A guide to using self-tanning lotions

October 28, 2014

Self tanners have come a long way since they first hit the market in the 1970s and 80s. They had to – since then we’ve realized how damaging UV rays are to skin, and its effects on premature aging and skin cancer.

A guide to using self-tanning lotions

Will self-tanning lotions make me look orange?

That orange glow of yesterday has been replaced by buttery bronze and golden tan shades. There is a self tanner for every skin tone.

They work because of one ingredient - Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is a colourless chemical derived from glycerin. It interacts with the amino acids in dead skin cells – the surface area of your skin – to produce a brown colour change.DHA has been approved for use in self-tanners since 1973. It is not absorbed through the skin.

Which tanning lotion is right for me?

Decide what kind of tanning lotion you want to use. Instant tanners are spray-on colour that, depending on the brand, will wash off anywhere from a couple of days to a week. Gradual tanning creams allow you to progressively increase the colour over the course of several days as you apply. Self tanners come in creams, gels, sprays, mousse or lotions.

Follow these simple application instructions on using self tanning lotions for best results:


Use a washcloth, loofa or dry skin brush prior to tanning to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells. Without exfoliation, a self-tanning cream can get “stuck” in patches of dead skin and turn a darker colour. Pay special attention to the main joint area – ankles, knees and elbows – where your skin tends to be thicker. Always leave at least 24 hours between shaving or waxing and tanning.


Make sure your skin is moisturized inside and out before applying self tanner. But avoid moisturizing too close to the time you plan to apply self-tanner. Make sure the moisturizer has ample time to penetrate the skin.


Always spot-test a new product on a small patch of skin to check for reaction before using. If possible, position yourself in an area with a full-length mirror and a sink nearby. Wear protective gloves or tanning mitts. (If you don’t have either, plan to wash your hands thoroughly as soon as the application is complete).


  • Use minimal product around the feet, ankles, knees and elbows. The back is obviously tough to reach without a spray applicator. Use a back applicator or enlist a second pair of hands to help. If your tanning cream is tinted, you’ll be able to see any areas you’ve missed. Avoid going overboard with product – more tanner won’t make you darker.
  • You may want to use a special face tanner to prevent clogged pores.
  • Once you’ve finished, wash your hands and wait. Try not to wear or touch anything for at least 15 minutes or until the tanning lotion has absorbed into your skin.

Enjoy your new bronze glow knowing that you’re tanning safely.

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