Self-Tanner How-To Tips for Our Patients

From the cosmetic surgery forum May 4, 2017   We all know that self-tanners allow patients to get that sun-kissed look without exposing them to the damage that comes with extended sun exposure. Modern self-tanner formulas are often cumulative and because they work in layers are customizable offering patients a safe way to get the […]

From the cosmetic surgery forum

We all know that self-tanners allow patients to get that sun-kissed look without exposing them to the damage that comes with extended sun exposure. Modern self-tanner formulas are often cumulative and because they work in layers are customizable offering patients a safe way to get the summer glow that’s just right for them.  Long gone are the days when sunless tanners left you looking orange and with so many different options to choose from, patients can pick the one that works best for their lifestyle.

But applying self-tanners and bronzers is much like applying paint to a canvas.  You have to have the right technique, but the surface needs to be right too.  So the first step for patients to achieve exceptional results is to…

Prep the Canvas

1. Make sure skin is clean.

We’re assuming here that your patients can handle the “clean your skin” part of the preparation, but it should be noted that ‘apply to clean dry skin’ is the first step of almost every bronzing product.  The active ingredient in most self-tanners is a color additive called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. Derived from sugar, this ingredient reacts with the amino acids in the top layers of your skin to create a bronze shade.  Therefore, best results are achieved on clean skin.

2. Smooth it out.

Next is to make sure the skin is as smooth as possible so it is ready to accept product evenly. Patients will want to first prepare their skin by addressing rough patches and bumps on the skin.

For those with skin that is already in pretty good condition, exfoliating with a body scrub will smooth dry, rough areas and create an ideal base for sunless tanner. Patients will need to pay extra attention to areas that are particularly dry, like elbows and knees, which can absorb extra product and cause uneven color application.

Many patients may be dealing with acne or KP, which should be addressed as thoroughly as possible for the most even application of the product. Glytone offers a KP Kit ($68.00) which includes an exfoliating body wash and lotion that offers great results. GlyDerm also offers a Hand & Body Lotion 10% ($38.50) that is fast-absorbing, lightweight and features 10% glycolic acid as an exfoliator. Avène also offers Akerat Smoothing Exfoliating Cream for the Body ($32.00) which relieves discomfort of rough, thick and flaky skin with a synergistic action of lactic and salicylic acids and urea. And from Obagi Medical the KeraPhine Body Smoothing Lotion ($60.00) containing 15% glycolic acid and 5% ammonium lactate smooths and is richly emollient as it is formulated with glycerin.  There are plenty of treatment products available and you may have your own favorites – we’d love to hear about them!

If patients are experiencing ingrown hairs on areas of the body where they shave, you can help them by suggesting they change their shaving habits. Recommend that they always use a fresh, single-blade razor on wet skin, shave in the same direction hair grows and never go over the same area more than once, etc.. For bumps that already exist, remind them that gentle exfoliation is key.


If patients need to shave, wax, get a manicure or touch up their hair color, recommend that they do so at least one day before they apply self-tanner. All of these things can remove the beautiful bronze glow your patients have finally achieved and increase the risk that they will throw caution to the wind and let the sun do its worst.

3. Moisturize.

The final prep step is to moisturize, focusing on drier areas like the hands, feet, elbows and knees. As you know, dry skin picks up more pigment, so if your patient’s skin is dehydrated the color won’t look even. Remind them to make sure the moisturizer they choose is oil-free, such as Derma Topix Ultra Light Moisture Dew Lotion. If they use a moisturizer with an oil base, the oil can create a barrier between their skin and the self-tanner, preventing an even color.

Choose the Right Product

First-timers or people with very fair skin may be a little nervous about self-tanners. If they find themselves in this category but still want to get the glow, they should probably try a lotion.

Lotions are both simple to use and easily blendable. To avoid streaking, they’ll want to apply the product in a circular motion, instead of up and down or back and forth. Most self-tanning lotions are gradual, which means they get darker over a few hours or even a few days. These formulas are great if one wants to achieve buildable color over a period of time.  An excellent product for beginners is jane iredale Tantasia Self Tanner & Bronzer  ($37.00) which is easy to apply and provides an instant tint that gradually deepens into a tan.

For the moderately experienced, there are products like Avène Moisturizing Self-Tanning Silky Gel ($26.00) that provide excellent results but require just a bit more expertise. Non-greasy and lightweight, the Avène gel gives skin a golden glow in just one hour. This one works fast, which is why it isn’t recommended for beginners.

If your patients hate the idea of getting self-tanner on their hands, sprays are the answer for them, plus they offer an instant glow – perfect if they need a last-minute boost. But sprays come with a warning! While they seem convenient, an even application with a spray formula can be difficult for even a seasoned pro. If the user is not a seasoned spray tan expert, they might want to enlist the help of a friend who can help cover hard to reach areas.

Achieving great-looking self-tanning requires a time commitment. If patients are in a hurry, they can also opt to use towelettes to cut down on the multi-step process. Towelettes save time because they gently exfoliate while giving your skin a natural-looking tan. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta® Glow Pads for Body ($45.00 – 8 applications) are a great option as they exfoliate skin with alpha and beta hydroxy acids. With these towelettes, patients not only get the coveted glow, they get the added benefits of minimizing signs of aging and other imperfections in their skin.  These pads are also available in a version specifically formulated for use on the face, in both a one-time (Alpha Beta® Glow Pad – $35.00 or $68.00 – 20 and 40 treatments respectively) and a buildable version (Alpha Beta Glow Pad Gradual Glow – $35.00 – 20 treatments).

In addition to reminding patients to choose the right type of self-tanner, they also need to choose the right product for their skin tone.  Those with fair skin should pick a gradual tanning lotion to avoid an unnatural-looking color. Gradual self-tanners create a light glow upon application that deepens with time.  The quick bronze tint will then build to a gradual, natural-looking tan over the next few days.  Darker skin tones can use self-tanning towelettes for a more instant result.

Bonus Tip: 

Those new to self-tanning—or those who are just a little rusty—are probably afraid of using too much product. But using too little can actually give a streaky finish due to the lack of product and extra rubbing during application. By using a generous amount of self-tanner, they’ll get a smoother, more even coverage.


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