Do’s And Don’ts From a Self-Tanning Expert

There’s something about a skin sack that appears to have baked on the beach for a few hours that makes my pupils dilate and my brain think SUMMER and FUN and HAPPINESS and HEALTH! I’m like a pavlovian dog. So simple. Shiny (even kind of sweaty because I’m a freak!) sun-darkened skin of any shade is like a magnet to my eyeballs.

Every dermatologist everywhere just had a seizure, I know. But they’ll be pleased to know my propensity for tans goes grossly unrealized for three reasons: I was born pale, melanoma runs in my family and I love love love the great indoors.

But, lucky for me, the fake tanning possibilities these days are multiplying. Spray! Lotion! Mousse! Gel! Some are applied in a salon, others in your room, on the go or in your shower. It’s kind of like the fake tanning wild west. That also means a lot of myths are thrown around about what does and doesn’t work. So I talked to Sophie Evans, a Skin Finishing Expert (official title alert!) at St. Tropez.

She’s been in the beauty industry for 23 years and has been spraying women tan since 2002. “My dad is a hairdresser and he’s very vain,” Sophie told me. “He introduced me to self-tanning when I was only 12. He gave me a bottle and told me to go tan my pasty, bruised legs and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

In other words, she knows her shit. For those inclined, here are her Do’s and Don’ts for both in-studio spray tans and at-home tanning application.


1. Exfoliate before.

“Scrub well with a scrub that is non-oil based. Oil can leave residue on the skin that can interfere with the self-tan development. The best time to exfoliate is actually approximately 8 hours before self-tan application.”

2. Shave or wax ahead of time.

“Also, make sure all your waxing and hair removal is done about 24 hours beforehand. This will allow the hair pores to settle so that the tan does not settle into them and create a pitted look.”

3. A patch test if you’re worried about the tone.

“A patch test should be at least two inches by two inches. If it’s too small it will look too concentrated.”

4. Apply with a mitt.

“If you’re pulling and rubbing at the skin when applying your self-tan you are likely causing streaks. Tan applicator mitts glide over the body and your tan will look more even from the get go.”

5. Exfoliate afterward.

“Most people think doing this will take off their self-tan off but I always recommend lightly exfoliating every 2-3 days to guarantee that your tan is fading evenly.”

6. Apply quick fixes to streaks or dark spots.

“Apply baby oil to the darker area and leave for 10 minutes, then scrub the area with an exfoliator and buff it using a hot damp wash cloth. Hair removal cream is also very effective, apply with a q-tip onto the darker area and leave for half the recommended time, then remove.”

7. Moisturize to maintain it!

“Moisturize moisturize moisturize!”


1. Layer it on.

“Your skin can only absorb a certain amount of product. Depending on how someone sprays or how you apply, two decent coats or a few light layers is always sufficient, to go darker is down to which solution you are using not about how many coats are applied.”

2. Moisturize right before.

“Avoid heavy body lotions on the day of your spray tan as this can interfere with the tan development.”

3. Worry about make-up and deodorant.

“Deodorant and make-up can be wiped off just before your session so don’t worry about when you’re applying them day-of.”

4. Moisturize with oil afterward.

“Oils can be really problematic and fade your tan fast. Oils make the top layer of the epidermis swell/plump up — your skin does this to allow all the hydration and goodness of the oil into your skin. Great for hydration but really bad for self-tans as your color can then be rubbed off.”

Illustration by Emily Zirimis.


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