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The Best Self-Tan Routine For Zero Streaks + All The Glow

How to apply self-tanner.

We’ll dive into how to choose the best tanner next, but let’s first get familiar with the application process:


Exfoliate a day before.

The first step: Get a smooth canvas. “Prepping your skin a day prior to tanning is key to a seamless tan,” celebrity tanner and founder of Dolce Glow Isabel Alysa tells mbg. If you don’t exfoliate, the dead skin may even block some of the tanner from penetrating.

“I recommend exfoliating and shaving 24 hours prior to tanning so your skin is ready for a golden glow,” she adds. You can exfoliate using a body scrub, chemical exfoliant serum, or a gentle exfoliating glove.

Right after you exfoliate, apply a rich body lotion or body cream to ensure you replenish any hydration lost during the process. Then, your skin will be prepped and ready for your tan.


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Hydrate dry areas.

The next day, take a shower to rinse off your body. If you’re new to self-tanner or you’re using a more pigmented formula, then you’ll want to apply a light layer of moisturizer to the knees, elbows, and ankles.

These areas can suck up self-tanner, causing streaking and patchiness. If you apply lotion before, the self-tanner will blend a bit easier in those pesky spots.


Apply in sections.

Now it’s time to grab your self-tanner and your mitt if you have one. These tools ensure that your self-tanner stays on your body, not your hands. But if you don’t have a mitt, just be sure to give your hands a good wash before and after applying the tanner.

Squirt your mousse, spray, or lotion onto the body and rub it in just as you would any other body product–but be especially mindful to get every inch. Doing this one area at a time (upper arm, then lower arm, then the front of the stomach, etc.) will make that a bit easier.

If you have a friend or family member close by that can help you apply it to the back and shoulders, you’re in luck. Otherwise, consider getting a back applicator like this Two Piece Set from Steugo.


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Blend difficult areas.

“If you’re self-tanning, try a Kabuki brush to blend out those hard areas such as hands, ankles, feet, and knees,” Alysa notes. You can also use an old foundation brush if you have one lying around.


Let it dry & set.

Once you’ve applied tan to your whole body, let it dry for a few minutes, or until you feel the product has fully soaked into your skin. Then, put on loose clothing (a baggy T-shirt, boxer shorts, etc.), and let it set for a few hours, or overnight.

Letting it set overnight makes this process a whole lot easier because you won’t be exercising or sweating while the tan is on. Plus, you don’t have to worry about tanner getting on your good daytime clothes.

Each tanning product is different, so be sure to check the label for the ideal setting time. Most of the time, letting the product sit longer than the allotted time won’t do much, but cutting it short may result in a lighter tan than expected.


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Rinse off in the morning.

When you wake up (or when your set time is over) rinse off the tan using a gentle body cleanser. In the shower, stay away from things like plastic loofahs and other abrasive cleansing tools, as they might exfoliate the skin and take off some of the tan.


Hydrate your skin.

This step is essential–hydrate your full body after you rinse off. After that, kick up your full-body moisturizing sessions to twice per day if you can swing it. “Moisturizing twice a day and keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day truly helps with keeping that tan lasting,” Alysa explains.

Look for ingredients that soften the skin and add a bit of shine–think shea butter, coconut butter, and botanical oils like jojoba, squalene, etc.

Want a safe pick? Opt for the mbg postbiotic body lotion–a formula that keeps your skin barrier healthy and tan looking fresh as can be.

Best clean self-tanners

Dolce Glow

Self-Tanning Mist


Beauty by Earth

Self Tanner Tanning Lotion


How to apply self-tan on the face.

