Sunless Tanning – The Healthier Way to Tan

The Healthier Way to Tan

A bronzed glow might be your goal, but you don’t want to bake under the sun or lamps to achieve it. Thankfully, with new formulas in sunless tanning creams, whips, gels, and serums, there is a healthier way to tan

Sunless tanning has come a long way and can look as natural as the real thing. Those new formulas coupled with the right application techniques eliminate all the undesirable results self-tanning is known for. 

No more telltale streaks, blotches, or orange tones. The only thing you have to worry about is whether you want a barely sunkissed look or a 3-weeks-on-vacation glow.

1. Pick your formula

Self-tanners come in a wide variety of formulas. Each has its own texture and application recommendations, development times and results. Choosing the right format comes down to personal preference. 

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Some formulas might be more “beginner friendly” than others with easier application and faster-developing times. Here is a list of the types of products that are available and what to expect with each of them

  • Creams 
  • Whips and Mousse
  • Serums 
  • Gels

Avoiding the dreaded orange look is essential. Of course, you can dive into customer feedback and reviews, but that can be a bit of a guessing game.

Know what skincare preparations and products are right for you by talking with a local professional. You can book a virtual or in-person consultation today.

2. Pick your shade

You’ve seen a bad spray tan. We all have. That might be why sunless tanning products have such a polarized reputation. However, achieving a natural look is easier than ever with the advancements in formulas.

No base tans are needed to apply creams, gels, whips, or serum tanning products. Just choose lighter shades to start with because the tan will develop (darken) over the next 2-12 hours. You can always build a deeper tan over time.

Avoid the mistake of applying too much product because you don’t see a visible difference right away. Your choice of formula can help you achieve the glow of a three-week vacation or barely sunkissed, depending on what your goal is. Check out this great list for some ideas.

sunless tan woman at pool

3. Preparing your skin for sunless tanning

All sunless tanning products interact with the top layer of skin in order to temporarily deepen the skin tone. A common mistake is applying the product without properly prepping the skin, leaving streaks or blotches.

24 hour hours before: Hop in the shower to exfoliate head to toe. This is also when you’ll want to shave because the presence of any hair will create streaks. Read this guide to hair removal for more.

12 hours before: Exfoliate again with either a mitten or dry brush. Then on a part of the body that is hidden under clothing, do a little test patch. Over the next several hours, you will be able to see how that sunless tanning product develops on your own skin.

1 hour before: Moisturizer interferes with the product so you won’t apply it except to strategic areas.

Knees, elbows, and knuckles tend to become overdeveloped–an obvious self-tan giveaway, so you can use that to your advantage. By applying a little moisturizer to these areas, you can prevent over-absorption on that site and you will see more even results.

4. Tools

An even tan comes down to prep, tools, and products. 

Before you swipe on that tan, reach for your exfoliating mitten or skin dry brush, a foundation brush, and a hydrating lotion. 

Exfoliating Mitten or Dry Brush: The day before you apply the tanning product, hop in the shower and exfoliate (you can use a scrub or a mitten).  If you prefer to exfoliate out of the shower, you can choose the dry brush technique. This is a soft natural fiber brush that you gently work all over your body. 

Foundation Brush: Another tip for the knees, elbows, and knuckles is to use a foundation brush to apply the tanning product. You’ll flex, so the wrinkles are stretched open and gently press the self-tan into that area. There is a fantastic demonstration on this blog.

Hydrating Lotion: The knuckles, elbows, and knees tend to soak up more tanning product than anywhere else. To combat that, apply a little lotion to these areas before the sunless tanning product for more even coverage.

5. How make a sunless tan last longer

Hopefully, you exfoliated thoroughly before you applied your self-tanner because you won’t be doing that for a while. 

While exfoliating is a necessary process before sunless tanning, doing it after will cause your bronze glow to fade before its time. Avoid the use of body scrubs, peels, or Microdermabrasion as much as possible.

Plus, you need to skip any products containing salicylic acid and stay away from hot water. Instead, keep moisturized with a great lotion and drink lots of water. Check out 101 on Skin Hydration for a deep dive.

You can even add a small amount of your self-tanning product to the lotion to prevent fading.

Reversing a fake bake mistake

In the event that something goes wrong and you’ve ended up with noticeable streaks, an unmistakable orange hue, or blotchiness, there are fixes.

You will simply do everything this blog tells you not to do. That means taking a hot shower, using products containing acid (salicylic or even lemon juice), and exfoliating.

As J Lo’s character in The Wedding Planner puts it, “Quarter cup of lemon juice, half a cup of salt, and a loofah sponge. Scrub, scrub, scrub.”


For those who want to avoid extra sun exposure, self-tanners are a great choice. But these products work differently than the real thing, so be aware that these sunless tanning products take anywhere from 2 hours to half a day to develop completely. You must wait for that amount of time before deciding you need another application in order to avoid unnatural-looking results.

At the end of the day, it is best to see your local beautician for skincare maintenance, especially when you’ve opted for a faux tan. Head to Booksy for a consultation, treatment, or product recommendations from a pro.

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