It's worth repeating, but the safest way to tan is to wear your SPF daily (promise us you do this!) and then - fake it, baby! Our love of self-tan is only growing - even being housebound throughout lockdown, we still made the effort. Body positive tanning brand Isle of Paradise reported an uplift in sales of 270 per cent in 2020 with its busiest week ever taking place when the UK first went into lockdown. And now that we actually have places to go, it's no surprise that Google has seen a 90 per cent increase in searches for self-tanner since the start of 2022.
From tanning drops to self-tanner mousses and mists, and tanning butters, there's a fake tan formula to suit your skin and time constraints. But how to apply it flawlessly, avoiding those well-documented tanning fails such as streaks, patches and brown bed sheets?
There's a lot to take in, so we have called in the big guns: Isle of Paradise Jules Von Hep (who counts the likes of Sienna Miller, Millie Mackintosh and Poppy Delevingne as loyal clients) and Claire Lambert, Skinny Tan's resident tan expert whose work with TV stars has to withstand the scrutiny of HD (she's currently bronzing the bodies of the Dancing on Ice contestants).
Whether you’re confused about how to prep skin for fake tan or want to know how celebs maintain their tan (clue: it might include a post-self-tan exfoliating hack) read our expert self-tanning guide and you’ll be golden.
How to prep your skin for fake tan
“Prep really is so important when it comes to tanning and an area of beauty care that really gets overlooked,” says Jules. “This can result in streaks and uneven fading in colour. Put in the effort before your tan and you’ll reap the rewards during your self-tan's lifecycle.”
“Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate! This will remove dead skin cells and create a smooth and uniform surface on the skin for the tan to be applied to, which will, in turn, result in an even golden colour," recommends Jules. “Steer clear of exfoliators that contain oils, as these will only act as a film on the skin and while wonderful for locking in moisture, isn’t ideal for tanning."
For body: we love Bondi Sands' Coconut and Sea Salt Body Scrub £8.44
For face: we love Amanda Harrington Advanced Glycolic Facial Pads £18
"For maximum exfoliation I love to use exfoliating gloves, working the scrub in circular and lengthways motions. Pay extra special attention to your elbows, knees and décolletage,” Jules adds.
If you'd like to go scrub-free, the Dermasuri Deep Exfoliating Mitt, £19.95 , is a great alternative. An easy-to-use glove that can be used in the shower to remove dead cells and quickly reveal smooth skin underneath. The Skinny Tan Dual Tanning Mitt is another great choice. One side exfoliates, the other side can be used to apply your tan.
Can you shave before self-tanning?
“Any hair removal should be carried out 24 hours prior to tanning," advises Jules. "This is done to ensure the skin has calmed and any cuts have healed. I simply cannot bear it when a client tells me they are off to get waxed immediately after a spray tan – it defeats the whole point as the wax will whip off the tan in no time! No more, ladies PLEASE!”
If you need to shave on the day of tanning Claire advises a cold shower followed by a fake tan formula without a colour guide. "Try blasting skin with a cold shower to try and shrink pores, apply a tiny bit of moisturiser and then apply tan or try using a clear fake tan such as the Skinny Tan Coconut Water Tanning Mist £24.99."
It's the guide colour which can sometimes stick in those little post-shave dots, explains Claire, so go clear. Which brings us to...
Should you shower before and after you self tan?
Take a cold shower immediately before your tan, says Jules, for a similar same reason that Claire mentioned above. “If you’re tanning at home and shower just before your tan application, blast your skin with cold water before you get out," Jules recommends. "It might wake you up a little yes, but it will also shrink all of your pores and therefore reduce the chance of them getting blocked with tan."
If you've put your tan on and it looks too dark, don't 'panic shower', warns Claire. "Trust the process, even when you think your tan is developing too dark. It's the colour guide that you see straight away, your skin is darkening underneath but this top layer is always going to look darker. Wait until the morning (if that's the allotted time) and then rinse off."
