Woman's hand on her body

Perfect self-tanning: this is how you do it!

If you would like a summery tan but don’t want to expose your skin to the dangers of the sun, follow these tips. 

A sunless brown is a safe brown

Using a good self-tanning product is actually the only way to get a nice colour without exposing your skin to the sun’s harmful UV rays. But it can be tricky to get a nice, even colour. And of course, no one wants a stripy or orange skin.

Before you start

  • Almost all self-tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone (also known as DHA) to chemically colour the skin. The higher the concentration of DHA, the darker the resulting colour.
  • Many new self-tanning products combine DHA with erythrulose. It takes a little longer for erythrulose to take effect but it results in a longer-lasting colour.   
  • Your body chemistry determines what the colour looks like on your skin. So just because a self-tanning product produces a certain colour on your friend’s skin, this does not necessarily mean you will achieve the same results on your own skin.
  • You need to be patient; it takes about half an hour to apply the product from head to toe. And it can take a few hours before you see the result.
  • Skincare products such as AHAs and BHAs, scrubs, prescribed retinol and products with benzoyl peroxide can affect the result. Some of these products can even remove the colour as they exfoliate (remove) the dead skin cells from the skin surface. This means it is best not to use these products just before you want to apply a self-tanning product, and definitely not after you have applied it. However it is a good idea to exfoliate your skin a few days before using a self-tanner to make your skin smoother.
  • Start with a light coloured self-tanner; any mistakes will be less obvious and easier to rectify.

Tips for perfect self-tanning  

  • Apply the self-tanner in the evening but give the product enough time to dry before you go to bed and wait at least fifteen minutes before putting on your clothes. 
  • Exfoliate a few days before applying the self-tanner, because these products are easier to apply on a smooth skin and you will get a more even result. You can use Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Body Spot Exfoliant as well as Resist Skin Revealing 10% AHA Body Lotion daily beforehand. Do not use an exfoliant after the self-tanning product, because it will make the colour fade or become patchy. 
  • After showering, dry yourself thoroughly and apply a thin layer of night cream or body lotion (without AHA or BHA) to the parts of your body that you will be applying the self-tanner to. This will make it easier to spread the self-tanner evenly. By applying extra cream or body lotion to your ankles, knees and elbows, you avoid the colour become patchy on these areas of the skin.
  • Most people apply a self-tanner when they are naked, but you might choose to wear an old swimming costume to determine where you want to have colour. Whatever you do, make sure you think about where your colour should start and finish. Are you going to stop at your ankles or apply it all the way to the end of your toes?   
  • Wear plastic gloves, use special gloves for self-tanning products or wash your hands every few minutes to avoid getting brown palms. 

What if something goes wrong anyway? 

  • Use a nail brush to remove the self-tanner from your cuticles and between your fingers. You can also use a cotton bud with some cleanser, eye makeup remover or nail varnish remover. 
  • If you do have darker or patchy areas of skin from the self-tanner, then use an exfoliant such as Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid on these areas. Use the exfoliant again the next day with a wet face cloth and the stripes will be gone!


These tips should help you to achieve a natural looking colour. They are however no guarantee of a good result; it remains a question of trial and error. We strongly recommend that you do not apply too much self-tanner. No one wants to look like an orange. And you don’t need a tan to have a beautiful skin.