3000 BC Spa is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

How to Self Tan Your Face, Back, Hands, and Feet at Home

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
How to Self Tan

Self-tanning or tanning at home can be DAUNTING. An uneven tan, heavy and noticeably fake tan, or untanned spots are some of the horror stories of self-tanning.

If you want to know the secret to achieve professional-looking self-tanner results WITHOUT stepping a foot outside your home or staying hours under the sun, we got you!

Read on for a COMPLETE step by step tutorial to get that sun-kissed tan!

Complete Guide to DIY-ing Your Tan

If you don’t have the time or access to natural tanning methods, indoor self-tanner lotions are a great option!

  • It’s a simple and FAST tanning solution.
  • It’s CHEAPER and much SAFER too as there is no risk of sun damage or worse, skin cancer.
  • It’s also NOT permanent. So, if you need a faux tan from St. Tropez for an event or weekend getaway, this is the answer!

What You’ll Need:

  • Self-Tanner (lotion or spray tan)
  • Applicator Mitt or Latex Gloves
  • Exfoliating Scrub
  • Razor or Epilator 
  • Lotion Strap, Wand, or Sponge Paintbrush
  • Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly (for the face)
  • Tissue
  • Blow Dryer

Before: Preparation Stage


Half of the process in self-tanning is the preparation stage. You need to prep your skin to ensure you get that glowing and streak-free tan!

1. Shave

Shaving body hair helps remove dull and dead skin cells on the outer layer.

Also, having some hairs on the skin might cause some issues. After it’s washed, you might notice some traces or streaks where the tan did not take full effect.

Thus, before you put on any self-tanners, it’s best to shave for a smoother application across the skin. A smooth base will help self-tanner stick on better.

2. Exfoliate

After shaving, exfoliate the skin to remove dead skin cells. It will further help self-tanner to settle into your skin.

Exfoliating makes sure the product will cling on to fresh and clean skin – which will not only yield a more even and vibrant tan but also, your tan will last longer.

  • Do this in the shower an hour or two before tanning.
  • There are a variety of exfoliating products and scrubs you can choose from. For best results, choose products with salicylic acid or lactic acid as this helps clear out dry skin.
  • Make sure to dry off every inch of your body where you plan to apply self-tanner. DO NOT apply it on wet skin.
  • You also want to make sure to stay in a room that is well-ventilated.
  • Avoid applying self-tanner in a steamy bathroom or humid room at all COSTS! Applying self-tanner in a condition like that will only melt it off.
  • Steer clear away from any moisture or water during or an hour after tanning with self-tanner.
  • Apply a good amount of Vaseline on your eyebrows to protect and retain the natural color of your hair.

Should You Moisturize Beforehand?

A lot of tutorials on how to self-tan offer differing views on this issue.

To nail that natural tan without compromising the suppleness and moisture of your skin, dab some lightweight body lotion.

Some skip this part as the combination of moisturizer and the self-tanner might get sticky or messy or both. BUT if you choose a light lotion and let it dry before you apply self-tanner, you should be fine.

  • If this is your first time using self-tanners, we recommend applying pea-sized amounts to your arms and legs – just enough so your skin isn’t bare.
  • If it feels like it’s not enough, you can increase the amount next time. If it doesn’t seem to work for you, you can skip this step completely.

During: Application Process


Now the FUN part!

  • Start by taking some gloves and squirt a decent amount of self-tanner product. START FROM TOP (HEAD) TO BOTTOM (TOES).
  • Apply self-tanner in CIRCULAR motions.
  • Start with light covering! Remember, it’s easier to add more product THAN to remove excess product. You can adjust the amount you apply next time depending on the results.
  • Cover all areas – especially behind the ears and neck. After covering all the bases in your face, work your way down to the chest area, arms, stomach, legs, and feet. 
  • Don’t forget to apply this on your back as well. Use a wand, strap, or paintbrush to cover hard-to-reach areas if you don’t have anyone that can lend an extra hand.
  • Before you let it dry, there are certain areas needing some adjustment. Take some tissue and gently wipe the following areas: Wrists, elbows, neck, knees, ankles, and the top of your feet.

