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Tanning Lotion Tips: How to Apply Fake Tanner

Layne likes to share her favorite health and beauty tips for people on-the-go.

Tips for streak-free sunless tanner application.

Tips for streak-free sunless tanner application.

How to Get the Perfect Streak-Free Sunless Tan

The tan achieved with fake tanning products is much safer than the tan achieved with UV radiation. UV radiation, whether from a tanning bed or sun exposure, causes irreversible skin damage and increases one's risk for skin cancer.

Best Non-Streak Self Tanner and How to Apply It

You'll want to follow these tips before application:

  • Exfoliate before use: It is important to exfoliate before applying fake tanner. According to, we lose 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every minute and shed our entire outer layer of skin every 2–4 weeks. I like the Alba Enzyme Scrub with walnut shell (I use it on my face), but you can use sugar or salt and blend it with some soap to save some money.
  • Shave before use: Shave the day before you intend to tan. You will want to avoid shaving right before application so that you do not get razor burn.
  • Plan the application before bed: If you sweat in your sleep, this probably isn't a good idea, but if your temperature stays the same, I think it's best to sleep with the tanner on. You can wash it off in the morning.
  • Pick out a set of clothes: I always wear dark colors when I use tanner so that I do not risk staining my clothes although I've never had a problem with it. I go for a pair of sweatpants (something non-clingy) and a loose, long-sleeve shirt.

What Aren't My Legs Tanning?

The reason certain areas of our body don't tan as well is that our skin exfoliates from the mechanical friction of fabric rubbing against our body. Shaving will cause the skin to exfoliate faster, too, so keeping a tan becomes harder.

Blend self tanner with lotion to prevent streaking and uneven tone.

Blend self tanner with lotion to prevent streaking and uneven tone.

How to Apply Self-Tanner or Bronzer


  1. Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner Lotion (or another sunless tanner); this product is great for beginners and is super forgiving.
  2. Lotion
  3. Dark hand towel
  4. Change of clothes (dark preferred)

Bronzer Application Method

  1. Now that you took care of exfoliation and shaving ahead of time, gather your supplies and your favorite lotion.
  2. Go into your bathroom, remove all clothes, and tie your hair up in a high bun, if possible.
  3. Add a quarter-size dot of lotion in your palm and start applying the tanner over your entire legs and feet (on one side of your body), but skip your soles, ankles, and knees. Go all the way up to your thighs. Reapply over your thighs.
  4. Combine half tanner and half lotion in your palm, and reapply over your toes, ankles, and knees (this method will dilute the concentration over these areas to avoid uneven tone). Rub it in completely.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.
  6. This time apply tanner all over your abdomen and arms but skip your wrists, elbows, neck, and the tops of your hands.
  7. Combine half tanner and half lotion in your palm and reapply over these remaining areas.
  8. Combine half tanner and half lotion again and rub it into your neck area. Stop at your jawline. (I do not apply tanner to my face because I use bronzer and/or my face has natural color.)
  9. Rinse your palms with soap and water and run the tops of your hands through the water once and pat dry (you will want a little bit of tanner on the tops of your hands still).
  10. Stand and let dry for 1–2 minutes before putting your clothes on. Sleep with the lotion on for 6–8 hours, then wake up and shower.
  11. You may apply two layers to areas that are particularly pale (calf and thighs or stomach).

Note: If you have pets, do not let them lick the tanner off of your body as an added safety precaution (as with any lotion).

Exfoliate and shave the day prior to sunless tanner application.

Exfoliate and shave the day prior to sunless tanner application.

How to Make Fake Tan Last Longer

  • Do not exfoliate.
  • Do not take baths.
  • Pat your skin dry rather than rub.
  • Moisturize, but do not use oil.
  • Anti-aging lotions with gentle acids should not be used.
  • Limit sweaty activities.
  • Do not apply alcohol perfume.
  • If you work in a profession where you have to wear gloves, your hand/wrist color will fade faster.

What If My Cuticles Turn Orange?

This rarely happens, but if you have dry cuticles, you can gently file them down with a regular nail file. This will get rid of the orange color.

What If I Get Streaks?

I've never had an issue with streaks with the Alba product. You can use lemon juice, gentle exfoliators, or baking soda paste to reduce streaks. Just be sure to wipe the area of interest. If you remove too much color, you may worsen the situation. Most self-tanners last 3–5 days.

Why Does Self Tanner Smell?

Self-tanner has a distinctive smell. That's why I recommend sleeping with it on instead of going out in public with it on. That smell is the smell of the chemical reaction taking place between your skin and the DHA, which gives you that golden-brown color.

Get that sun-kissed look without the UV radiation.

Get that sun-kissed look without the UV radiation.

What Is the Active Ingredient in Fake Tanner?

The active ingredient in fake tanner is the color additive dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA reacts with the skin's dead cells and tans it temporarily for a few days. The FDA has approved the use of DHA on the skin, but it should not be applied near the lips, nose, or eyes.

What About Sunless Tanning Pills?

Sunless tanning pills contain canthaxanthin, which may cause hives, liver damage, and impaired vision. These products are a definite "no" for me.

Are Tanning Beds More Dangerous Than the Sun?

Sun-tanning and tanning bed lamps are equally bad for you. That golden glow that results from the production of melanin is indicative of skin damage. Bronze skin comes with the risk of premature aging, wrinkles, brown spots, saggy skin, and even worse, skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation:

"[P]eople who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent."

Many celebrities and people who are conscious of retaining their youthful appearance have turned to sunless tanning. While there are many pricey products on the market, I have a favorite that I tend to use, especially in the winter months.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Laynie H