When you are showering post-tan development, don't use anything other than water at first. "Body washes can interfere with the process and strip the tan. Let the water run clear and then use a gentle shower gel."
Pat dry, don't rub! That's a strict instruction from both Claire and Jules.
What to avoid on the day of your tan
“On the day of your tan application, be it at home or in a salon, don’t moisturise your body or wear deodorant or perfume," cautions Jules. "Some tanners tell you not to moisturise your face, but I personally can’t do it. I feel like my skin will crack! Just don’t use a facial oil on the morning of tanning.
And if you can't skip the moisturiser then make sure you avoid oily ones, says Claire. “They form a barrier and stop your self-tan from taking.” Instead, she recommends opting for something that isn’t too thick and is oil-free. Make sure to rub it in properly too, otherwise, you can end up looking patchy or streaky.
Certain areas such as hands and elbows can turn patchy. To avoid this, says Jules, “moisturise your hands, elbows, knees and feet as well as your nails with an aloe vera based moisturiser," says Jules. “If you have fair hair, add a light layer to your hairline and eyebrows to stop them from absorbing tan and changing colour."
St. Tropez's Tan Enhancing Body Moisturiser , £10, is a great choice and we're also fans of Holland and Barrett's Aloe Vera Gel , £4.29, which doubles up as an effective after-sun treatment for sensitive skin types too.
Using a clean mitt is another of Claire's top tanning tips. "A dirty mitt will just move old tan around, most of them are machine washable and you'll get a much more even tan if it's a fresh mitt." The Skinny Tan Dual-Sided Mitt £6.99 has two sides, "use one side to apply and one side to buff," she recommends.
How to fake tan your hands, feet, knees and elbows
Certain areas such as hands and elbows are drier and can turn patchy. To avoid this, says Jules, “moisturise your hands, elbows, knees and feet as well as your nails with an aloe vera based moisturiser," says Jules.
If you've already applied your tan and want to rescue a dry area, Claire says, "Popping some moisturiser on developing tan on hands to take away any tan that might stick to the knuckles where it often gets too dark."
Don't forget to shield your hairline and eyebrows, says Jules, another place where tan can 'pool'. “If you have fair hair, add a light layer to your hairline and eyebrows to stop them from absorbing tan and changing colour, " he adds.
Then, go by the 'less is more' rule to tan these areas, says Claire. "Just use whatever is excess on the mitt," advises Claire. “Just sweep over once,” warns Jules, “That is enough!"
And, to minimise the chance of a tanning 'sleeve' (ie a stark line where your tan ends) Jules has this advice: “Apply some aloe vera based moisturiser at the bottom of your wrists and buff in using a buffing mitt.”
You might think that dark patches on the knuckles are your main problem with hands, but using hand sanitiser as much as we do can cause premature fading. “We’re washing our hands and using hand sanitiser all the time now,” says Claire. Her solution? “A couple of self-tanning drops in your hand moisturiser will keep them topped up with tan too - although you’ll still want to remove the tanner from your palms and nails!”
How to sleep in fake tan
The key here is to avoid skin on skin contact, not just between you and your partner or kids but also between yourself. Lambert advises sleeping in long baggy PJs. “This will mean that you don’t get hot and sticky and leave dark transfer marks over your body, and sheets.” She also recommends using a finishing product such as the Skinny Tan Dry Mist Finishing Spray £12.99 . “Once you’ve applied your tan, spritz this to protect it and keep it dry, not stick.” The main no no when it comes to sleep? Don’t wear tight clothing and don’t sleep naked. Noted.
How to sculpt your body with self-tan
“For my clients, it’s all about the next level of tanning ie sculpting and highlighting ," says Jules. “Add additional tan to the area you want shaded – so underneath the collarbones, underneath the bicep indent, the outer torso and in between the thighs. If you’re pushed for time, do this with a bronzer or an instant tan. Then highlight your tan with an illuminator, applying lashings to your shoulders, collarbones, cheekbones and the front of your legs to create sheen and definition."
