7 Self-Tanner Mistakes Everyone Makes—and How to Fix Them

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

A couple of years ago I was looking for a very subtle glow and decided to buy myself a self-tanner. I eagerly dispensed the product onto my hands without reading the instructions and applied it to my body with what seemed like precision and care. Fast forward 12 hours. The horrifying result: I was not only orange but also streaky and uneven.

With a happy hour to attend later that night, I frantically showered five different times and partook in way too much exfoliation. It faded a little, but I still got several wide-eyed reactions and even an "OMG, what happened?" comment. Yikes.

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

Needless to say, it's 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, read on and learn from these common self-tanner mistakes.

01 of 07

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 in the days leading up to your self-tanner application so your skin is soft and evenly hydrated.

02 of 07

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.

03 of 07

Over-Applying the First Time

It's way easier to apply less now and add to your faux tan later than it is to deal with over-application. James Read, founder of the eponymous at-home sunless 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.

04 of 07

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: Don't rinse right away. Wait about a half hour before washing. This gives a subtle, natural-looking glow.

05 of 07

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."

06 of 07

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 air conditioner 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.

07 of 07

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 by following this advice), you can enjoy your faux tan for at least a good week. 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.

RELATED: The Best Self Tanners for Your Face

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