Do you wear shorts any more? What about shorter dresses? I actually went for about a year without wearing either one. I just didn’t like the way my legs were looking so I just kept on wearing jeans or longer maxi dresses- which in Colorado is actually pretty easy to do. Eventually, I snapped out of my funk and figured out a few things that really helped me to love wearing shorts and cute dresses again. One of those things was finding a new self-tanner and perfecting the application method! Today I’m sharing a step-by-step tutorial on how to apply self tanner.

How to apply self tanner. A step by step tutorial.

(Dirty garage door brought to you by real life in the mountains. ;-))

Now, friends, I’ve been wearing self- tanner since the very first tube of the thick, greasy, smelly stuff landed at the Estee’ Lauder counter in the 80’s. I definitely grew up in the “get-as-dark-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can” era, so I was all over this stuff instantly to add to my already scheduled sunbathing and tanning bed routine <smacking forehead>.

I’ve used self-tanner pretty much every year since and was quite happy with several different brands until about three years ago. My legs were getting older (along with the rest of me, shockingly) and they had developed some “issues” that I wasn’t too thrilled about. I started getting veins that were showing through my skin and my once invisible pores seemed enlarged and darker looking, which I later learned is referred to unattractively, as “strawberry legs”. Thanks so much for that.

While not a 100% solution, a good self-tanner, well-applied, goes a long way in covering up veins and making your legs look more youthful and “summer-ready”. Just read on for what to do about “strawberry legs” (shudder). Check out my fool proof method on how to apply self tanner.

What To Do First

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  1. Day Before Application: Exfoliate

Exfoliation will get rid of the dark pores on “strawberry legs”. There are loads of scrubs out there but I just mixed up some sugar and coconut oil. Massage in a circular motion really well. Really take the time to clean out those pores. Mine were caused by dry skin (which makes me heave even typing that out) and this was amazing at solving that problem! I also keep a stack of these exfoliating cloths in the shower. They are great and you can just toss them in the wash. Do this the day before shaving and applying your self-tanner.

Afterwards I apply this body lotion because it contains a healthy dose of glycolic acids, which will gently exfoliate and pave the way for optimum self-tanner absorption!

If you’d like to get an amazing scrub, I highly recommend this one from Rituals. The scent is so luxurious! It smells like a perfect spa.

2. Day OF application: Shave. My favorite razor is this one by Billie because it checks all my boxes: Moisturizes, gives a very close shave and it’s only $9 and comes straight to my door.

3. If you will be applying self-tanner right out of the shower, I suggest that you do not moisturize as usual. The tanner will get better absorption without a barrier.

4. Instead, only apply moisturizer to the areas that could absorb too much self-tanner. Mainly, this is your elbows, wrists, knees, ankles and the tops of your feet. You don’t have to be super precise, just put a little lotion on those areas and rub it in.

I’ve tried a TON of self-tanners. I’ve used foams, lotions, mists, tanning waters, dry oils and tanning drops. I don’t like to spend a fortune on my self-tanner because I use it all season and will go through several.

How to apply self-tanner. A step by step fail proof guide. #self-tanner

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How to Apply Self Tanner

  1. Until a week ago, this was the self-tanner I’ve used. It’s a foam, has a color guide so you can see where it’s been applied, doesn’t have a strong smell (it’s not unscented but it doesn’t have that super strong self-tanner odor) and it develops into a really nice color. HOWEVER- a friend turned me on to this one and it works exactly the same for almost $10 less. Like, seriously…..they’re identical.
  2. Use a tanning mitt. This is the one I use now because it doesn’t waste a lot of product.
  3. I like to apply self-tanner at night and rinse it off in the A.M. after it has fully developed, mostly because I’m impatient. But you can do it any time, just be sure it dries completely before you dress.
  4. It doesn’t matter where you start the application- but I start with my upper body and then do my lower body.(Note: if you’re doing your stomach, you may want to start at your feet to avoid bending over after you’ve done your middle and possibly getting a crease). Apply about two pumps of mousse to your mitt and start rubbing it in a circular motion. Do not apply to elbows, wrists, knees, ankles and the tops of your feet YET. You want to really rub and blend it in and then rub some more. Get more self-tanner as you feel the mitt get dry. When you are done with an area, and your mitt is drying again, go back over the area to be sure there are no places that you’ve missed before moving on to the next area. When you are sure that you’ve covered and blended all areas THEN, with whatever is left on your mitt go back and just PAT the mitt over your elbows, pat and blend onto wrists, knees, ankles and the tops of your feet.
  5. Wash Your Hands. Even if you don’t think you got anything on them, wash them with soap and water. Tip: to further prevent any demarcation line, take a tiny bit of lotion and blend again onto wrists and the tops of feet after washing your hands…..and then wash your hands again.
  6. Give the tanner 10 minutes or so to dry and/or wear cheap and/or dark clothing if you are going to bed. You can also dust yourself with talc-free powder to help avoid any color transfer.

In the morning,(or 6-8 hours later) you might think you are too dark, but not too worry. Just rinse off the “guide color” in the shower and you will reveal a beautiful, lightly bronzed tan. You can moisturize as usual.


I’ve been experimenting with this . An easy way to maintain your tan is to mist your arms, legs and body with this spray after you get out of the shower. I do it about every 3 days. I stand in the tub and do a quick mist and then use the mitt to blend. This dries incredibly fast and develops in an hour, darkening completely at three hours. I don’t trust the mist alone not to be splotchy, but if you use it in conjunction with the mitt it’s great!

You can also just exfoliate and reapply using the above steps. I typically go about 4 days before I need to reapply, but everyone will be different depending on skin type.

On the in between days, moisturizing really well, will help your tan to stay fresh longer. The tan will just fade away in a few days- I’ve never had any issues splotchiness, etc.

If you get a splotch or a streak, try rubbing fresh lemon on the area and then buff dry with a towel. When it comes to self-tanner, practice makes perfect, so don’t wait until your event or trip to give this a try! I don’t even think about it anymore and just take a few minutes every 4 days to apply.

In the past I have done my face, but usually don’t anymore because I use Retin-A, which speeds up skin cell turn-over so it would just be removing it. To do your back well, you’ll have to recruit a partner or get one of these guys. I just do the ‘ole reach-a-round.

I like wearing shorts and skirts again! And if the look of your legs is whats been holding you back, I do hope that you’ll give this a try and see how great your legs can look this summer.

If you found this post helpful on how to apply self tanner! Please consider sharing this post and thank you SO much.

How to apply self-tanner. A step by step fail proof guide. #self-tanner

If there is anything else you’d love for me to research or try out and write about, you can always email me here or just leave me a comment below! I love to hear what you want to know about!

You may enjoy this post on a how I get press on nails to last for 2 weeks.

or this post on what I eat in a day.

If you are looking for more beauty related posts for women over 40, start here and here.

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