The Ultimate Guide To The Perfect Sunless Summer Glow From A Pro Fake-Tanner

10 min
September 06, 2022

Whitney is the PR & Communications Assistant Manager at Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare and a self-proclaimed self-tanning expert.  After years of trial and error, she’s sharing her top tanning tips that will help you take your tan to the next level and ensure a flawless finish every time. 

The Day Before Tanning

The biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout the years is the key to a natural-looking sunless tan is all in the prep. Self-tanner isn’t something you can apply willy-nilly – spontaneity will not be your friend here. Great tanning takes planning, and if you lay the groundwork in advance, it will be the difference between a week-long, glow up and a peel-y, patchy mess.

Exfoliate Before Self-Tanning

The first step to nailing an even, long-lasting tan is exfoliating. This pre-tan staple helps buff away dead skin cells and create a smooth canvas for the tan to be applied. The key here is to zero in on rough spots like your elbows, knees, and ankles and exfoliate those areas thoroughly. You’ll also want to opt for an oil-free exfoliator – oil-based products tend to leave a film on the skin which can make your tan streaky and leave you looking a little freaky. My go-to combo for pre-tan prep is the Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment and the Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel on my face. This gives you a guaranteed streak-free bronze every time.

Hair Removal Before Self-Tanning

If you’re someone who likes silky dolphin skin, then you’ll want to save any de-fuzzing for at least 24 hours before self-tanning. Shaving is a must for a smooth, even tan because it removes the hair (duh!) and all the remaining dead skin stragglers that the first round of exfoliation missed. But did you know that when you shave, you’re also creating small micro-cuts in the skin and opening pores? So, if you shave right before self-tanning, there’s a good chance that the tanner will settle into your open pores and leave behind dark spots or worse, cause irritation. I recommend playing it safe and shaving the day before, so your pores have enough time to recover and close.

Moisturize Before Self-Tanning

After a double dose of exfoliation, your skin may feel a little tight and dry, which is no bueno for self-tanning. Self-tanner acts like stage 5 clinger around dry skin and will hold on to more pigment than usual leaving you looking uneven and splotchy. To get your skin back on track, apply an oil-free moisturizer over the face and body and pay special attention to dryer areas like the elbows, knees, and ankles. Moisturizing the day before will help prevent unwanted product build-up and ensure a flawless finish. 

The Day Of Tanning

Whitney Bestwick using self-tanning Glow Pads by Dr Dennis Gross

Look for a Skin-Friendly Self-Tanner: 

The journey to picking the perfect self-tanner can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. These days there’s an overwhelming amount of options to choose from including creams, mousses, wipes, lotions, and drops which can make it difficult to pinpoint what will work best for your skin. Just remember to look at the ingredient list before you add it to your cart because self-tanners can be formulated with harsh fragrances and high alcohol concentrations which can wreak havoc on your skin. For a worry-free bronze, look for a non-sensitizing, fragrance-free formula that will feel as good as it looks on the skin.

As a faux-tan fanatic, I’ve tried what feels like every self-tanner out there, and unfortunately, my skin often paid the price. However, after years of trial and error, I finally got my hands on the Alpha Beta Glow Pad For Body and the Alpha Beta Glow Pad For Face and I'm never looking back. The Alpha Beta Glow pads are superior because they're formulated with a blend of AHAs/BHAs to help smooth and firm the skin while active vitamin D delivers the most natural-looking golden glow.

Apply Tanner Bottom Up

The time has come – you’re finally ready to tan! Your technique may vary depending on the self-tanner, but there are a few set rules that always apply. Start with your feet and work your way up section-by-section. By working upward, you’ll avoid creating creases in your tan, which can occur when you start with your torso and then lean over to tan your legs. Apply the self-tanner in circular motions, evenly distributing across the body and face. Sometimes this may require you to call in some backup, whether that be a roommate, partner, best friend, etc. to make sure all the nooks and crannies are covered. Hey, there’s no shame in the self-tanning game and let me tell you, nothing bonds roommates faster than having them apply tanner to those hard-to-reach areas (ask any of my former roommates!).

Let It Develop

So you’ve got the glow, but now what? It’s time to play the waiting game. You should wait at least 20 minutes or until your tan is completely dry before washing your hands and putting on loose, dark clothing. If you think this is the time to wear your best outfit and head out to flaunt your new tan, think again. Although your tan may be “dry” it still takes about 6-8 hours to fully develop, so until then, consider yourself on house arrest and take it easy.

Once your tan has fully developed, you’re free to hit the showers. The first shower after self-tanning is make or break, so make good choices here. You’ll want to skip the piping hot shower this time and rinse off with lukewarm water, and pat dry. Drying yourself aggressively with your towel is a big no-no and may undo all your hard work.

How to make self-tan last longer

After all the effort you’ve gone through to achieve the perfect summer glow, the last thing you want is for it to fade quickly. Moisturizing is the key to extending your tan and preventing an uneven, patchy fade. Failure to do this essential step will result in dry, flakey skin and a sad, short-lived glow. Slather on your favorite oil-free moisturizer, morning and night to lock in extra hydration and maintain your tan for as long as possible.

How do you remove self-tanner mistakes?

Whether you’re a faux-glow pro or a tanning newbie, most people have fallen victim to at least one or two bad fake tans in their day (or 500+ if you’re me). From streaky marks to orange palms to blotchy wrists, self-tanning mistakes happen to the best of us. The good news is botched tans are an easy fix, so no need to hide away in your room all week until it washes off. 

Exfoliating isn’t just a part of the pre-tanning prep – it has a role in every step of the self-tanning process. Whether the color came out too dark or is looking a little splotchy, the first thing you’ll want to do is gently exfoliate the area to help tone down the color. If I’m looking to erase a tanning mishap on my face, I reach for the Alpha Beta AHA/BHA Daily Cleansing Gel to help gradually fade the color.

However, if I'm dealing with tanning mistakes on my body, I turn to my trusty Alpha Beta Exfoliating Body Treatment to come to the rescue. These powerful wipes are like a magic eraser for self-tanner and remove it with ease.

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Written By

Whitney Bestwick

Whitney is the PR & Communications Assistant Manager at Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. She’s a skincare fanatic and believes healthy skin is always in.

Read More from Whitney Bestwick

Written By

Whitney Bestwick

Whitney is the PR & Communications Assistant Manager at Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. She’s a skincare fanatic and believes healthy skin is always in.

Read More from Whitney Bestwick