6 Sunless Tanning Secrets

Want to enjoy that sun-kissed look without the risks of tanning? Whether you just want to touch up some tan lines or need all over bronzing, the latest generation of self-tanners will have you glowing in a matter of minutes.

The active ingredient in most self-tanners is DHA, a simple sugar that turns golden brown when exposed to certain proteins. When applied to your skin, which contains amino acids (proteins), an interaction takes place—the same type of reaction that turns beer brown during production, for example—that temporarily changes the color of your skin.

DHA in self-tanners is present in concentrations ranging from 2% to 5%. In general, products with higher concentrations are used to tan the body, while the lower concentrations are used in facial products. The higher the concentration of DHA, the darker the results.

Say goodbye to the unnatural orange tones of yesteryear! Today’s self-tanning products look more natural than ever. But before you start, here are a few things you need to know to ensure your faux tan turns out perfectly.

It may seem like common sense, but you should carefully read and follow the product's instructions (and warnings). That little label says a lot, and if you read conflicting advice elsewhere, be sure to stick with the instructions on your product. That being said, the rest of these tricks will help your self-tanning experience go smoothly!

1. Try before you apply. If you've ever dyed your hair without testing the shade first (and hated the results), then you know how important it is to do a patch test first! To test your self-tanner, apply it to an inconspicuous part of your body (such as your belly) and wait a complete day or two to see how it looks. A single application of self-tanner will last for a few days, applying the wrong shade everywhere could leave you hiding under long sleeves and pants in the summer heat.

2. Plan ahead. Self-tanners work the best on smooth, well-moisturized skin. They often look too dark and artificial on dry skin (especially knees and elbows), so those areas must be softened and smoothed before you start. Prepare your skin to go faux by moisturizing several times a day, especially after bathing or showering. Exfoliate with a gentle scrub all over your body, a few days prior and immediately before applying the self-tanner. Waiting at least 20 minutes after bathing or showing to allow your skin to dry completely. Applying self-tanner on damp or wet skin can result in unevenly-colored areas.

3. Protect your hands. Self-tanners work quickly and if you’re covering your entire body, your palms may get colored in the process. Wear a pair of disposable gloves while applying the self-tanner to your body, applying the tanner to the tops of your hands last. If you don’t have gloves, wash your hands several times and use some soap and a nail brush to scrub away any residue from your nails and cuticles.

4. Apply quickly and evenly. Whether you select a spray, cream or gel self-tanner, you must work quickly and apply the tanner evenly over a complete area. One way to ensure that you don’t miss any spots is to use a brand with a hint of color — that way you will immediately see a bare spot before it’s too late. Use enough tanner to cover a whole area of your body at once (such as your entire arm) using long, smooth, downward strokes for even coverage. Apply self-tanner sparingly on the knees, ankles and elbows, as these areas are typically dry and may turn out splotchy.

5. Wait it out. While you may be tempted to get dressed immediately, wait 30 minutes (or longer) to be on the safe side. Sitting on any light-colored fabrics (including sheets, furniture or towels) during this time can cause color transfer (and stains). Your self-tanner needs time to work its magic, so it has dried, wait at least three hours before bathing, showering or swimming. Afterwards, if you find some areas are darker than you’d like, exfoliate a few times over the next week and the color will fade as your skin cells come off.

6. Make it last. When applied properly, most artificial tans last between three and five days, depending on how fast your skin naturally exfoliates. When you first begin to notice that your color is fading, do another color test and see if you like the shade. If so, go ahead and reapply your self-tanner. Always apply the product in layers, a little at a time, to ensure the most natural looking tone.

Even though you'll be looking sun-kissed, don't forgo the sunscreen. Just as a "base tan" doesn't protect you from the sun, a faux tan doesn't offer any sun protection either. Even though you're sporting golden skin tones, you still need protection against the sun’s harmful rays. Always wear a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher and cover up to prevent sunburn when you're outdoors.