10 Self-Tanner Mistakes You’re Probably Making

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Self-tanning can leave us looking like a naturally bronzed goddess or a splotchy orange mess, and much of the outcome is literally in our hands. Some experts shared with us the most common mistakes people make when using self-tanner or getting a spray tan that can lead to less-than-desirable results. Here’s what to look out for.

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Forgetting to exfoliate

The importance of exfoliation cannot be overstated when it comes to prepping for self-tanner. “Exfoliation is so essential because you’re essentially creating a smooth canvas for your product to adhere to, so you don’t want any flaky bits of skin that could make your tan look uneven,” says celebrity tanning artist and Tan Luxe global tanning expert Alexandra DiMarchi. “If you apply tanner over dead skin, it’s bound to flake off, which could then make your tan look patchy.”

Exfoliating beforehand helps remove traces of old self-tan and reveals fresh skin, which supports an even, long-lasting tan, explains St Tropez skin finishing expert Sophie Evans. Celebrity tan artist and founder of Dolce Glow Isabel Alysa recommends prepping skin 24 to 48 hours before tanning.

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Shaving at the wrong times

Dimarchi says people often forget shaving is a form of exfoliation. She recommends shaving before applying self-tanner because “shaving over a spray tan can actually strip off the color,” she warns. However, Isabel Alysa says shaving right before a spray tan is also ill-advised. Try to shave the day before you’re planning to tan.

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Getting beauty services in the wrong order

“I always tell my clients to make sure all of their beauty services are done before their spray tan,” says DiMarchi. She notes that, especially when prepping for a big event, your spray tan should always be your last appointment. “The slightest things can impact your tan,” she says. For example, “If you are getting a spray before a vacation and still are trying on outfits, putting on a tight dress might cause streaks to your tan if it’s still developing.”

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4 / 10

Overdoing the hands and feet

We’ve all seen it—hands and feet four shades deeper than the rest of the body that totally give a fake tan away. But how can we prevent this? Avoid applying self-tanner directly on hands and feet. Instead, use the excess product from the rest of the body or a tiny pea-sized amount mixed with moisturizer, says Evans.

“When an individual is very fair, the hands can develop dark with an orange hue, no matter how good the brand/product used,” says Evans. “It all comes down to the skin on our hands and feet being thicker and drier than the rest of the body. Plus, it’s more translucent with a higher skin pH and the ability to absorb self-tan fast and develop—no lie—about seven shades darker than the rest of the body.”

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Evans says applying proper hydration, especially to problem areas, before tanning is the most important step. However, moisturizing too much before, during or after the tan can dilute the color. “Think of the self-tan as paint, and your moisturizer is water. We paint the tan on the body and use the moisturizer to dilute the color and to blend and fade,” she explains. 

DiMarchi agrees that over-moisturizing can prevent color from developing. “So it’s actually a good idea to apply more moisturizer to tricky areas like the hands, elbows and knees, but don’t overdo it on the body. Otherwise, you might not get the best color payoff.” 

Evans says the back of the wrists, elbows, feet, crease in the heel and any severe dry patches like eczema/psoriasis are especially important to moisturize. Ensuring these spots are hydrated will help prevent color from overdeveloping. Additionally, it’s important to do a light coat of moisturizer on the face before a tan so the color appears more natural, notes DiMarchi.

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Using the wrong moisturizer

“Avoid using a moisturizer that is a true oil. Oils interfere with self-tan development, so use a basic moisturizer that is oil-free,” says Evans. She recommends St Tropez Tan Optimizer, Prep and Maintain Body Moisturizer ($18) for a great foundation. Additionally, DiMarchi says Shani Darden Skin Care Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer ($48) layers beautifully under a spray tan.

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7 / 10

Not protecting hyperpigmentation

“If you have any areas with more pigmentation that you don’t want the color to overdevelop on,” they’ll need some extra moisturizer, says DiMarchi. She suggests applying extra hydration over them with a Q-Tip.

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8 / 10

Rubbing too hard to apply the product

“Lack of product and over-rubbing when applying causes streaks and unevenness,” warns Evans. “If you massage in a self-tan, you will be pushing and pulling at the skin, causing the tan to break and streak.” She recommends always using enough product and applying “with a flat hand so that the tan can glide over the skin with ease and absorb into the skin properly and develop to its full potential.”

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Leaving tanner on nails

Evans says you have to take a cleansing wipe to clean all nails and cuticles immediately after applying product because self-tan can stain nails.

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Exercising too much post-tan

DiMarchi recommends limiting your activity following a spray tan. Otherwise, you risk sweating off all the progress by accident.


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