As for the face, opt for a product specifically designed for the face, like the Typology Self-Tanning Face Serum. You’ll follow a similar process but tailored for this gentler area:

Exfoliate the day before: After you exfoliate your body, it’s time to slough off the dead skin on your face. You can go for a chemical exfoliant serum or a gentle physical scrub–however you typically exfoliate will do. Apply your tan: You will either apply the tanning drops directly to the skin after cleansing or mix them into your moisturizer; just follow the directions on your product. Skip harsh ingredients: Using exfoliating serums and retinol after applying your tan may interfere with the finished look, so hold off for now. You can certainly use these products the next day, but you may put your tan at risk, so keep that in mind. Remember: You can always re-tan your face if need be, so put your skin health first.

Best clean self-tanner for face

Isle of Paradise

Self-Tanning Bronzing Drops


Salty Face

Tanning Water


How to pick your self-tanner.

Now you have the basic routine down, so it’s time to dive into shopping details. To follow, a few different things to keep in mind when you’re looking for your next favorite self-tanner:


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Many products come in two shades: fair to medium and medium to dark. Here’s how to choose if you’re unsure:

Fair to medium: If you tend to burn easily, freckle often, or have cool undertones, this one is best for you. It offers a lighter tan that will better complement your complexion. However, coverage is relatively light, so you’ll need to switch to the medium to dark shade for a deeper tan. Medium to dark: Meet the perfect pick if you have warmer undertones or tan easily. The final shade is a bit darker, so it’s more noticeable on your skin if you’re already naturally tan.


Type of product.

You’ll need to choose a type of product you want as well. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Clear vs. tinted: Tinted self-tanners will stain your sheets and clothing during the hours you let it set. This will wash out, but it can still be annoying to have streaks in your bed each time you tan. However, the clear self-tanners are a bit more difficult to use, as you can’t tell what areas of skin have been covered or not–so pick your battle.Mousse vs. spray vs. lotion: Instant tanning products often come in the form of mousse, spray, or lotion. If you opt for mousse, note that you’ll need a mitt for proper application. As for spray, be sure to really rub in the mist, don’t just spray it on the skin. For lotion users, be sure to let the product soak in fully before putting on clothes or hopping into bed. Gradual vs. instant: Lastly, you’ll need to decide if you want a gradual tan (meaning the darkness increases slightly with each use) or an instant tan. For those wary of self-tanning in general, it’s best to start with a gradual tanner and work your way up.



The active ingredient in these topical tanners is referred to as DHA, an abbreviation for the compound dihydroxyacetone. This ingredient temporarily stains the skin but will wash away within a week or so.

Thanks to modern formulation trends, naturally derived DHA can be found in a plethora of tanning products, including many of the mbg preferred picks. Apart from a natural tanning agent, keep an eye out for products that contain even more skin-loving ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, botanical oils, etc.

How to make your tan last.

After putting in all of this work, you’ll want your tan to last as long as possible, so keep these tips in mind:

Avoid sweating with your tan on: If you apply tan during the day, make sure you avoid sweating excessively until it has fully set and been rinsed off; otherwise, you risk creating pale streaks. Limit hot tub use: Alysa notes that steamy environments like hot tubs can reduce the longevity of your tan, so limit your use if possible. Avoid exfoliation: Set aside the dry brush, body scrubs, exfoliating gloves, shaving, and retinol body lotion until your tan begins to fade or you’re ready to start the process all over.


Best way to apply self-tanner mouse?

Apply your self-tanner mousse using a mitt. Apply the product to freshly cleansed skin that’s been exfoliated (via a body scrub or shaving) a day before. Let the product set for the instructed time period on your product before rinsing it off.

How to apply self-tanner without a mitt?

If you don’t have a self-tanning mitt, you can use your hands. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after to ensure you don’t have any tan under your nails or in crevices on your hands.

Can I apply self-tanner with a washcloth?

Applying self-tanner with a washcloth may result in the product being absorbed into the towel rather than your skin. Instead, use a tanning mitt or your hands, and be sure to wash your hands with soap and water afterward.

The takeaway.

Once you know how to self-tan and you’ve found a great product, a bronze, glowy look is always at your fingertips, without having to sunbathe and risk damaging your skin. Ready to shop for a self-tanner? Check out this curated list of the best options on the market.

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