8 Mistakes You’re Making While Using Self-Tanner

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If you’ve been looking for the perfect tan self-tanner and it just never seems to turn out perfect, don’t worry – you’re not alone. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, from streaks and splotches to an uneven tan or the wrong color. The dreaded orange goblin look!

Sunless self-tanners can be a bit tricky to use, and proper prep and application are essential to get that smooth, flawless glowing tan.

We’re here to look at some very common mistakes people make when choosing, prepping, and applying a self-tanner. We’ll show you what to avoid and give you a few tips to ensure perfect results every time.

Let’s Begin!


Sunless Tanner 101

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how self-tanner works. It will make it easier to see why things went wrong and how to get the tan you are looking for.

Self-tanner is basically a tan in a bottle that you apply yourself. It’s a no-fuss way to get that tanned look in the comfort of your own home, without the harmful effects of UV rays of the sun or tanning beds.

There are lots of different varieties of sunless self-tanners on the market, from lotions and mists to foams, mousses and serums — even tanning waters

The active ingredient in self-tanners is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA works by creating a chemical reaction with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan.

Mistakes You’re Making Using  A Self-Tanner

1. Choosing the Wrong Color or Shade

Let’s start at the beginning.

If you start off with a shade too dark for your skin, or the wrong color for your skin tone, none of the other corrective measures below will make your tan look good if it seems a bit ‘off’.

Have you had previous experience with a self-tanner was turning out a color that just didn’t look right, or was not what you had expected? You probably used the wrong shade for your skin tone or color for your skin undertone. It probably wasn’t faulty product.

What is My Skin Undertone Tone?

To determine your skin’s undertone, look at the veins on the underside of your wrist in natural light. If your veins look blue, you have cool-toned skin with pink undertones.

If your veins appear green, you have warm-toned skin with yellow undertones.

If your veins appear both blue and green, you are one of the lucky people that have neutral undertones, which means that almost every color of self-tanner will look great on you.

If it’s hard to tell what color your veins are, or you can’t see them, hold up silver and gold jewelry next to your face. Regardless of your personal preference, which one looks better next to your skin? Those with warm-toned skin will look better with gold jewelry. Those with cool-toned skin will look better with silver jewelry.

How to Pick the Right color

The wrong shade or color is often to blame for a bad fake tan. Choosing the right color is crucial if you want a natural-looking result that looks as genuine as the real UV.

Fair Skin

For very fair skin, choosing a shade too dark can sometimes turn out orangey. Unless the orangutan is your spirit animal or you want to look like Trump, you should opt for a buildable gradual self-tanner in a lighter shade.

Olive Skin

If you have olive or a darker skin tone and you’re looking to boost your glow up a notch, if you are using the wrong color, it can turn out a little yellow or muddy looking.

Neutral Skin

For those with a neutral skin tone, there’s a lot less worry when it comes to color picking because your skin tone will go with just about any color. That said, choosing a shade that is too dark for your natural complexion can look unnatural as well.

Color Correctors

Self-tanners have only recently started adding color correctors to their formulas, and there aren’t that many out there. If you have warm or cool-toned skin and your self-tanning fail was that it turned out the wrong color, try to look for a self-tanner that has a color corrector.

If you’re a cool skin tone you should be going for a green-based self-tanner. And because green neutralizes reddish-pink, it’s good for those with really fair complexions that may have other tanning products turning orange.

Those with warmer skin tones should opt for a violet-based self-tanner. Violet will neutralize yellow undertones and give you a more caramel, rather than golden color.

So you’ve figured out your skin tone, and got the color you think is perfect. Before you go ahead and slather it on, DO A PATCH TEST FIRST!

Find an inconspicuous area and test it out. Better to find out it’s not the right color on a spot no one will see than over your entire body!

Even if you think you have the right color, it may not turn out exactly as you planned. Everyone’s skin chemistry is different, so it can be a bit of trial and error with different self-tanners to see which one gives you the best color on your skin.

Always try one shade lighter than you think you’ll need. It’s much easier to build up than to tone the color down after the fact.

But just because you tried one once and it didn’t turn out, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a color that looks good on you.

Maybe you did find the perfect color, but it came out streaky, faded too quickly or was uneven. Keep reading and we’ll go over the other mistakes you might have made.

