Step One: Do Everything Else
There are a lot of things that can mess with your self tanner if you don’t do them first. Painting your nails, coloring your hair, and shaving your legs can all remove the tanner before it has time to do its work, so make sure you get these tasks done beforehand.
…but not too close beforehand. Before I knew how to apply self tanner I didn’t realize that it’s not a great idea to shave right before you use it. I ended up with all of my pores showing up as little orange dots. Not very classy. I definitely recommend waiting several hours after you shave before applying any self tanner.
Step Two: Exfoliate
Self tanner has a way of sinking in to dry skin and creating weird little dark patches. You can make sure you skip this problem by exfoliating your skin before applying self tanner. Use a natural exfoliating scrub to slough off any flakes, paying special attention to your knees, elbows, ankles, and other rough areas. Use a gentle exfoliator to make sure your face is clear as well.
Step Three: Start From the Bottom
If you start by applying self tanner to your shoulders and torso, you may end up with some weird streaks when you bend over to do your legs. Make sure you get a nice, even tan by starting from the bottom and working up.
Step Four: Use Circles
Squeeze a small amount of self tanner (about a teaspoon or so) into a clean hand. If you prefer, you can wear latex gloves. Work the lotion into your skin using a circular motion. I usually apply tanner to my legs, arms, torso, and face, being careful to avoid sensitive areas like my eyes.
Step Five: Tread Carefully
Be especially cautious when applying self tanner to areas where skin tends to be loose and dry. This includes elbows, knees, and the areas around your nose and top lip. The skin in these areas tends to pick up more color than the surrounding skin, making it easy to end up with dark spots.
It is always a good idea to moisturize these types of areas prior to applying self tanner so you get a more even look. It will also help ensure these areas don’t come out darker than everywhere else.
Step Six: Wash Up
If you decided not to use gloves to apply your self tanner, wash your hands immediately afterwards. This will keep you from ending up with off-color palms. If you end up with streaks or splotches, don’t fear – rub the area with half a lemon then buff it away with a damp towel. It’ll be like it never happened.
Step Seven: Repeat as Needed
You should reach your desired color within six hours. If you don’t, just reapply the following day. I usually end up reapplying every 4-7 days to keep my color consistent, but that number may vary based on what works best for you.
Step Eight: Don’t Forget Sunscreen – Self tanner does not protect against UV radiation. If you plan to spend any time in the sun after using a self tanner, be sure to apply sunscreen.