Ultimate Beginners Guide to Fake Tanning

There’s a subtle art to applying a perfect fake tan. While it may seem complicated, you can achieve salon-worthy results at home by following a few simple steps.

1. Prepping your skin for fake tan

Arguably the most important tip for achieving the perfect fake tan is to thoroughly prep your skin, starting with hair removal and exfoliation. Investing a little time and effort in priming your body to apply fake tan will pay off tenfold in terms of the final results and longevity of your tan.


The first step is hair removal. Shaving and waxing can cause irritation, so the last thing you want to do is apply a fresh layer of fake tan over the top and risk it looking like a rash of small brown dots in your pores. Instead, shave your legs the day before you plan on applying your fake tan to give your skin time to recover between prep and application. If waxing, then we suggest a minimum of 48 hours before tan application for best results.


Next up is exfoliating. Exfoliate your skin either the night before, or the morning of tanning your skin. Exfoliating helps to remove dead skin cells[1], creating a smooth, fresh base for your tan. It’s important to use an exfoliator that won’t leave behind any residue on your skin, as this will compromise your fake tan application. Stick to something oil-free like the Cetaphil Oily Skin Cleanser, and apply it with an exfoliating tool, like a glove, pad, or brush. If you have sensitive skin, the cleanser alone will suffice. Exfoliating is important for both body and face, so don’t forget to prime your face if you’re planning on tanning it too. The Cetaphil Face Daily Exfoliating Cleanser is formulated with exfoliating beads to gently buff away dry skin. Once you’ve primed your skin, it’s important to leave it clean and clear before applying your fake tan — that means no moisturiser, deodorant, or perfume!

2. Moisturise dry areas before fake tan application

Fake tan can sometimes accumulate on dry areas like hands, elbows, knees, and feet. To avoid patchy tan, we suggest applying a light layer of moisturiser to dry areas, like the Cetaphil Moisturising Lotion, prior to applying the tan. This will create a slight barrier between your skin and the product, so that these areas remain perfectly tanned without appearing blotchy and uneven. Alternatively, you could even mix some of your tanning solution in with your body lotion before applying it to any dry areas.

3. Use a tanning mitt

Use a tanning mitt to evenly apply the product and protect your hands from staining. It can be best to start with larger areas first, like your torso, back, and legs. Leave your hands, feet, and face until last, as they don’t need as much product. Apply your tan using sweeping strokes, rather than buffing it into your skin in a circular motion. When tanning your legs, swipe the mitt down your legs to avoid the product accumulating in your pores.

4. Check your handiwork in a mirror

Use a mirror to inspect your work, particularly on hard to reach places like your back! If at all possible, have someone else apply the tan to your back. Otherwise, try turning the tanning mitt over, so the applicator side is on the back of your hand and use the back of your hand to apply the product to your back.

5. Don’t forget your face

When it comes to tanning your face, use the residual tanning solution that’s left over on the mitt after tanning your body. Alternatively, mix a small amount of the tanning product with a facial moisturiser like the Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturiser

6. Wear loose clothing while it dries

Once you’ve finished tanning, give your skin five minutes to dry before wearing any clothes. Opt for loose, dark clothing while your tan is developing. For best results, avoid sweating and coming into contact with water until your tan is fully developed and ready to be washed it off. Depending on how long your tan takes to develop, it can be best to sleep in it overnight and wash it off in the morning — just be sure to use dark coloured sheets or a tan sheet protector.


Use cooler water to wash off the residue of your fake tan. Shower until the water turns clear and gently pat yourself dry with your towel. Avoid shaving in the days following your fake tan application, as it will likely cause your tan to fade quicker by removing the skin cells.

7. Moisturise every day after your tan

Once you have washed off your fake tan moisturise your skin daily to increase the longevity of your tan. Dry, dehydrated skin will cause your dead skin cells to shed quicker, taking the fake tan you worked so hard for with it. Use an oil-free moisturiser as oil can break down the product [2].