The ultimate guide to a streak-free fake tan
January 24, 2016 | By:
Self-tan isn’t just for 20-somethings but as skin gets older it does need extra TLC to ensure the most flawless results. Fiona Embleton gives us the micro-detail on exactly how to do it
Beauty_Tanning_How to apply self-tan

No streaking this summer, ladies! Keep your tan even with our self-tan guide

Before you self-tan

“Use the ‘Tan Tone’ as a guide when shopping for self-tan,” says self-tanning expert James Read, who has a celebrity following and works backstage at the London, New York and Paris fashion shows. “This means matching your tan to your hair colour and skin tone to give you the most believable results. Remember, you only want to go one shade darker than you would naturally go in the sun.”

If you have red hair and fair skin, use a gradual tan for a subtle hint of colour. A good one is Elemis Total Glow Bronzing Moisturiser (£27).

Blonde hair with a medium skin tone suits a gel, to turn skin a honey shade. Try L’Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Elixir (£15.99).

Olive skin with dark hair suits a mousse such as St Tropez Self Tan Dark Mousse (£18) to recreate the deepest bronzes.

After applying your tan take a picture of yourself using a cameraphone with the flash on. “This shot, far more than the naked eye, will reveal if your tan is too dark for your skin tone,” says Read.

Skin gets drier with age so its pH balance is likely to be more alkaline. This means your self-tan may develop with a slightly orange tinge as it reacts with the tanning agents in your product. A few days before you tan, start using a pH-balancing body wash such as Crabtree & Evelyn La Source  Bath & Shower Gel, £15.

Don’t shower or bathe just before tanning as hot water opens the pores, where self-tan will then gather, creating an uneven finish.

We’ve heard it a hundred times before but that’s because it is SO important to exfoliate in the days leading up to tanning. Otherwise your self-tan will cling to dead skin, creating a patchy tan. Don’t use an oil-based salt or sugar scrub, though, as the oil can act as a barrier on the skin and your self-tan won’t absorb as well.

“I’m a big fan of the Foreo Luna sonic cleanser (£125) with the non-gritty Sienna X Body Polish (£11.95) on the face and body,” says professional spray tanner and resident at London’s W Hotel, James Harknett. “Together they gently but effectively polish away dead skin and leave a smooth base for your self-tan to adhere to.”

On the night you tan

It’s best to apply self-tan before you go to bed, as the ingredients are better absorbed when your body is at rest. “During the day, when we’re rushing around, the salt and moisture in our skin sweat off the tan,” says Read. Just remember to let your self-tan dry fully for 20 minutes before hopping under the sheets.

Always use a tanning mitt to apply self-tan. The coverage will be more even. Apply a 5p-sized dollop to your mitt at a time and always move in a circular motion. “If you don’t have a mitt use an old sock. And make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after application,” says Read.

For legs: start below your knee and move down to your ankles. “Pay particular attention to your feet and ankles as the skin here gets more parched with age and self-tan grabs onto drier areas of the body, staining them a darker colour,” says Harknett.

“Use a scrub designed specifically for your feet to remove stubborn hard skin. Then apply an oil-free moisturiser all over your feet (including the soles) and around your ankles. Dab a barrier cream – Vaseline is good – on to cuticles and knuckles to ensure your skin doesn’t turn darker here than the surrounding skin.

“Then, using a gradual tan, work your mitt down your legs. When you get to just above your ankle, stop. Take a blusher brush from your make-up bag and sweep the excess tan you already have on your legs over the ankle and across the tops of your feet.” Bend your knees to ensure even coverage here, and work up your thighs.

For arms: begin on the outside and tops of your arms. This is where the sun would tan you first so concentrate most of the colour here. Apply an extra layer of moisturiser to your inner arms then use the excess tan you already have on your mitt to apply a lighter tan to this area. Use the same blusher brush trick on your hands.

For face: self-tan can dehydrate skin, which is obviously a problem for 50-somethings when the skin is already becoming drier as hormones dip. One option is to invest in a self-tan that specifically treats the face such as Crème de la Mer The Face And Body Gradual Tan (£65): “It will give a less intense colour as well as being gentle on your skin,” says Harknett.

Use a foundation brush to apply the self-tan. It gives the most even coverage on the face and ensures you avoid the hairline (grey hair in particular absorbs self-tan easily). Or try mixing a few drops of Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster (£19) in with your regular night cream. It’s one of the most exciting new formulas to launch this summer because it gives you complete control over how bronzed you go while also turning an ordinary moisturiser into a nourishing self-tanner.

Remember your ‘face’ starts at your bust, so work the self-tan down to where your bra or swimsuit would normally start.


Leave the tan to develop for a minimum of four hours while you sleep, then shower in the morning.

Don’t worry if you make a mistake – it can easily be rectified. “Forget the myth about lemon juice – it won’t help to remove unwanted stains,” warns Reed. “Use whitening toothpaste mixed with a little water instead.”

Exfoliate every two days to buff away dead cells and keep moisturising. As well as improving the texture of your skin, it will lock in the tan so it doesn’t discolour if it’s exposed to chlorine in a swimming pool.

If your face starts to feel dry, press a face oil such as Sanctuary Spa Therapist’s Secret Facial Oil (£17.50) into your skin to give it an extra dose of moisture. And instead of using a bronzing powder, which mops up your face’s natural oils, use one of the new liquid bronzers to keep skin looking dewy. We love Benefit dew the hoola liquid bronzer (£22.50) and Giorgio Armani Maestro Mediterranea Liquid Summer in 100 (£39).

For those that still prefer the traditional bronzer, make sure you choose a moisturising bronzer, especially for mature skin. We’ve had a run down of the 7 top bronzers for mature skin.

Finally, says James Harknett: “If you decide to top up your tan, use a gradual tanner. They are 80 per cent moisturiser so will keep thirsty skin at bay.”

May your tan – and your summer –be smooth, golden and glowing!
Weekly newsletter