The Foolproof Guide to Applying Self-Tanner at Home Without Orange Palms

The Foolproof Guide to Applying Self-Tanner at Home Without Orange Palms
Photo: ImaxTree.

My only beef with tans is that they never last long enough. Truth be told, if I could be the human form of a Fenty Body Lava bottle year-round, life would be way more enjoyable (and shimmery too). So knowing how to apply self-tanner is especially important when you know the window of time is small and fleeting.

It took most of my twenties for me to even consider tanning in the first place. For as long as I can remember, tanning products have been marketed toward white women with pale skin, so I never saw how lit brown skin with a bronzing treatment could be. Thankfully, I now have plenty of tanning appointments under my belt and can confirm that it’s not only one of my favorite pick-me-ups. It’s also the quickest way to get glowy and stay that way, if only for a week or two.

Now, if you’re completely new to self-tanning, especially at home, this isn’t something you go into blindly. Unless you want orange palms and awkward lines down your arms and legs, the step-by-step process is easy but should be followed with precision and plenty of caution. And as far as I’m concerned, no one is better equipped to deliver a beginner’s guide than Sophie Evans, thee tanning expert for St. Tropez, my go-to brand for getting summer-ready.


Before you can even apply gel or lotion, you’ll need to make sure your skin is in great condition prior to the self-tan application process. Evans emphasizes the importance of moisturizing all dry areas first– elbows, knees, hands, wrists, feet, back and any other severely dry skin areas.

“The best time to exfoliate is actually approximately 8 hours before self-tan application. Why?” Evans asks. “A self-tan will work off the PH balance of the skin so exfoliating and washing 8 hours before will allow your PH balance to neutralize giving you perfect skin for maximum development.” You should also be exfoliating with a product that isn’t oil-based because oil can leave residue on the skin and interfere with the self-tan development.  Again, exfoliating just before applying a self-tan is fine, but If you want the best possible result, do it 8 hours before or at least a day before.

Bronzer for Brown Skin


The Main Event

Once you’ve exfoliated and ensured that your skin is clean and smooth, it’s time to add some color. Generally speaking, your skin should start dry, but Evans says that it really just depends on the product you’re using. “We’ve seen new products enter the market that are specifically made for application on wet skin, like the St.Tropez Gradual Tan In Shower Lotion ,” she says.

Other than your standard mousse or lotion, formulas are evolving to create less of a mess, while remaining just as impactful. For instance, St. Tropez’s Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Gel is a clear formula so you don’t have to worry about getting your clothes or sheets dirty. It also works the fastest, transforming your complexion in as little as three hours and providing hydration. But ultimately, you should do your due diligence in shopping around and make a decision based on your skill level and the type of results you want. 

Next, make sure you have an applicator mitt on hand, which most brands sell alongside their tanning formulas. This is how you’ll avoid getting orange palms which I can tell you from experience take very long to get rid of. “Your hands, especially the crease of the wrist, tend to be very dry,” says Evans. “These areas will absorb the self-tan at a more rapid rate and could go darker than the rest of your body. If you don’t have a mitt, I would recommend wearing gloves or moisturizing your hands before application and immediately washing them after applying.”

Once you have your mitts on, dispense the product onto your hands and apply to the skin in long sweeping motions starting at the ankles and working your way up.  Ensure all areas are covered and lightly glide excess tan over the hands and feet. Easy enough, right?

dewy pretty skin The Foolproof Guide to Applying Self Tanner at Home Without Orange Palms



Once you’re done applying the product, always wait until the skin is dry before you get dressed. Evans also says that to prolong and maintain your tan, moisturize daily, exfoliate regularly and re-apply as required. She recommends lightly exfoliating every 2-3 days to guarantee that your tan is fading evenly.

“It depends on the formula but with proper maintenance, a self-tan can last anywhere from 7-10 days,” she says. “It’s time to reapply once the self-tan has completely faded and you’re back to your original skin tone.” Until then, something like the St. Tropez Body Polisher will keep your skin gently exfoliated without ripping or tearing at the color job.  “Use every few days and you will find you can reapply your self-tan as often as you like if you wish to be darker without any fear of uneven color buildup,” she says.

I’m not sure why I thought this would be a different process. It’s basic, but in the best way possible.