Self-tanning can be a tedious task that involves a lot of trial and error. The purpose of this article is so I can save you from some of those errors! I’ve watched countless YouTube videos, read articles, and tried out so many different bloggers (or vloggers) tips on self-tanning. This post is a beginner guide to self-tanning!

One of the main factors in how well your self-tanning turns out is how you prep before applying the self-tanner. The next important factor is the brand and type of self-tanner you use.

Did you know there are different types (consistencies) of self-tanner?

You can buy a cream/lotion, a mousse, a spray, or tanning wipes. I’ve never tried the latter. I’ve only ever heard that L’Oréal has those. Out of the other types, tanning mousse seems to be the easiest to apply. It spreads easier and soaks in more evenly, meaning there is less of a chance that your tan turns out blotchy.

I prefer to use a self-tanning mousse. After everything I’ve watched or read about self-tanning, a mousse seemed to be the most recommended for beginners. It seems to be the easiest to apply WITHOUT ending up blotchy or streaky. The spray may be easier overall but the mousse seems to be the easiest or the most recommended for beginners specifically.

My favorite self-tanning mousse is St Moriz brand…

They make it in medium and dark but I only saw recommendations to use the dark version. The dark works great on me and I am very pale. [I’m going to add a before and after picture next time I do this. I have skipped out on it for a few months so my current skin is my natural paler tone.] The St Moriz brand self-tanning mousse is said to be a dupe for the more expensive St. Tropez self-tanning mousse. You can find the St Moriz self-tanning mousse at the link below. It is VERY affordable! One bottle takes me months to finish!

Here is my self-tanning prep routine:

This routine starts at least 4 hours before I apply tanner. I usually do it in the morning then apply tanner before bed. I sleep in the tanner for about 8 hours and then I wake up in the morning and wash it off. Sooo it’s definitely a process. But it is a more affordable way (compared to professional spray tans) to maintain a nice glow for swimsuit weather or through winter to avoid that pasty look I get!

Make sure you wear darker clothing to bed or while the self-tanner develops.

As long as I wasn’t wearing a really light color or white clothing, then I never had a problem with staining.

Products needed for this routine:

  1. Self-tanning mousse
  2. Body scrub to exfoliate (or just salt or sugar if you’re in a pinch)
  3. Moisturizer
  4. Tanning mitt (VERY IMPORTANT! The tanning mitt makes this so easy. It will GREATLY increase the chances that your tan comes out smooth and non-blotchy!) This is a great, inexpensive option for a tanning mitt:

There are a lot of tanning mitt options on Amazon though if you want to use the link above and look around at a few. They are all basically the same thing. They are reusable. It’s not a one-time application thing. I usually rinse mine in the sink with some soap and water after applying my tanner. After a few times, I may throw it in the washer with my (dark) towels even. I’ve been doing this for years now and I’ve only ever bought two tanning mitts. They are difficult to find in stores though! I found that Ulta had one or two options. I wasn’t able to find any at stores like Target, Walmart, Kroger, or my other local grocery stores, maybe I didn’t look well enough though!

Beginner’s Guide to Self-Tanning (below graphic):

BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO SELF-TANNING | Kate These Days blog | #selftanning #selftanner #tanning #tanner #tanningtips #selftanningtips

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Here are my self-tanning steps:

  1. Exfoliate–  Exfoliate your whole body with a good exfoliating product(<— link to a good one OR just use salt or sugar to scrub your skin!)
  2. Shave– Shave in the shower as usual.
  3. Moisturize- Wait a few minutes and moisturize your whole body.
  4. Re-Moisturize- After waiting at least a few hours, apply a little more moisturizer to any typically dry skin to prevent them from soaking up too much of the dark color and looking blotchy. For most people, those areas would be your ankles, feet, knees, elbows, and hands. Wait 10 minutes…
  5. Get tanning mitt- Use a tanning mitt and put one or two pumps of tanning mousse on it.
  6. Use circular motions- Apply it in circular motions working in a small area, like the calf of your left leg, and circle to rub it in until you feel like the small area is soaked in enough.
  7. Move quick- Move at a quick pace though before it dries too much and you start overlapping a wet layer over a dry area and start looking patchy… if that makes sense.
  8. Repeat- Repeat steps 5 through 7 until your whole body (minus your face) has been covered with the self-tanner.
  9. Do your face last- Use whatever is leftover on the mitt to rub on your face. This ensures that your face does not get too dark compared to the rest of your body.
  10. Let dry- Now, you must wait a few minutes until your skin no longer feels tacky. Then, that is the right time to get dressed without smearing the self-tanner.
  11. Wait- Wait about 8 hours and then shower off!

(I have washed this off after just 3-4 hours and I was significantly darker. I have also left it on for 12-16 hours before and been fine. It doesn’t turn orange if left on longer. The smell isn’t great the longer you keep it on and your skin does start looking tan with a grey undertone but once it’s washed off it looks fine again!)

It’s easier than it sounds…

I know this sounds like a lot of steps. It may sound completely overwhelming if you are a beginner at self-tanning. But I promise you this is something that gets quicker with practice; it starts to become a no-brainer. And ALL of the steps are completely necessary!

Please don’t try to skip any of the above steps, unless perhaps later down the road when you become more experienced. For example, if I’m putting on the self-tanner (and washing it off) a few days in a row to build up a darker tan, then I may only exfoliate once or twice if I’m in a hurry. You will be able to tell if you could skip certain steps the more you do this and the more experienced you become at it. If you are a beginner at this, for now, please use all of the steps listed above to give yourself the best chance at a natural looking, even tan!

Troubleshooting/Fixing Errors

IF something does happen to go wrong, it can be fixed though. This self-tanner will obviously soak into your skin so here are a few ways to fix some issues.

