Wash your hands after applying, exfoliate beforehand and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: The tips we hear time and time again for applying self-tanner “just right” aren’t all that groundbreaking—and, even when they are followed with a high level of precision accuracy, they don’t always work. We asked James Read, tanning expert and founder of James Read Tan, why we still aren’t getting it right—and his tips for getting that realistic sun-kissed glow are a far cry from the standard.
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Cool It Down
Read’s essential prep step: Rub an ice cube along your face and hairline before applying self-tan. This closes the pores and creates a more natural, even tan.
Reach for Frozen Peas
Another tip in the pore-closing category (this time for your legs): Read recommends taking a large bag of frozen peas and rubbing it all over before you tan.
Make a Tomato Juice Tonic
Even the most challenged in the DIY-beauty department can do this one: “To hydrate your face, all you need is some olive oil, lime juice and a tomato,” Read says. “Squeeze the tomato juice into a bowl and then add lime juice and oil. After mixing all the ingredients together, apply the mixture to your face.” Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes and then wash off. This will leave your skin feeling cool and refreshed before you apply tanner.
Rely on Coconut Oil
One more win for coconut oil: Read says applying coconut oil to your eyebrows before tanning will keep you from ending up with splotchy brows full of tan buildup.
Ditch the Latex Gloves
Read says he’s not a fan of latex gloves for applying—instead he recommends something you already most likely have in your kitchen. “Wrap your tanning mitt around a wooden spoon, then wrap an elastic band around it and use to help you tan your back,” he says.
Go in Order
When applying self-tanner, it’s smart to have some sort of system. “Work the excess tan from your arms down to your hands and from your legs to your feet and ankles,” Read says. “And apply the tan in layers to find the right shade to suit you. This also helps to make sure you don’t miss bits.”
Turn to a Toner
If you’re ever stuck with an uneven tan around your forehead (and who hasn’t?), Read says to dip a cotton swap into your facial toner and dab it across your hairline to even it out.
Wait to Wash Your Hands!
This might go against every other self-tanning rule you’ve ever heard, but Read says he recommends waiting eight hours before washing your hands after applying self-tan. “You don’t want to end up with brown arms and white hands!”
Have Your Toothpaste (or Shaving Cream) Handy
If you need to remove self-tanner from the palms of your hands, take either toothpaste or shaving foam, rub your hands together, then wash off.
Exfoliate on Rotation
We always hear about the importance of exfoliating skin prior to applying self-tanner, but Read says it’s equally has important to exfoliate afterward, too, to help keep a natural-looking hue. His advice: Exfoliate after three days to help the tan fade evenly.