If you want to achieve a natural-looking tan, this is the key. You don’t want to remove the product. Just lightly TAP a tissue or damp towel to make it slightly lighter than the other areas of your body.

You’ll thank us later!


  • If you didn’t use a tanning mitt and opted to use your bare hands to apply the product, WASH your hands right after. Trust us. The product will develop and leave you with hands that are 10 shades darker than the rest of your body.
  • As for the hands, apply sparingly compared to other areas of your body. Hands are naturally lighter compared to other areas.
  • As for the palms, most people avoid putting products on this area altogether. This is the secret to avoiding orange palms when doing self-tan at home.
  • Avoid shaving AFTER applying self-tanners. This would drastically fade and ruin your tan.

After: Let It Dry


“Bake until golden brown.” In self-tanning, to achieve that golden brown, we WAIT.

  • Take a blow dry to help speed up drying and allow the product to develop its color. Just graze over the areas that are noticeably wet. No need to put it on high either. Just a few seconds then proceed to the next area.
  • Do a last check if your crucial spots are slightly lighter: elbows, neck, knees, feet, and ankles. If there is too much product, grab a makeup remover to help lighten these areas.
  • Wait AN HOUR before you try to put on any clothing.
  • Most products claim that drying takes only 15 minutes. However, it’s better to wait for at least an hour in order to avoid staining your clothes or furniture.

After two hours, it should be completely dry! You can now lie down or go to bed.

Once dried, you can finally enjoy your self-tanner’s flawless finish.

When is It Safe to Wash Off?

The rule of thumb is to let it dry for at least SIX TO EIGHT hours.

If possible, we recommend leaving it on overnight.

  • If it has a “tint”, “guide”, or “glitters”, it’s best to put some towels as a protective layer to be sure in case the product still rubs off.
  • In the morning, it is now safe to remove self-tanner on the skin! Wash it off in the shower with warm water.

TA-DA! You now have that glowing sunless faux tan.

Frequently Asked Questions on Self-Tanning

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Often Do You Need to Tan?

Most self tanner lotions and oils stay on for around 3-7 days before they fade.

After which, you need to reapply again to retain that glowing after-beach look!

2. What is the Best Self-Tanning Product?

There is no product that works best for everyone. It’s all up to one’s preference and also how the self tanner develops with your skin tone.

There are LOTS of variations nowadays – long-lasting self-tanners, tanning accelerators, lotions, oil, sprays, and sticks. You’re lucky if you find the perfect product on the first try.

If not, don’t hesitate to try a few more times to perfect that tan.

You could always start with mild self-tanners for sensitive skin.

3. Can I Redo/Improve My Tan?

If your first attempt to apply self tanner didn’t work, don’t worry as you can still do some remedies.

  • FOR UNEVEN AREAS, apply self tanner to the uneven spot and blend it with the rest. Remember to apply tanning lotion a little bit less on your elbows, knees, feet, and ankles for a more natural-looking tan.
  • FOR OVERLY TANNED AREAS OR DARK SPOTS, you can lighten them by rubbing half a lemon to the area you want to adjust. It helps “erase” the excess color from the skin.

Although some recommend using bleaching soaps or other harsh chemicals, we highly discourage this might damage and dry your skin. 

PRO TIP: If you’re a beginner at tanning, you may come across tanning lines. Luckily, you can easily get rid of tan lines using tips in this guide!

Ready, Get Set, Tan!

Ready, Get Set, Tan!

There you have it! You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars or even stay hours under the sun to achieve that natural-looking glow and bronze tan.

Always use sun protection, even when you’re not going tanning! UV rays can seep through windows and reach your skin. They can cause damage despite not giving you a tan.

Practice makes perfect – it might take a few tries to fully get what you want. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t achieve the results you want during the first try.

Having trouble reaching your back? Read our article on How to Apply Self Tanner to Your Back for more details.