Ultimate Guide to Glow: How to Apply Self Tanner for Beginners

If you want to learn how to apply self tanner without streaks and orange palms, look no further. We’re sharing our tried and true step-by-step tutorial for applying the glow.

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How to Apply Self Tanner

My journey with sunless tanners has been long and filled with much trial and error. My earliest memory was in the 7th grade.

I was a cheerleader and it was game day. But my legs were as white as sheets. So I went into my mom’s bathroom and found an old bottle of sunless tanner.

I poured some on my legs and headed off to school. As the day went on, my legs, and hands, started to change color. But this is not the glowing bronzy color I was expecting, it was ORANGE!

That’s right, my legs were orange and full of streaks! How embarrassing! Mind you, this was in the mid-90s and self-tanning formulas have come a long way.

And besides, who wants to sit out in the sun and bake their skin? UV rays are sure to age your skin and also put you at a greater risk for skin cancer.

Whether you’re a self-tanning newbie or a pro, I know you’ll get some great tanning tips in this post.


If you’re new to self tanners, the story I shared is probably not a good way to start. But it just shows you that I completely understand your apprehension.

Who wants to walk around with an orange tan anyway? Well, my friend, you are in good (clean) hands!

I’ll walk you through the best way to apply self tanner for a natural-looking glow with his step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Pick the Right Self Tanning Formula

Just like not all skin is the same, not all sunless tanners are the same. You’ll want to consider your skin type when choosing the right product.

If you have dry skin, you’ll need a formula with added hydration. Look for glycerin or hyaluronic acid which helps absorb moisture into the skin.

If you have oily skin, be sure the self-tanning products you are using are labeled as “non-comedogenic”, meaning they’re formulated to not clog pores.

Another thing to consider is if the product is labeled for fair skin, medium skin, or darker skin tones.

Does the formula work with warm skin tones?

Do you have to apply before bed for the best results?

Can you apply makeup over it?

All things to consider before purchasing.

In my experience, tanners with a green undertone work best with my pale skin. Green-based tanners cancel out red tones, which is ideal if your skin is more on the pink side.

Violet-based tanners work well with those with olive skin or darker tones. Violet cancels out unwanted yellow tones.

Loving Tan Platinum // St. Tropez Mousse

Step 2: Prep the Skin (Shave + Exfoliate)

You’ll want to prep your skin a day before you plan to self-tan. Prepping the skin helps create an even canvas for a flawless application.

This also helps with getting rid of dead skin cells and avoiding dry patches, streaks, and strawberry legs.

I usually prep the night before.

In the shower, exfoliate your entire body with either a body scrub or scrub mitt. You will also want to shave your legs at this time. Allow at least 12 hours between shaving and tanning to give your body enough time to close those pores and give you a more even application.

If you shave the day that you apply self-tanner, the formula will seep into your open pores and pool, causing something similar to strawberry legs.

Also, be sure to remove any old tan residue. You could gently scrub off using a scrubbing mitt or use the Loving Tan Deluxe Tan Removal.

OUAI body scrub // Loving Tan Deluxe Tan Removal // Scrub Glove

Step 3: Prime the Skin for Application

Next, after you exfoliate and shave, apply an oil-free moisturizer. Be sure to pay extra attention to dry areas like the knees, elbows, and feet.

Avoid applying thick moisturizer the day you plan to apply your self tanner. Doing so may create a barrier and keep the formula from working its magic correctly.

Depending on how dry your skin is, you may want to add a light layer of moisturizer to dry areas mentioned above.

Dry skin tends to absorb the product so you could add a little moisturizer to help dilute the intensity of the tan in these areas.

Step 4: Load the Tanning Mitt with the Product

I know this step may be a given, but I added it to remind you to use a tanning mitt, instead of your bare hands.

The applicator mitt is going to help with even application and buff the product into your skin. This will also help with those pesky orange palms — who wants that?

You should also work with a damp tanning mitt. A slightly damp mitt will help distribute the product evenly and help you avoid streaks.

I work in sections and apply one pump of lotion or mousse onto the glove. Too much product and you’ll have to cover a larger area of your body which can get overwhelming.

Many formulas dry fast. For best results, work in small sections and work fast.

See a tutorial of how I apply self-tanner in this Instagram Highlight.

How to fix self tanner streaks

To fix self-tanner streaks, apply a minimal amount of self-tanner to your tanning mitt. Then, buff the product to the area that needs to be fixed.

Use small circular motions to buff the area until the streaks are gone.

Coco & Even Tanning Mitt // Loving Tan Back Applicator

Step 5: Apply Self Tanner (Save Hands and Face for Later!)