To add a touch of subtle iridescence, we love Vita Liberata Body Blur, £32.50. Proving a hit with both fair and dark-toned testers in the GTG office due to its shade range, this wash-off skin finisher cleverly smooths over unevenness and adds a beautiful light-reflective glow to limbs.
We'd also highly recommend Charlotte Tilbury Supermodel Body , £45, courtesy of its cooling formula, silky texture and illuminating finish. A serious triple threat in the tanning stakes.
Try using a body brush to contour. Amanda Harrington has a super selection of buffing brushes to add light and shade to different areas of the body and face and to work the tan in in a natural-looking way.
Maintaining your tan
After all the effort you’ve gone through to look like a bronzed goddess, the last thing you want is for it to have rubbed off or turned patchy. Claire has some easy wins to make your tan last for longer.
- Exfoliate after three days. "Exfoliating three days after you've applied your tan will slough off the top layer of dead skin without removing the actual tan,” says Claire.
- Pat dry. While you have tan on, make sure to pat yourself dry after each shower, bath or swim. No vigorous towel rubbing allowed.
- Top up your tan. After your day three exfoliation put on a maintenance base. Claire recommends using a gradual tanner such as the
- A GTG favourite is
- , £22, great for building up a natural-looking tan on either body or face, its colour payoff is strong but not orange.
- Wear loose clothing. “Tight clothes will rub and cause lines and patches,” warns clothes. Some loose linen will help you feel like you’re wafting around on holiday too.
- Use a finishing product. Post tan application, spray a finishing product all over your body to seal it in. The
- helps to take away tackiness as well as create a protective film between you and your sheets/ PJs/ clothes.
- For your face, blend a few tanning drops with your serum or moisturiser. This will help keep your tan topped up and even. Tan drops specifically for the face often have hydrating properties which can help with any dryness.
Tanning oil, mousse or butter? Research your tan types
“It’s also about personal preference, " Jules points out. “A lotion or tanning oil is the most hydrating to the skin, a mousse is the quickest to dry and in my opinion, the easiest to apply, and a spray is the closest thing you’ll get to a spray tan.
“Self tans take around six to eight hours to develop, gradual tans build-up day on day to deepen the colour and are great for first-time tanners, instant tans are non-committal tans and wash away with warm soap and water. They’re like the tanning world's answer to body makeup. The latest tans on the market are express tans with a development time of one to three hours.”
If you’re after a tan that doubles up as body care then a tanning butter might be for you. The Butter by Tan-Luxe £24 and Isle of Paradise's Self-Tanning Butter £17.95 have the texture of a rich moisturiser and over time that over time build up a lovely natural looking tan.
Shop our edit of the latest self-tan textures and options here .
How to fake tan your back
Let your applicator do the hard work for you. The Skinny Tan Fake Tan Back Applicator £11.99 allows you to get to all the hard to reach places easily. "Apply your tan to the centre of this scarf like a mitt and then move it all the way down your back working from side to side."
The Bondi Sands Back Applicator £6.99 has an extendable handle so that you don’t have to be a contortionist to self-tan your back.
Tips to fake tan your face
“When it comes to your face, I like to mix the self-tan with a small amount of moisturiser to soften the formula and minimise the chance of breakouts," recommends Jules. For a really natural-looking fake tan face, a buffing brush can be really useful. Use a kabuki brush such as Amanda Harrington's Face Lifter £30 to give you cheekbones. Think of it as long-lasting bronzer!
How to use foundation over fake tan
"If you’ve fake tanned and your face but your foundation is now too light, don’t buy a new foundation," says Claire. Simply mix a tiny bit of your instant tan into your usual foundation. “That will give you a little bit of a darker shade to help you match your fake tan with your foundation."