At best, a fake tan can give you a golden glow that makes your skin look like you’ve been on a tropical vacation — sans any of the damaging effects of the sun. At worst, it can be streaky or inconsistent. If you’ve been following along, you’re familiar with our tips to tan your face and which products work best for lighter skin tones. But what about making your faux glow last? The beauty of a self-tanner is that it can be achieved in a matter of hours, though maintaining its sunkissed results requires a bit of effort. To ensure you’re able to prolong the results of your bottled bronze without stepping out in the sun, we spoke to the experts to get their tips for extending your at-home tan.
1. Find the Right Product
From your head to your toes, there’s no greater telltale sign of a faux tan than inconsistent color, and the formula(s) you are using play a big role in that. Finding the right product depends on your glow goals, your routine, and your level of experience. “Make sure to select a sunless tanner that has an even fade technology built into its formulation,” explains Silver Goodwin, brand educator at Vita Liberata. “This will save you both time and money.” Another important factor? Buildability. “Make sure when selecting your sunless tanners, that the formula is intended as buildable,” she continues. This allows you to gradually work toward your desired shade while maintaining an even distribution of color
Depending on how comfortable you are applying self-tanner, be sure the product suits your skillset. For some, a buildable lotion is the easiest place to start (the Lux Unfiltered N°32 Gradual Self-Tanning Cream is rich and moisturizing), while others might prefer the traditional tanning mousse (Vita Liberata Invisi Foaming Tan Water has your covered). And then there are those who are firmly in the mist camp (the St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Mist is good for a glow-on-the-go). Regardless of your preferences, there are a vast array of formulation and shade options to choose from
2. Prep, Of Course!
“Before applying any sunless tanner, it is always best to shave and/or wax at least 24 to 72 hours before,” Goodwin suggests. Physical exfoliation — whether through shaving, waxing, or a loofa — will create a clean canvas that allows the self-tanner to absorb evenly. It’s a crucial part of the process that can easily be overlooked on both the face and body. When it comes to the face, using either a chemical exfoliator or gentle physical exfoliator can help prevent spotty or uneven application.
Just as important as the products you use to prep your skin are the products you don’t. Goodwin recommends staying away from emollient products, as they can actually interfere with the self-tan. Avoiding deodorant, lotions, and perfumes before tanning will also allow for even penetration, says Sophie Evans, an expert tanning artist and St. Tropez ambassador.
3. Apply Yourself
There’s no secret application method that will prolong the glow, but there are ways to ensure you’re making the most of your ‘tanning’ time:
- Use in Circular Motions: When applying a mousse or lotion, Goodwin says circular motions on the face and body will provide full distribution.
- Start from the Bottom: Evans suggests starting from the legs and working your way up the body — finishing with the hands and feet.
- Have a Light Hand: For tanning the joints (think: knees, elbows, ankles), Evans says to go lightly, as these areas will fold and the skin can appear unnaturally dark.
- Care for Your Cuticles: If you are applying with your hands rather than a mitt, make sure to care for the cuticles with a moisturizer beforehand to mitigate staining, Evans notes.
- Wash Your Hands: This may seem like an obvious one, but we’d be remiss not to remind you to wash your hands immediately after application to avoid over-tanning the palms.
4. Sleep on It
If a deeper hue is what you’re aiming for, Evans suggests leaving the product on for about eight hours and avoiding physical activity. As such, the best time to apply self-tanner is in the evening, a few hours before bed, to give it ample time to penetrate the skin. If you’re worried about orange-stained sheets, rest assured that most products don’t leave any residue. If time isn’t on your side, Evans recommends leaving the tanner on for at least an hour before showering to prevent any sweat-induced streaking.
One of the secrets to prolonging a faux glow involves leveraging the hydrating products you likely already have. “Moisturizer is used as a barrier and helps protect the skin from shedding,” Evans says. She suggests using a moisturizer on the hands after application of self-tanner, as the hands are more likely to experience a quicker fade. While you want to keep your skin well-hydrated, this is not the time to slather on your richest body creams (more on that below).
6. Re-Apply Yourself
As Goodwin mentioned before, a buildable tanner offers greater customization, which makes it a foolproof option for most people. Even so, the first time might not be the charm. If correction is necessary, Goodwin has a solution. “If you come across an area that simply didn’t get the same amount of love as another, focus only on that area with another layer of tanner and be sure to blend well,” she explains.
When it comes to reapplying (not fixing patchiness), Goodwin warns that constant layering is a no-no. A body self-tanner is designed to last anywhere from seven to 10 days, while the face may be a lot less (depending on your skincare regimen). Only reapply once the tan has started to fade and needs a touch-up.
7. Avoid These Faux Glow Erasers
Now that you know what to do, here’s what not to do. If you’re planning on a pool day, you may want to stay out of the water. Chlorine (like other chemicals) can strip away the tan. And then there is your beauty regimen to consider. Goodwin says to “avoid lotions or products containing heavy oils” for the duration of your bronze. “Oil will degrade the longevity of your tan,” she warns.
Sunless tanning is not only a quick fix, it's also a skin-safe alternative to outdoor tanning and tanning beds. The harmful effects of the UV exposure it takes to achieve a golden glow may not appear on the surface of the skin right away, but, once they manifest, they can be deadly. To protect your skin and get the most from your self-tanner, take the time to find a product you like, exfoliate well, apply evenly, touch-up as necessary, and, most importantly, enjoy your glow.
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