Self-Tanning Tips for Beginners

Although summer may seem like a distant memory, many of us still dream of having that sun-kissed, bronzed glow. 

Self-tanning is a safe alternative to sunbeds in the winter, but with so many products and application techniques out there, it can be daunting for beginners to get started.

Here’s a few tips to help you achieve a natural-looking, streak-free tan without harmful UV exposure.  

Exfoliate and shave

The first step to flawless self-tanning results is proper exfoliation. Gently scrubbing away dead skin cells ensures your tan will go on evenly. Use a gentle natural body scrub a day or two before self-tanning. Pay special attention to dry areas like elbows, knees, and heels.

After scrubbing, shave or wax any hairy areas you want to tan. The tanning product can stick to hair, leaving darker spots and an uneven colour. Smooth skin helps the colour glide on evenly.


Next, hydrate your skin. Dry patches can lead to an uneven tan that fades quickly. Apply unscented moisturiser daily over your entire body, especially your knees, elbows, and hands. The night before tanning, apply a thicker moisturiser or hydrating face mask.

Well-moisturised skin allows the tanning product to soak in evenly. Exfoliating and moisturising prevents flaky skin. 

Choose your formula

With so many options, choosing your tanning formula can seem tricky. Lotions provide the most beginner-friendly option. Gradual self-tanning lotions allow you to build colour slowly with daily applications. They’re very low risk since colour develops gradually. Medium-dark formulas add a bit more initial colour for a quicker glow. These work best for fair to medium skin tones.

For an instant bronzed effect, try tinted self-tanners. These bronzing lotions provide instant colour while developing into a deeper tan over time. Those with medium to olive skin can go for dark-tinted formulas. Foams, mousses, and gels provide longer-lasting colour with more intensity.

They can be messier to apply and often dry more quickly. I recommend lotions for an easy application and subtle, buildable glow.

Prep your skin

On tanning day, prep your skin as the final base. Exfoliate any very dry areas then moisturise your entire body. Pay special attention to hands, feet, elbows, and knees. Let your moisturiser soak in for at least 10 minutes before applying your tanner.

Then, put a little moisturiser on places that notoriously get darker, like wrists, knees, ankles, and hands. The lotion acts as a barrier to absorb excess tanning products and prevent dark spots.

Apply in sections

It’s time to apply your self-tanner! Don’t attempt to do this all at once. Section your body and work in small areas at a time. Start with your legs, applying the tanner in long strokes from ankle to hip. Rub lotion thoroughly over feet, ankles, knees, and thighs. Next, do your arms, stroking from wrist to shoulder. Apply colour thoroughly over hands, wrists, elbows, and upper arms.

Move onto your stomach and chest, blending well across your torso. Finally, do your backside if needed. Have a friend help or use a tanning mitt for hard-to-reach spots. Wait at least 10 minutes between applications to allow the colour to fully develop before adding another layer.

One coat often provides enough colour. But add a second if you want a richer tone. Rinse hands immediately after applying.

Even it out

Once your application is complete, inspect for any missed spots. Add more tanner where needed, especially hands, feet, ankles, and wrists. Use a damp washcloth to gently blot any overly dark areas like elbows and knees to even the tone. Be careful not to wipe off all the products. Finally, wash your hands with soap to remove excess colour. 

Maintain your glow

Now comes the fun part – showing off your new glow! But to keep your tan looking fresh, follow proper maintenance. Avoid long hot showers and baths, chlorine, oils, and fragranced skincare. These all fade colour faster. Exfoliate lightly every 2-3 days to remove dead skin.

Reapply your tanner every 3-5 days to keep your tone vibrant. Add facial self-tanner 1-2 times per week. 

From exfoliating to colour application and maintenance, these tips walk you through every step for flawless self-tanning results. With the right preparatory steps and application techniques, you can achieve an even, natural-looking glow without harmful sun exposure.

Follow these beginner-friendly instructions to look like you just got back from a tropical vacation. Just remember to exfoliate, shave, hydrate, section off your body, blend well and maintain your colour.

With practice, you’ll be a self-tanning pro in no time! So, say goodbye to pale winter skin and hello to your most gorgeous, sun-kissed look yet.