A streaky orange mess doesn’t have to be your destiny.

A couple years ago I decided to buy myself a selfless tanner looking for a very subtle glow. You'd think I'd have enough wherewithal to read the instructions, but I eagerly dispensed the product onto my hands and applied it to my body with what seemed like precision and care. Fast forward 12 hours and I was horrified to see I was not only orange, but also streaky and uneven.

Knowing I had happy hour with the girls later that night, I think I must have frantically showered five different times and partook in way too much exfoliation. It faded a little, but I still got wide eyes and even a "OMG, what happened?" comment. Yikes. 

self-tanner-mistakes: woman applying self-tanner
Credit: Tamara Bellis/unsplash.com

I clearly learned the hard way that it is far too easy to make mistakes when using a faux tanner, but you don't have to! Whether you're gearing up for your first at-home faux tan or you've already made a few errors and are hoping to correct your ways, heed these common self-tanner mistakes.

1 Forgoing Adequate Skin Prep

One of the keys to an excellent faux tan (that lasts!) is exfoliation. "Before applying faux tanner, your skin should be completely clean, dry, and exfoliated to remove any dead, dry skin," says Samantha Magill, a tanning expert and the co-creator of Tournesol Beauty.

A simple physical body scrub made with salt or sugar is all you need to get the job done. Make sure to really zero in on notoriously rough spots, like your elbows and knees. In addition, remember to moisturize your skin in the days leading up to your self-tanner application so your skin is soft and evenly hydrated.

2 Shaving or Exfoliating Right Before Applying

While exfoliating is a must, you do want to time it right. "One of the most common self-tanner mistakes I see—and warn my clients about—is shaving or exfoliating immediately before self-tanning," says Ashlynne Serrano-Padilla, a professional makeup artist and body artist. Instead, exfoliate or shave a day or two before application. On the day of, shower and completely dry off before cracking open that self-tanner.

3 Over-Applying on Your First Application  

It's way easier to apply less now and add to your faux tan than it is to deal with over-application. James Read, founder of the eponymous at-home selfless tanner line, says, "It's best to build your tan up over a few days so you never go too tanned." Wait for your faux tan to develop, assess the glow, then gradually layer as needed.

4 Using Bare Hands

Using bare hands to apply is arguably one of the worst self-tanner mistakes people make. It's also a total faux tan giveaway. "I recommend using tanning mitts or soft velour towels to avoid hand stains," says Padilla. This keeps the products off your hands and allows for a more even application in the process.

If you do use your hands, or you want them to get a little tan as well, Read has a pro tip for you. He says not to rinse right away, but to instead wait about a half hour before washing. This gives a subtle, natural-looking glow.

5 Moving Too Fast

When applying your faux tanner, try not to rush the process. "Start at the back of the body, behind the knees, and under your arms—all of those hard-to-reach areas—and slowly make your way to the easier, larger parts of the body," says Padilla. "For any areas like the thigh crease, get more leverage by using your toilet to prop your leg up diagonally."

6 Not Giving Your Tanner Time to Dry

After applying your faux tanner, wait until it has completely dried before wrapping yourself in a towel, laying down, putting clothes on, or even sweating. (Pro tip: Turn your A/C down a few clicks). It's also a good idea to prevent skin-on-skin touching. Basically, any move that can potentially smear, smudge, or transfer your product should be avoided. Certain products dry faster than others, so follow the product instructions. When in doubt, wait a little bit longer.

7 Forgetting to Hydrate Your Skin

You worked hard to get a flawless faux tan—make sure you help it last as long as possible. Daily moisturizing is the best way to do so. This is especially important if you're gradually increasing your glow or plan to consistently reapply.

With quality products and following this advice, you can enjoy your faux tan for a good week at least. When the time comes to remove it, Padill recommends dry brushing first, then using an exfoliant in the shower to speed up the fading process.