Patchy or Blotchy looking?

  • If the tan starts developing and you see that you missed some significant patches or that the areas around your ankles, for example, are soaking up too much of the tan and making your skin there look blotchy, I suggest you hop in the shower immediately and start washing it ALL off! If you just go to sleep despite seeing how blotchy it looks, then you will definitely be waking up with even darker blotches! So wash it all off and try again the next day.
  • If you didn’t notice the blotchiness early enough to wash it off before it fully develops, then the best thing you can do is exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate and try to scrub those dark areas off until… Well, I guess until you get back down to the layers of lighter skin underneath… 😳 Another thing you could try if you are blotchy or streaky is to apply lemon juice to the dark areas. Because of the acidity, it’s supposed to naturally exfoliate and lighten the skin.

Dry skin areas looking extra dark?

  • Wash it all off, exfoliate, and try again the next day. This time, make sure you apple extra moisturizer to the dry areas of skin that soaked up too much tanner. I suggest putting on one coat of lotion and letting it dry and then applying a second coat of lotion and letting it dry before applying the self-tanner.

Tan turn out too dark?

  •  I have never had that happen with a self-tanner but it could! You can try to exfoliate daily until the tan lightens to the color you want it. The tan will also gradually lighten daily on its own.

Trouble with missing your back or leaving streaks?

  • If you are having trouble reaching your back to apply the self-tanner, they actually sell a back applicator that can help you evenly distribute the self-tanner all over your back. (OR you can put your mitt on the end of a spatula and try that. I’ve done it. It works okay.) The highest rated back applicator seems to be this kind:

I know that it is winter right now. I thought this would be a relevant post still though despite the season since many decide to go on vacation to warmer areas during the winter months. Winter is my favorite time to take a warm-weather vacation even just to Florida, although Mexico or the Carribean would be more ideal! Whenever I’m going on a beach vacation, I feel like my vacation to-do list is longer than usual. If I’m going to be wearing a bathing suit, sandals, shorter shorts, etc., then I need to make sure I’m not pasty like I get in the winter. So self-tanning is definitely one thing on my to-do list!

I thought this post could help give some beginners the confidence to try self-tanning. I know it seems overwhelming at first since the self-tanner soaks into your skin and makes it darker which seems semi-permanent. But I promise it’s not as scary or overwhelming as it seems. If you do happen to run into some issues, you can utilize the troubleshooting ideas I listed above. By using the step by step instructions I listed above though, you will hopefully be able to avoid any potential issues.

Once you do this a couple times, you will see that it isn’t too overwhelming. It is so worth it to help you feel confident showing more skin! I know self-tanning is fake and all… But it gives me more confidence feeling like my skin looks glowy and healthy, which is hard to achieve in winter months without self-tanning.

Let me know if you used any of my instructions or suggestions in this post! I love hearing from everyone 🙂



    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Oh wow! That would be a great goal to achieve! I have a childhood friend that has done them. I know it was a lot of hard work and effort for her but she enjoys it!

  1. Great tips! I think most people forget the exfoliate part which can make a big difference in the outcome.

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      I agree! I’ve found that many people are really aware of the benefits of exfoliating their whole body. It helps in many ways.

  2. I really don’t like fake tan because it’s so messy 😅 but thank you for these tips I will try if I can get any lucky with these products that you’ve suggested 😍

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      I definitely understand that! Another option is the spray tans at the salon. That would add up more but you could leave the mess with them… I do prefer the summer sun to tan in general but the winter makes that one difficult haha

  3. That’s a great article about self tanning. Thank God I’m an Asian so I need little to tan myself. 🙂

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Thank you! haha That is so great! Some people are definitely blessed in that way. And the summer sun is definitely my favorite way to tan… the cold winter can just make that a little difficult for me.

  4. Self-tanning always scares me because I see so many different people completely botch it! So many people need to see these tips, and I may have to try them myself!

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Yes!! It seems simple… But there are so many ways to mess it up! I think this step by step is pretty fail proof though so I wanted to share it. Thanks for taking the time to read it!

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      It can take a lot of steps. It gets much faster once you get the process down though. Promise!

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      You’re welcome! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  5. I only have 2 experiences of fake tanning, neither of which ended well. One of those times turned me part oompa-loompa! Hahaha that said, if i ever need to fake tan again, at least now i’ll have some pro tips eh 😉

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Oh my goodness! I think a lot of people have some self-tanning horror story. I thought these tips could be useful! Maybe they’ll help you in the future one day! I definitely wouldn’t call myself a pro though…

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      You’re welcome! And thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post 🙂

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Thank you! It really is tricky… It seems simple but there’s a lot of “rules” you need to follow or else deal with the consequences! ha

  6. It sounds like a lot of work to get a self tan going. I appreciate your detailed explanations though.

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Yes, I would say it is a little time-consuming. You have to commit to it. That’s for sure… I prefer to do it when I’m going on a mid-winter vacation to somewhere warm OR to do it at the start of summer to get a base tan built up which also helps me avoiding burning. Otherwise, I just use the natural sun to tan. In the winter, I don’t worry about it too much.

  7. Great tips! I agree that exfoliation should be an important part of everyone’s skin routine.

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Thanks! Yes, I think there are many people that aren’t aware of how important it is…

  8. This are very helpful for my fair skin friends. I’ll share this to them, I don’t need it personally coz I’m already have tan complexion.

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      Thank you!!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post!

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      I’m so glad you learned something new from my post! I was hoping it would help someone out 🙂 Orrr.. help some avoid the self-tanning fails I went through 😂

    1. Kate @ Kate These Days

      No problem! Hopefully, these tips will help you out when you go to attempt it next time!! 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment!

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