2. Not Properly Prepping Before Tanning

The second self-tanning biggest mistake is not prepping before tanning. There is a lot that goes into using a self-tanner!

Under this umbrella of ‘prep’ are most likely lots of other little mistakes you are making.

Not moisturizing

Moisturizing your skin immediately before applying a fake tan will cause it to go on unevenly and will end up streaky. Keep your skin moisturized in the days leading up to your self-tanner application and pay close attention to extra dry areas like your elbows and knees. But avoid moisturizing the day of application.

Shaving right before you self-tan

Shaving the day before can cause tiny droplets of self-tanner to accumulate in the follicles where you have shaved the hairs, which can cause a freckled or spotty appearance. Wait at least 2 days after application to shave.

Your tan will also last longer if you don’t shave right after applying self-tanner. 

Not exfoliating

Exfoliating is a crucial first step right before you apply your self-tanner because you are getting rid of the skin cells that are closest to shedding. Remember when we talked about how self-tanner works by reacting with dead skin cells to simulate a tan?

Not exfoliating to get rid of all of those dead skin cells that are right about to shed and take your tan with them will leave you with a patchy, uneven tan.

Not exfoliating to get rid of all of those dead skin cells that are right about to shed and take your tan with them will leave you with a patchy, uneven tan.

Also not paying attention to exfoliating areas that tend to build up excess dry skin, like knees, heels and elbows will have those areas absorbing more tanner than other areas of your body, again leaving you with a patchy, uneven tan.

 Exfoliating after self-tanning

Exfoliating after a fake tan will cause you to lose your tan faster (because you’re scrubbing away your tan), and it can leave what’s left looking uneven and patchy.

Exfoliate before: Yes! Exfoliate after: No!

3. Applying Self-Tanner Directly to Hands and Feet

Slathering self-tanner directly on your hands and feet will have you ending up with them being a totally different shade than the rest of your body (and you’ll frantically be searching for how to fix it).

Apply the tanner to your arms and legs first, then smooth the rest onto fingers and toes.

Always work the leftover tanner from the arms onto the hands and from the legs onto the feet and ankles.

Avoid getting it on your palms and use Vaseline on your nails to help protect them from getting stained. If you have especially dry, cracked heels despite your exfoliating and moisturizing, use some Vaseline on the edges of your heels, too.

This will prevent your heels from absorbing too much tanner.

No matter how much prep and how flawlessly you’ve applied it, there is nothing that screams FAKE TAN, like stained palms and fingernails!

No matter how much prep and how flawlessly you’ve applied it, there is nothing that screams FAKE TAN, like stained palms and fingernails!

4. You Got Wet Too Soon

Whether it be from showering, sweating, or applying any type of lotion, perfume or deodorant during the developing time, this will interrupt the tanning process and result in streaks and blotches.

The developing time of a self-tanner is about 8 hours. So during that time, don’t take a shower, jump in the pool, do heavy exercise or apply anything to your skin.

It’s a good idea to tan at night, so you’ll be ready to shower in the morning.

5. Not Using Moisturizer on Your Hairline

If you have light hair, self-tanner can leave you with a slightly darker hairline. Trying to avoid it will have you ending up with a white line around your face where you were trying not to get it in your hair.

A little lotion along the hairline is all it takes and problem solved.

6.  Missing Spots

Forgetting places like the back of your neck, your ears, or over your top lip will be fooling no one that it’s a real tan. Make sure you apply tanner to your back evenly.

Use a handheld mirror to check places you can’t see.

7.  You’re Using the Same Self-Tanner for Your Face and Body

There’s a reason they make separate face and body self-tanners. If you are using a body tanner on your face, it is likely to clog pores and cause breakouts. Invest in a separate self-tanner for your face.

Use your face tanner on your neck, otherwise the different color on your face and neck are a total giveaway it’s a self-tanner.

8. Getting Dressed Too Quickly

If you get dressed before the self-tanner has had a chance to dry, you are going to end up with streaks and a splotchy tan, not to mention stained clothes.

Even after it’s dry, it can still feel a little tacky. So save the skinny jeans for another day and opt for loose-fitting clothing – the darker the better.


A self-tanner may take a little trial and error before you get it right. But be patient and heed the advice above. You can achieve that perfect sun-kissed glow, without the sun!

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).