I like to start with the tops of my feet. The reason for this is that when you bend over, you naturally will bend at the waist, creating folds in your skin.

This could create streaks if you start with your torso. So I start at my feet, work my way up both legs, then my torso, chest, and finally my arms — do NOT use the applicator mitt on the back of your hands.

As I work on each section, I apply light pressure and buff the product in a circular motion. I do this until the self-tanner has absorbed into the skin and the application looks even.

For many self-tanners, the color at application will be much lighter than the final color. Sunless tanners can take 1-4 hours to fully develop.

During this time, you will want to make sure you stay clear of any liquids. I recommend waiting at least 10 minutes before getting dressed. Dress in loose clothing and avoid white at all costs!

PRO TIP: Do not forget to apply a tanner between the toes. After applying it on the top of my feet, I use whatever is left on the mitt to deposit product between each toe. Avoid the bottom of your feet. I also recommend flexing your foot to expose any folds right above your heel.

Step 6: Tan the Face

Next, you’ll want to tan your face. The reason I tan my face before my hands is that my facial tanners are applied with my hands which will need to be washed afterwards.

how to apply self tanner without a mitt

There are a ton of facial tanners on the market — liquids, creams, sprays, you name it. These are a convenient way to apply more frequently than most body self tanners.

In my experience, facial tanners work best when mixed with a moisturizer.

Because many apply invisibly, it’s hard to gauge how much product is on the skin. Mixing with a moisturizer dilutes the tanner for a more foolproof, and even application.

If you want to go darker, you can always repeat the process until you get your desired results.

I start with a nickel-sized amount of moisturizer on the palm of my hand. Then, I drop in 2-4 drops of sunless facial tanner.

Mix completely and apply to your face as you would any moisturizer.

Be sure to bring some product past your jawline and down your neck. Don’t forget to blend around the back of your ears as well.

Finally, wash your hands with soap and water — don’t forget to wash in between your fingers and underneath your fingernails.


Lux Unfiltered No. 12 Tanning Drops // St. Tropez Purity Vitamins // Tan-Luxe The Face Tanning Drops

I’ve recently started using the St.Tropez Tanning Face Mist to get a subtle glow. It’s easy to apply and you don’t have to mix it with a moisturizer.

Step 7: Tan the Hands

The back of the hands can be a little tricky at first. You want to pay extra attention to this area because it’s always on display.

For the hands, I recommend using a dense brush, like a kabuki brush. This will help you better control how much product you want to apply to the back of your hands.

For this area, you want to use as little product as possible. While the applicator mitt is lying on the counter, I pump some tanning mousse once onto the mitt.

Then, I dip my brush to grab a little bit of the product.

Next, I’ll start applying it to the back of my hands. I also make sure to extend every joint and knuckle to expose any folds — pretend you are holding an invisible baseball.

When you’re done, DO NOT wash your hands.

The brush should have done a good job of keeping your palms clean. Avoid anything that will require you to wash your hands for at least 2-3 hours.

PRO TIP: Before applying self-tanner to the back of my hands, I get a small washcloth wet. I then wring it out to use afterward. If you accidentally get the product on your palms or fingertips, use the damp washcloth to carefully rub it off.

Dolce Glow Kabuki Brush // Coco & Eve Kabuki Brush

How to Maintain Your Sunless Tan

Sunless tanning products may last one week with maintenance. Of course, this also depends on your lifestyle.

If you’re someone who is always in the water or you work out regularly and sweat profusely, your tan may not last as long.

Daily shaving will also shorten the life of your tan. You’ll most definitely want to avoid any exfoliating.

The best way to maintain the glow is with constant hydration. When your skin is dry, it tends to flake and look dull and ashy.

You could also prolong your tan with gradual tanning lotions. These products have minimal color deposits and are great for “filling in” the areas that are starting to fade.

For me, the color on the lower leg goes first. Mainly because of shaving. I use a fresh blade when I shave to keep from having to go over the same spot more than once.

Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen! Sunless Tanners don’t have SPF, so be sure to lather on sun protection every day.

St. Tropez Prep & Maintain // Lux Unfiltered No. 32 // Tan-Luxe The Gradual

How to Apply Self Tanner to Back

Applying self tanner to your back can be difficult. If you don’t have an extra set of hands to help you out, try a back applicator. These help with hard-to-reach areas and can assist with blending the back to the front.

How to Fix Self Tanner Mistakes

If you are trying to fix a self-tanner mistake and there is no way to buff out a streak or blotchy application, you can always use a self-tanner remover.

You can also exfoliate with an exfoliating mitt or brush.


This post was all about how to apply self tanner.

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