Sunless Tanning: How to Self-Tan at Home

How To, Sun

Sunless Tanning: How to Self-Tan at Home

by Diana Kelly Levey
January 19, 2023

Sunless tanning offers the best of both worlds — you get a gorgeous glow without the skin damage associated with ultraviolet rays.

At-home self-tanning products can give you that classic bronzed look thanks to the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Found in most home tanning products, this color additive has been approved by the FDA for cosmetic use in the form of lotions and sprays. However, the FDA hasn't approved DHA in professional spray tanning booths, since an all-over spray is more likely to touch the eyes, lips, nose and mouth, or mucous membranes.

Here are safe ways to use self-tanning products to attain stunning radiance from the comfort of home.



What You Need To Know About Sunless Tanning

Tan can be a great look; cancerous never is. Sunless tanning delivers all of the benefits of a stunning tan without the need to spend time baking in the sun.

Self-tanners are made with the DHA color additive. When DHA is applied to your skin, it adheres to the dead skin cells on your skin's surface, temporarily darkening your skin. Voila, you have a temporary tan!

Be careful when applying self-tanners around your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you're wondering what is the best sunless tanning lotion, check out the Neutrogena® Build-A-Tan Gradual Sunless Tan Lotion or the Neutrogena® Build-a-Glow Gradual Self-Tanning Moisturizing Spray.



How To Create the Best Sunless Tan

Getting the perfect sunless tan at home takes some preparation; it's not as easy as just spraying it on. Follow these tips for how to self-tan in a way that looks even, ensures a beautiful bronzed glow, and lasts longer.

If you're aiming to find a self-tanner routine that will give you an even, beautiful golden glow, here's what the American Academy of Dermatology recommends:

  1. Step 1: Exfoliate

    Use a washcloth or a loofah to exfoliate your skin in the shower and remove flakes and soften dry patches. A daily exfoliating product like the Neutrogena® Body Clear Exfoliant Body Scrub with Salicylic Acid is a great choice for smooth skin that's ready to absorb your sunless tanner in an even layer. Pay special attention to your rougher areas like elbows and knees during the exfoliation process, as fake tanner can often collect in these areas.
  2. Step 2: Dry Off and Moisturize

    Skin hydration is a crucial step for anyone applying self-tanner. For a level tan, your skin needs to be dry yet hydrated. After showering, pat your skin dry with a towel. Give it about 10 minutes after your skin is dry, and then apply a daily body moisturizer like Neutrogena® Hydro Boost Whipped Body Balm. Then, let the moisturizer set on your skin before applying sunless tanning spray or lotion.
  3. Step 3: Apply Tanner in Sections

    Will self-tanner stain your palms? Absolutely — self-tanning products don't discriminate, and if you're not careful, you could end up with orange palms. You might consider using a mitt when applying self-tanner to avoid getting it on your hands. Sit or stand in an area where you can easily clean up — like the tub — and consider putting an old towel or sheet under you in case any product drips. It's best to be in front of a mirror so you can see what you're doing and avoid streaks.
    Apply the sunless tanner across sections of your body and rub in gently in circular motions, one limb at a time. Then, blend the tanner into your torso for more even results.
  4. Step 4: Wash Your Hands Well

    If you use your bare hands to apply self-tanner, wash them well afterward to avoid dyed orange palms. Use an old towel to dry them off, and then consider using a nail scrubber to work around the nail beds gently. If you do end up with orange palms, don't panic! You can try scrubbing them gently using a toothbrush and a mix of water and baking soda.
  5. Step 5: Blend in Your Tanner

    The creases in your skin around your wrists and ankles can collect an excess of tanning product, resulting in brown streaks. Gently blend the tanner from these areas into your arms and legs in circular motions.
  6. Step 6: Reduce the Self-Tanner on Your Joints

    As with your ankles and wrists, your knees and elbows can also turn out darker than the rest of your body. You can dilute the tanning lotion or spray around these areas. Just dampen a soft towel or use a cleansing cloth like Hydro Boost Compostable Cleansing Makeup Remover Wipes to gently rub it in.
  7. Step 7: Give It Time To Dry

    When self-tanning doesn't work out, it's usually because it wasn't given enough time to dry properly. It's important to be patient and let it dry fully before you get dressed — otherwise, you risk ending up with orange-stained clothes and a streaky tan. This will likely take at least 10 minutes. Stand or sit on a towel and pass the time by listening to a podcast, playlist, or guided meditation for a relaxing experience. Make sure to avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing or doing activities where you'll be sweating for the next few hours.
  8. Step 8: Always Wear Sunscreen

    It's a common misconception that fake tanner offers sun protection. That's just not true, and you should still wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. Once your tanning product is dry, you're free to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Spray the Neutrogena® Ultra Sheer Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 all over 15 minutes before you plan to go outside, and wear SPF clothing and a hat for better protection from the sun.



FAQs About Sunless Tanning

  • How Long Will It Be Before I Notice My Tan?

    The Neutrogena® Build-A-Glow Gradual Self-Tanning Moisturizing Spray offers a bronzed tan within two to four hours. You can use this product daily to build a sun-kissed glow that lasts. Some self-tanners show up between one and 12 hours after application. Be sure to follow the directions!
  • When Can I Shower After a Spray Tan?

    Wait at least four to eight hours after your spray tan before you shower for the first time — however, don't wait more than 24 hours.
  • What Happens if I Get Self-Tanner on My Clothes?

    While you may be tempted to wear your cutest light-colored sleeveless dress to show off your sunless tan, you'll probably be better off wearing darker clothes for the first day or two. If you get self-tanner on your clothes, bedsheets or towel, blot the stain from the edge toward the center of the stain. Then, toss it in the washer unless it's labeled dry clean only.
    Whether you opt for self-tanning lotion or sunless tan spray, you're only a few steps away from a bronzed glow without any help from the sun.



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I’m a New York City area writer, runner, reader, adopted dog mom, and believer in wearing sunscreen every day.

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