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 • Body  • Bodycare Guides  • Here’s Exactly How to Apply Your Fake Tan the Right Way, According to the Experts

Here’s Exactly How to Apply Your Fake Tan the Right Way, According to the Experts

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Main image – Leandrocrespistudio/Stocksy

During the cooler months, there are a couple things most people miss.  Lighter mornings and evenings that don’t make you feel like a hermit. And for those who aren’t in the sunniest of climates, a summer glow. 

If you’re lucky enough to be jetting off somewhere tropical good for you, I’m really happy for you. No really, not jealous, not jealous at all. 

But if, like me, you’re staying put- or you want to get a head start on your pre-holiday tan- you might be thinking about faking a natural glow to banish those pale limbs.

Here, beauty experts Erica Marie Gatt and Ian Michael Crumm take you through the fake tanning process in 11 really simple steps that will give you a flawless glow. From how to do the perfect prep, all the way through to applying your tan for a natural finish, and the best after care. Because we can’t have you streaky now, can we? 


Step 1: Shave and exfoliate in advance

For a glow that’s as flawless – and believable – as possible your skin needs to be super smooth. So, the experts recommend de-fuzzing and getting rid of any dead skin cells with an exfoliator in advance

But how soon after this can you begin the tanning process? “You want to wait a day or two after exfoliating or shaving so that you avoid tiny red dots where the tanner dries into your pores,” explains Gatt


Image – Julia/Adobe


2. Take a shower 2 to 4 hours before tanning

Cleansing the skin – even on your body – is super important before you apply any other products. This is particularly essential if you’re just about to apply fake tan as having cleansed skin creates a smooth canvas for your tanner. 

“You can shower on the same day as applying the tanner but wait at least 2-4 hours post-shower,” Gatt recommends. Also, avoid using any oils, including an oil-based shower gel, as this can cause streaks when you apply your fake tan.


3. Make sure your skin is completely dry

Fake tanning isn’t suited to those wanting to just ‘shower ‘n go’. “Always apply self-tanner on dry skin to prevent streaks and ensure even coverage,” says Crumm.


4. Gather the right tools

You will need a medium to thick moisturiser, a tanning mitt and your fake tanner of choice. Gatt also personally recommends getting a self tan back applicator for getting an even glow on bits that are hard to reach.

When it comes to choosing your self-tanning formula, look for one that’s easy to work with. ‘My favourite tanner formulas to use are a mousse and a lotion because it dries slower allowing you to get a more even application,” Gatt says. 

A tanning mousse is also my personal favourite. Yes, they take longer to dry but this means they are easier to blend. Plus, you’re less likely to make mistakes as you can see the guide colour on your skin.


Image – Jacquimiller/Stocksy


5. Protect key areas

Areas like your knuckles, wrists, ankles, heels, toes, knees and elbows are drier than the rest of your body meaning that they will collect more of your tanner’s pigment. To avoid an uneven finish, dab some of your moisturiser onto each area. 

This will act as a great barrier cream meaning you won’t end up with caked, orange knuckles (for example) after you’ve tanned. From personal experience, I can vouch for the fact that this really works. It doesn’t matter if the moisturiser isn’t absorbed properly either.


6. Put on your tanning mitt

I feel like as soon as tanning mitts were invented, I entered into my prime tanning era. Not only do they make application easier and more even, they also stop the palms of your hands from going orange on-application. 

After all, you should only be applying tanner on the areas where the sun would naturally tan. And your palms probably (definitely) don’t fall into this category!

My favourite mitt is Bare by Vogue Luxury Tanning Mitt (£9 from Bare by Vogue UK). I’m not sure what makes it ‘luxury’, but it definitely helps my tanner to go on more evenly, plus it doesn’t feel rough on the skin.


Image – Bare by Vogue


8. Apply just enough product

“A little goes a long way,” says Gatt. “Treat it like you’re applying your regular body lotion. Apply just enough to cover your entire body.”


9. Use long, smooth strokes

“Apply the self-tanner in sections, starting from the bottom up, using long, smooth strokes,” recommends Crumm. Once I’ve applied moisturizer to the areas mentioned above, my usual system is to start on my arms, moving down towards my hands. 

This is because this area – particularly my hands – will probably get seen the most. So, the application has to be just right, and I want to strike while my moisturiser is still soaking into my knuckles forming a barrier cream.


10. Go easy on delicate areas

These are the areas mentioned above, like your knuckles and ankles. “Use a lighter touch on thicker skin areas,” agrees Crumm.

For hands and feet, I have always been taught to use the bulk of my tanner on the main limb (so arm/leg). Then just use the excess product left on the tanning mitt to quickly sweep over your hands and feet – just once. 

You don’t want to be applying a fresh helping of self-tanner to these areas, or go over them too many times, as they will go too dark and look unnatural. So just use the excess.


11. Blend well

“Pay extra attention to blending at the edges to avoid harsh lines,” advises Crumm. For example, if you’re tanning your tummy, make sure it is blended naturally at the sides so that you’re not one colour from one angle, and a completely different colour from another!


12. Allow enough time to dry

“Wait until the tanner dries completely before dressing,” says Crumm. He says this should take around 10-15 minutes. 

Even though you’ll be dry, make sure you still wear dark clothing after self tanning, or clothes that you don’t care too much about just in case your tan transfers. 

Avoid anything that will involve sweating for at least 12 hours post-tan and don’t shower until the following morning as your colour might come off. 

You will also need to moisturise from head to toe every day if you can, to maintain an even tan. Don’t do this straight after tanning though – make sure it is completely dry first. 


My top rated self-tanners


Image – James Read Tan

  • He-Shi Express Liquid Tan (£22 from Look Fantastic UK) provides the most golden of tans and it dries quickly too. So, if you’re a bit of a pro and you can blend it quickly and apply it evenly, this would be the one for you. It’s definitely not one for beginners.
  • Bare By Vogue Self Tan Foam (£18 from Bare by Vogue UK) is super easy to blend and doesn’t feel dry on the skin. It comes in three different shades (bonus) and I always get compliments on how ‘natural’ my tan looks when I’m wearing this.
  • James Read Rose Glow Tanning Water (£25 from James Read Tan UK /$29 from Niche Beauty US) is the best one I’ve used on my face. It looks super natural and is easy to apply as well as build up over a few days. Plus, it doesn’t have that offensive fake tan smell thanks to its rosy scent.


The takeaway

For a really natural, even tan the key is not to rush the process. Take your time, do the right prep and after care and I promise it’ll be worth all the hard work.

Make sure your skin is smooth and cleansed, invest in a good tanning mitt and don’t forget the all-important moisturizer trick for the drier, thicker areas like your knuckles and knees. 

Make sure you let your tan dry properly before you get dressed and maintain your glow by moisturizing regularly. You’ll have everyone believing you’ve been hanging out in the Mediterranean sunshine in no time.


Meet the experts

Erica Marie Gatt is an aesthetician and founder of EM Skin. Erica honed her talent and channeled her passion under the tutelage of celebrated Los Angeles aesthetician Gina Mari after having spent years as a makeup artist. She’s worked on the face of Vanessa Hudgens, Sofia Vergara, Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian, and many more.  


Ian Michael Crumm is a celebrity aesthetican and beauty expert as well as co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr. Elyse Love. He is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety, is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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