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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Lowery

Mastering the Art of Self-Tanning: 5 Steps for a Natural Looking Glow

Updated: Mar 26

The self-care era has prompted many to explore DIY beauty services in the comfort of their homes. With so many products on the market, finding an affordable, quality sunless tanning product is easier than ever and enables you to save time and money that you would otherwise spend at a salon.

But knowing which products to choose, and more importantly, how to apply it without turning out looking like a uneven oompa loompa can be tricky. As a Certified Master Spray Tan Artist, I've sprayed tan hundreds of women and have learned a lot about the art of creating a natural looking tan in the process. That's why in this blog post, I'm sharing all of my secrets to create the most natural looking sunless tan at home. I'll be covering:

  • How to choose the right sunless tanning products for your skin

  • How to prep your skin for sunless tan

  • How to apply self tanning products like a pro

  • How to care for and maintain your sunless tan

So if you're ready to become an expert on how to apply a flawless self tan so that you can save money, boost your confidence, and feel good in the skin you're in, then you're in the right place! Let's get glowing!

How to Choose the Right Sunless Tanning Product for Your Skin

Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients! Just like the food we put into our bodies, the products we put on our skin are also important. You'll want to look for natural, skin-loving ingredients such as collagen, hyaluronic acid, and kakadu plum when looking for sunless tanning products. These nourishing vitamins and nutrients will not only improve the look and feel of your skin but also create a more flawless, natural looking and longer lasting tan.

My favorite professional sunless tanning products are from X-Tan Sunless. I absolutely love the X-Tan Sunless Mousse and my clients agree. I can't seem to keep this stuff on the shelves! This silky, luxurious brown mousse applies like butter and features the nourishing ingredients I mentioned above and more. It's best for achieving a natural looking medium to dark tan and you'll want to leave it on for 8+ hours.

A more budget friendly option that you can find at your local Target, CVS, or on Amazon is the SOL by Jergens Tinted Sunless Tanning Mousse. What I like about this product is that there is no need to wait until you can rinse meaning it can be applied and you're ready to go! I find it best for a light to medium tan and still would recommend rinsing it off after 8 or so hours. If I need a tan immediately and don't want to wait around until I can rinse, it is a great option to have on hand.

How to Prep Your Skin for a Flawless Tan

One of the most important things when it comes to sunless tanning is proper prep! This can alleviate many concerns people have such as streaking and uneven fading. So how do you properly prep for a sunless tan?

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! It may sound surprising but dry skin and sunless tanning is not a good combo. This is because the chemical agent in tanning products, called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), can be very drying to the skin. This is also why it's important to use tanning products that are moisturizing and to not leave tanning products on for too long. In order to keep skin hydrated, drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your sunless tan application and moisturize skin 1-2 times a day, especially after a bath or shower in order to lock in the moisture.

Another great way to achieve silky smooth, hydrated skin is by using the Glow Getter Multi-Oil Hydrating Body Wash by Naturium. This has quickly become one of my favorite body washes of all time! My skin is usually so dry after a shower and now I almost forget to even moisturize because it feels so hydrated.

The second most important thing you'll want to do to prep for your tan, is exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate! My favorites ways to do this are by dry brushing, using an exfoliating mitt or glove with body wash, or by using a sugar scrub.

And, before you ask, a loofa does NOT count as exfoliating! In fact, loofas are not great for your skin period which is why I recommend not using one.

TIP: Exfoliate prior to shaving or waxing for an ultra smooth result and DO NOT exfoliate, shave, or have hair removal services performed the same day as sunless tanning! This can create unfavorable results so it's best to have those things done the day prior.

Now for the fun (or not so fun) part...

How to Apply Sunless Tanning Products like a Pro

Here are my 7 steps for applying sunless tanning products like a pro:

  1. Get out your tanning mitt! Please, do NOT apply self tanning products with your hands! (However, if you do end up needing to remove any unwanted tanning stains on your palms, blue dawn dish soap works well). You'll also want to decide what you're going to wear during the application and after. I suggest tanning in the nude unless you prefer tan lines. You can also use a fun sticker like we did back in the tanning bed days! Afterwards, I recommend wearing loose, dark clothing until it's time to rinse.

  2. Apply a barrier cream (lotion) to the palms of your hands rubbing it in completely (so the mitt isn't slippery). Apply a thin layer of cream to the tops of the hands, in between the fingers, and down to the wrists. Apply a little cream to the elbows, knees, ankles, and tops of feet. Apply lip balm.

  3. Grab your tanning product and give it a little shake. Apply 1-2 of product onto your mitt apply to your body using long strokes beginning at your ankles and working your way up. You'll blend the product out using circular motions as you go. Avoid the armpits and switch hands as needed. For the back, you might want to have someone help you out or you can invest in a back mitt like this one.

  4. For the hands and face, it's best to use a clean makeup brush suck as the X-Tan Sunless Blending Brush. Dispense a small amount of product onto the brush and dab it onto the skin blending it out in circular motions. Slightly bend your fingers to make bear a claw and blend into the knuckle lines.

  5. Take a wet wipe and dab the finger nails and toe nails to prevent any staining. Wipe off the palms.

Optional extras:

  • Apply extra product to the tops of the shoulders where the sun naturally hits.

  • Give yourself a mini contour by using a little extra product to define the forehead, jawline, collar bone, stomach, thighs, under arms, and booty! I like to use the  X-Tan Sunless Blending Brush for this.

  • Make a DIY finishing powder to set the tan in place and help you feel less sticky. Apply with a fluffy brush like this which is what I use on my clients.

  • Use a flat, dense makeup brush (like this one) and use it to blend the fingers, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, feet, neck, and any other places that may have creased or smudged.

TIP: Subscribe to my blog and receive an easy finishing powder recipe!

Once the product feels dry, put on your loose, dark clothes and relax until it's time to rinse. Feel free to do what you need to do around the house, but DO NOT get wet! This is not the time to be doing dishes or giving the kids a bath. Try not to wash your hands! I know (gross), but trust me... Nothing says fake tan like white hands on tanned arms. Use sanitizer or wash just the palms and gently pat dry. Feel free to grab your brush and apply a little more product if needed.

Now that you've applied the tanning product like a pro, here's how to keep it glowing as long as possible...

How to Care for and Maintain Your Sunless Tan

Your first rinse after any a sunless tan application should be a quick, warm (not hot) water rinse. Use your hands to gently guide the bronzers off your skin until the shower water going down the drain runs clear. Do not shave, use soap, or wash your hair. This is just a quick water rinse.

Leave your skin alone and let the tan fully develop which could take 12-24 hours. The next day is the best time to take a shower and wash using a clean ingredient, quality body wash. Still use warm (not hot) water and pat dry with a soft towel (do not rub). Apply your favorite moisturizer that is free of synthetic fragrances, chemicals, and artificial dyes. Moisturizing 1-2 times a day will help keep your skin hydrated and less likely fade prematurely.

If you'll be spending time in the pool, ocean, or other body of water, apply an oil-free lotion based SPF 15-minutes prior to water exposure to help protect the tan from fading.

When your tan does begin to fade, it is best to gently remove it using an exfoliating mitt or glove with body wash, sugar scrub, or the X-Tan Remover.

Then repeat these steps all over again to keep on glowing!

Now you know how to self tan like a pro! I hope this empowers you to feel confident in your ability to achieve a natural looking tan without the harmful effects of UV rays. Be sure to wear your SPF daily and continue prioritizing your self-care. You deserve it.

With love and gratitude,


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