutes to sink into your skin.
  3. Pull on some gloves. This will keep your palms from staining and also give you a smooth "applicator" to work with. Vezirian recommends powder-free disposable latex gloves, the type that colorists use in beauty salons.
  4. Work from the bottom up. Apply the self-tanner to your feet, ankles, legs, thighs, abs, chest and arm. Use a small amount and blend in a circular motion.
  5. Go easy on the face. Choose a sunless tanner formulated for the face or mix the product you've used on your body with a light facial moisturizer. Put a dot on your cheeks, forehead, nose and chin, blend. Feather it out to your temples, hairline, and jawline.
  6. Do your hands last. Remove the gloves. Apply a hand sanitizer to your palms so they won't absorb any formula, then put a very small dab on the tops of hands and blend.
  7. Buff. With a slightly damp washcloth, buff any areas that tend to grab too much color, such as elbows, knees and anklebones.
  8. Be patient. Read the package instructions on how long to wait before you get dressed or go to bed so you don't transfer color to your clothes or sheets. With some formulas this might be just a few minutes. "I wait a little bit, but I've never stained anything," Kelly says. Don't take a shower for at least eight hours or a sweaty gym class until the next day.
  9. Fix streaks with this fix-it recipe from Vezirian. Add some water to a teaspoon or so of baking powder to form a paste, apply to the blotchy spots, and buff with a washcloth until the splotches disappear.
  10. Maintain your tan by using a moisturizer every day. Depending on the formula, the faux glow will last from three to seven days.
  11. Start over. When your fake bake fades, always exfoliate all remnants before reapplying. "If you layer new self-tanner over old you're going to end up with an uneven, dirty looking tan," Vezirian says.

Brush up on Beauty

woman applying sunless tanner
Sunless Tanning Guide

How to choose and use the right product.

self tanning lotions
Get a Tan Without the Sun

Answers to your top faux tanning questions.

woman lying in tanning bed
Tanning Bed Dangers

What you need to know before baking indoors.

woman with face turned to sun
Makeup With SPF

Your favorite foundation has SPF. Can you skip sunscreen?

woman with flawless skin
Nourish Parched Skin

Try a Persian yogurt treatment for soft, supple skin.

young woman with bright face
Know How to Brighten Your Skin?

Peels, dermabrasion, lasers. Think you know which is best?

woman in sun on the beach
Soothe Your Sunburn

Too much time in the sun? This at home salve will calm red skin.

applying lip balm
Save Chapped Lips

Balm? Gloss? Repair a dry, damaged pout.

cellulite
Cellulite Solutions

Why you get it and what you can do.

rear view woman wearing towel
Adios Alligator Skin!

Easy ways to pamper dull, dry skin.

woman plucking eyebrows
Solutions for Unwanted Hair

Do you know how to get fuzz-free?

woman eating sushi
Surprising Ways to Reduce Wrinkles

9 secrets for smoother, supple skin.

URAC: Accredited Health Web Site HonCode: Health on the Net Foundation AdChoices