A Pale Gal’s Guide: Best Self-Tanning Tips

There are so many posts out there with tips for using self-tanner. But, as an avid self-tanner, I must have one here on my blog, too. I’ve been self-tanning here and there for like 14 years. Remember Neutrogena’s Build a Tan lotion? I have a vivid memory of my sister and I using it the night before my birthday which was also Father’s Day. I also remember looking slightly orange – eeeek, haha. But, self-tanner has come a long way and so has the way I apply it.

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This post isn’t just for my fellow pale gals but as someone with fair skin, I’ve found there are certain application and upkeep techniques that work best for a natural-looking faux glow when starting with a pale base. As I said before, you’ve probably seen a lot of these before but it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder. Read on for my best self-tanning tips:

Best Self-Tanning Tips


Formula: Even though I have fair skin I prefer using a medium shade formula over a light. It varies by brand, but I find that medium has enough color to be noticeable but still wears well as it fades. I don’t recommend a dark formula on fair skin unless you have the time for upkeep or self-tanner that lasts well on your skin.

Shave and exfoliate: I like to shave and then exfoliate my whole body the day/night before I self-tan. If you shave right before tanning it can cause the product to collect where the hair was and look like brown dots, so I try not to do it right before. Sometimes I shave the day before and then exfoliate before tanning but you get the idea. Recently, I’ve read that people don’t shave before tanning – so I guess it’s more of a preference and what makes the process easier for you. If you shave after tanning (which is likely to happen with the warm weather) just be conscious of the types of shaving creams and lotions you use so they don’t strip your tanner.

Dry completely: Pretty self-explanatory. Be sure your skin is completely dry before applying any product since being wet will affect the solution.

Apply lotion as a barrier: Use lotion as if you’re covering spots that tend to be dry – like, knees, elbows, ankles, wrists, and fingers. Dry skin will soak up more product, adding lotion first will create a barrier and allow less tanning product to absorb.

Apply and wait: I always use a mitt unless the directions say otherwise (like tanning drops). For years, I’ve just used the mitts available at Ulta but they don’t stay on my hand very well. I recently purchased this set (from Amazon) and the body mitt has been a game-changer. The elastic bottom stays on my hand and it can be washed in between uses! The best practice for applying self-tanner is to apply in a circular motion.

Tricky spots

 Areas like elbows, knees, feet, and hands can cause issues very easily. Here are some things that have worked for me:

– Use a brush or clean cotton ball to help blend knuckles and ankles or wrists. I use an old bronzer brush. You can even use a cotton ball with a bit of product on it to apply to your feet and hands.

– Use a face mitt for your feet and hands. The mitt set that I referenced earlier includes one.

– Go back and only swipe once: Feet, hands, and elbows just need a light application. I may apply 2-3 layers/coats to my legs and arms but don’t want that much on my feet, hands, or elbows because it doesn’t look natural on me since they always seem to develop darker. After you complete your legs, without adding any new product to your (same) mitt, sweep over your foot. Avoid the knuckles and toes. Do the same for the hands – avoiding the knuckles and fingers. And the elbows! You may want to do this for your knees, too.

– Use a makeup wipe after application of hands: I like to do my hands last. So, I finish the rest of my body and wash my hands. Then apply to my hands as I described above. I then use a makeup wipe and go over my entire palm, my inner wrist, between all my knuckles, my fingers, and around my nails to make sure no leftover product is left behind. This is especially helpful if you use a clear tanning product without a color guard!

– Don’t worry about it: Honestly, most people don’t notice self-tanner flaws. So, don’t stress if you have an issue. I feel like no matter what I do to my elbows, they come out too dark and take so long to tone down. A couple of weeks ago my palms turned out really dark even though I used a micellar wipe after applying my product – so things happen! Just remember what went wrong so you don’t do it again the next time, haha.


Daily lotions: A regular moisturizer should work just fine, as long as it doesn’t contain any sort of exfoliant (like AHA or the like). I also really like using a gradual tanning lotion after a few days to keep my tan even and fresh.


Use a mixture of water + baking soda, body scrubs, or tan remover like this to remove old tanner. I haven’t found something that works wonders the next day when I wake up to something like really tan palms. I typically exfoliate as much as I can and if it looks uneven I apply a tinted lotion to help blend the color. There are a few products out there that I’d like to try but haven’t gotten to them quite yet. I’d love to know what you use!

Speaking of products – I want to share my current product recommendations but, I don’t want this post to be too long. So, keep an eye out for that soon!

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Self-tanning is a way for me to practice self-care because I feel so good when I’m bronzed and glowing. These tips have helped make the process easier for me. Hopefully, you learned something helpful from today’s post. Click here to read my last post with more self-care ideas.

Here’s to your best self-tan! 🙂

Do you use self-tanner? What are your best self-tanning tips?



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