How to Apply Self Tanner

Achieving a top-to-bottom faux glow can be a messy, streaky task. But don’t blanch at trying it at home. Just follow these quick steps from Jamie Ahn, the owner of the Townhouse Spa, in New York City.

Photo by Danielle Kroll

1. Cleanse and...

For the best results, apply self-tanner to clean skin—ideally at the end of the day, after a shower. (Doing it in the morning can be rushed and doesn’t allow for drying time.) Use a gel cleanser to avoid streak-causing residue. And resist shaving. This opens your pores, which can also lead to streaks.

2. ...Exfoliate

In the shower, scrub with a gel-based exfoliator (not one that’s suspended in oil, which hampers penetration). No pumice stone? Use an emery board to slough off scaly patches on the elbows, knees, and backs of heels to prevent uneven absorption and streaks.

3. Start With Your Face

Tuck your hair into a shower cap, then spread Vaseline on the hairline and brows to avoid staining. If you have dry skin, choose a self-tanning cream designed for the face. (It will be extra-emollient.) Using a spray? Hold the can six to eight inches away. With either formula, start at the perimeter and work inward. Last, extend color down to the neck and chest.

4. Move to Your Middle

If you’re using a cream formula, rub a golf ball-size dollop between your hands and spread it onto the abdominal area in a circular motion (lift your breasts to reach the skin below). With what’s left on your hands, cover your rear. If you’re using a spray, coat the same areas in several vertical and horizontal passes.

5. Do Your Limbs

If you still have a dime’s worth of cream on your hands (and if you don’t, squeeze more out), use it to cover the front and back of your arms and legs, including the thighs. Then hit the tops of your hands and feet. With a spray, a single coat will do for these areas.

6. Get Your Back

Rub another golf ball-size portion between your hands. With your left arm over your right shoulder, swipe across the shoulder blades as far down as you can reach; switch sides. Twist your arm behind your back to reach lower spots. Or use a spray to cover the same areas. Last, wash your hands and blow-dry your skin on the cool setting to speed absorption.