How To Give Yourself the Perfect Fake Tan, At Home

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

For those of us who can't seem to make an appointment or would rather tan in the privacy of our own homes, there are a host of options to choose from for perfectly bronzed skin. Self-tanners come in a variety of textures and delivery methods, but the most common ones are lotions, gels, and towelettes. But before even getting to the self-tanning part, remember that a good fake tan also requires some prep.

The day before you use self-tanner, carefully exfoliate. If you shave or wax, do so now. The reason for this is that the DHA in self-tanners reacts with amino acids in dead skin cells. Any exfoliation that occurs after applying self-tanner will cause the tan to fade more quickly. In addition, if you have rough spots or patches of dry skin, the tan will come out darker in those areas and create a blotchy tone.

The night before applying self-tanner, moisturize. Make sure your skin is hydrated when you apply self-tanner or the result could end up looking uneven. Most self-tanners also contain a bronzer that is easily rubbed off on fabric and clothing. The reason for this is to ensure that you can see whether or not you've missed spots. Since DHA takes several hours to react, you will not be able to shower immediately. Put aside a set of loose, dark clothing to wear while your self-tanner works its magic.

To make things easier for you, you'll need full use of the bathroom, a long-handled sponge, self-tan remover, Vaseline, a pair of latex gloves, and something to pull your hair away from your face. Once you've gathered your ingredients, you'll have to strip. Swipe Vaseline lightly over eyebrows, lips, and toenails. Put on your gloves. I recommend giving St. Tropez's Tinted Self Tanner a try. It's a popular self-tanning lotion with solid reviews and I've had good results in terms of color. Start with the feet as you work your way up. Apply only a small amount of product to rougher areas such as heels, toes, knees, and elbows.

When you've finished the front of your body, apply self-tanner to a long-handled sponge and work over your back. For the face, St. Tropez recommends mixing the self-tanner with an equal part of moisturizer. Apply only a very light amount of product to eyelids and under the eyes. Wipe off immediately with a tissue to avoid darkening the area too much. Do the same with ears. Remove gloves and apply Vaseline on and around fingernails. Apply a light coat of self-tanner to backs of hands. Immediately wipe palms (and any other mistakes) with self-tan remover. Allow it to stand for a few minutes and then put on the loose clothing. Do not shower or touch water for at least four hours.

After showering, be aware that any exfoliating product will help fade color. This includes retinol and AHA products. Self-tanner usually fades in about five days, so reapplication once a week is necessary to maintain color.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, try a gel-based product. Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel and L'oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Gel are non-oily formulations with a silky feel. However, gels tend to dry more quickly so apply it sparingly. You can always go back and reapply if you want it to be darker.

In addition, if you're worried about the exact color a self-tanner will produce, test it a week before you plan to apply it. Pick an inconspicuous patch of skin on your body (I've used my stomach) and apply. The color should develop within a few hours and you'll have a preview of what to expect. In most cases, I've found that the "fair to medium" products are dark enough for most people and produce a lighter, more natural tan.

If you don't trust yourself with applying self-tanning lotion, go with a self-tanning towel. TanTowel Plus and Estee Lauder both offer no-mess, individually wrapped sheets that you swipe over your body. Again, follow the guidelines above to avoid darker knees and elbows. For those of you pressed for time, stick with a gradual tanning lotion. Jergens Natural Glow and Olay Touch of Sun both feature a very small concentration of DHA that will build up gradually into a bronzed glow. Since you use them the same way you use a regular lotion, they're best for convenience.

Sue Chung
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Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.