We all know how dangerous tanning in the sun, or even on a UV sun bed can be. But avoiding premature aging and skin cancer by protecting ourselves from harmful UV rays can mean we exhibit a somewhat pasty hue during the body-exposing summer season.

So what do you do if you want to compete tan-wise with your sunbathing friends? One answer is to use a self-tanning product. The tips below will tell you all you need to know.

How Self-Tanning Lotions Work

Self-tanning products generally contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This is a kind of sugar that reacts with the dead cells in surface layer of your skin and causes a change in colour. The change takes about 45 minutes to fully develop and will last for about a week. Why doesn’t it last longer? Dead skin cells slough off constantly (they’re what make up almost all of the dust in your house). As you lose cells, you lose small amounts of your fake tan.


Preparation is the key to an even, natural looking tan. Your mantra for a few days before applying your self-tanning product should be “exfoliate, moisturise, exfoliate, moisturise…“.

You can exfoliate by using an exfoliating cream, or by scrubbing with a loofah in the shower (a far cheaper method).

When you apply your body moisturiser, pay particular attention to wrists, ankles and knees. The skin here is thicker and dryer and can hold on to too much of the tanning product if not adequately treated.

When applying your fake tan, work from the ground up – calves, thighs, hips, torso, and on up to your shoulders and arms. Allow the product to dry thoroughly before getting dressed and avoid streaking by staying perspiration free for a couple of hours.

Self-Tan Glitches

Problems can arise with self-tanning products, particularly for the first-time user. The common ones are listed below.


Uneven coverage results in a striped look which will make you tan shout FAKE! to everyone on the beach. It often arises because of inadequately exfoliated and/or moisturised skin. In this case, certain areas of your skin will have greater concentrations of dead cells and will consequently hold on to more of the tanning product.

Streaks can be lightened by rubbing with toothpaste, or a cotton ball dipped in lemon juice or astringent skin toner.

Dark Ankles Knees and Wrists

The thicker, dryer skin in these areas absorbs more of the product than skin on other parts of the body. One trick to avoid this is to mix the product you apply in these areas with 50% moisturiser.

Product Didn’t Work

Occasionally, some people experience very little colour change after applying fake tan. This will probably be because your skin was damp at the time of application (sweat, or not properly dry after a shower), or because your skin was coated in moisturiser or oil. Yes, moisturising is good, but not immediately before self-tan application.

Stained Nails

Like your skin, your nails will absorb some of the DHA. You can avoid this by rubbing your nails and cuticles with Vaseline before you begin to apply your product. Alternatively, you can wear disposable rubber gloves. This will also save you from another fake tan give-away – orange palms.


If you are new to the wonders of self-tanning products, go slowly. Start with a weaker product and apply lightly until you get some idea of how your skin reacts. Getting the perfect colour tan is often a matter of trial and error. Everyone’s skin reacts a little differently.

UV Warning

Just because you might look like you’ve lived in the sun after a successful self-tan application, it doesn’t mean you can ignore sensible sun behaviour. Self-tan products do not provide any protection from UV rays and you are just as vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer as you always were, no matter how dark your fake tan.

If you’d like to know how to use fake tan to make your body look more toned, check out this video.

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  1. orlando seo says:

    nice info but i typically use an oil based self tanning lotion but I liked your article

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