a beginner’s guide to DIY self-tanning

Self-tanning at home can be risky business. Here’s a step-by-step, fool-proof guide to getting a streak-free, even finish.

As we head into another week of isolation and stricter lockdown restrictions rule us out from a healthy dose of Vitamin D and our regular beauty appointments (except going to the hairdresser, for now), our Thursday night professional spray tan has morphed into a quick Tuesday morning at-home slap-on, or a Friday night ritual alongside a chilled glass of white wine – resulting in fails like this Mum-of-two who turned bright green after accidentally using expired fake tan.

Reaching for a bottle at the back of your cupboard, trying a formula you usually wouldn’t, doing a lazy Wednesday-night job, or just having no idea how to apply it at-home all make for risky results. Luckily, we’ve got a step-by-step guide to a fool-proof fake tan and our top four choice buys for beginners.

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Step 1: Exfoliate

Surely you’ve heard how important this step is – it preps your skin for the tan and ensures the finished results are even, not patchy. The night before you tan, you should always exfoliate and hydrate (steps 1 and 2). Use a mitt or body scrub and rub away any dead skin, dry areas or old tan leftovers.

Pay particular attention to your feet, ankles, knees and elbows. Post-exfoliation is the ideal time to shave your legs, too. It’s another form of exfoliation and also minimises the chance you’ll have of getting tiny dots that often show up on ankles and shins from shaving too close to when tan is applied.

Step 2: Hydrate

To lock in the smooth base you’ve just created you’ll need to moisturise. This step locks in hydration, prevents any further dryness or dry patches from coming back overnight. Plus, it helps calm skin and reduce pore size further preventing dots or uneven application.


Step 3: Prep

Whether or not you shower in the morning (the day you’re going to tan and after steps 1 and 2), apply a light layer of moisturiser over areas that ‘catch’ tan is essential. Think: knuckles, elbows, knees, ankles and feet. These spots are usually more dehydrated than other areas on your body so hold on to tan making it look muddy and uneven.

Step 4: Tools

Pick your poison – whether it be a mousse, lotion or spray formula. But double check the bottle isn’t out of date, or one you just grabbed from the back of the cupboard that you stopped using because you didn’t like the colour. This is a good time to cull your stash. You’ll also need a mitt – no matter what formula you use, 10/10 experts agree a mitt is your secret weapon for an even, streak-free and fool-proof at-home tan.

A note on shades: We all tend to go for the ‘ultra dark’ bottles, which when you think about it isn’t the ideal colour-match for most of us – and is the telltale sign of a bad fake tan. Think about how ‘dark’ you would tan naturally, as well as looking at your skin undertones and hair colour.

If you’re blonde with a fair complexion a ‘light’ shade or a gradual will be perfect. Start with a more subtle colour choice and build from there with layering. This will prevent you from looking orange, super dark and unnatural.

Step 5: Apply

Depending on the formula you’re using (personally, I prefer lotion but Bondi Sands suggest foam for beginners), apply a good squirt to your mitt and slowly sweep from your feet upwards in long strokes for an even finish.

Apply limb-by-limb and buff in with your mitt to avoid any missing bits of patchiness. If you’re worried about your hands, wrists, ankles and feet apply some moisturiser to your mitt and buff the tan on your body in with the moisturiser around these areas for a more natural, even finish.

Step 6: Wait

Another crucial step that is often overlooked. Let your tan dry – properly! It won’t take long, a few minutes for lotion and less so for mousse and sprays. Before getting dressed in loose clothing make sure the tan is fully absorbed and dry to the touch. Follow the instructions on the bottle of how long it is you have to wait until you can shower – it could be one hour, or overnight.

Step 7: Rinse

Go for a shower over a bath here, and keep the water temperature to lukewarm to ensure the heat doesn’t dry out your skin. As soon as the water runs clear turn the tap off and pat your skin gently with a towel –avoid rubbing as this can rub off tan unevenly.

Step 8: Moisturise

Moisturise from here and every morning and night, to lock in the tan and keep it even and streak-free. Depending on the formula, colour and aftercare you may need to slowly start exfoliating skin from day four or five to keep it looking smooth, before repeating the process again.

A roundup of the best tans for beginners

Bali Body Gradual Tan ($19.46, at Bali Body)

Light, creamy and buildable. Squeeze a 20 cent piece-sized amount onto a mitt for each limb, buffing in circles as you go. Start with one layer and see how you go. Good for medium-olive skin tones.

Bondi Sands Aero Liquid Gold ($24.95, at Bondi Sands)

An aerated foam formula that sinks into skin in an instant. Use a mitt and sweep over body in long strokes. Use the moisturiser hack above to blend any dry, uneven patches. Good for those who like dark shades.

St Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Water Mousse ($49.99, at Priceline)

A lightweight, water-based formula with streak-free finish. Apply one coat for a natural dose of matte-bronze colour. Suits light to medium skin tones.

Isle of Paradise Medium Self Tanning Drops ($42, at Mecca)

The crème de la crème for rookies or those with dry, dehydrated skin. Mix one drop into your moisturiser for each limb and apply as normal, focus extra moisturiser on your ankles, knees and feet. For extra colour next time, add more drops.

More essential coronavirus reading:

Read up on what the government lockdown means for you, understand why Aussie doctors are up arms, be aware of the ‘hidden symptom’ of COVID-19 carriers, prepare yourself for the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, get your sweat on at home with these free online workouts before reviving your over-washed hands with this DIY balm, and then console yourself with these unexpected joys.