Wednesday, 18 March 2020 09:03

Tanning Tools: A Quick Guide to Self-Tanning Products

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With summer on the horizon, clients are going to start thinking about tanning. It’s time to start promoting the sunless tanners retailed in the spa and educating clients on how to apply them. Every type of product from, lotions, sprays, mousse, gels, and so on all have their own best practices for application, and when followed, will achieve the best possible results.




The first step that should never be skipped is exfoliation. When you remove the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, the tanning products will gain a more even application and will last longer. The outer layer of the skin is what reacts to the dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose, the active ingredients in all self-tanning, spray tanning, and sunless tanning products. Use a water-based product to exfoliate with (any oil-based scrub will leave a barrier on the skin) and the active ingredients will be blocked from producing a tan. Water-based scrubs are not generally found on the shelves of a spa, so it’s great to bring them in as a retail product.

You can usually find a water-based scrub at any tanning salon and many sunless tanning manufacturers also produce them. Remember the golden rule, no product is better than the wrong product. When your client doesn’t have a water-based scrub that they can use, advise them to use a loofah or washcloth. If you are offering an in-spa exfoliation treatment, remember that a water-based product will not have the same glide as an oil-based product, and you will have to use more of it than you normally would to complete the treatment. 

After exfoliation, it’s important to not apply any lotions or body oils to the skin. You want the skin as bare as possible of product. You also want the skin as dry as possible. Any moisture still on the skin or dripping down the body from wet hair, can cause the result to have water or run marks.




Most people fear these products, but they truly are the easiest to apply. You can find a spray or a mist product in a tinted version or a clear version. Start with the tinted until you are a self-proclaimed pro, and then move to the clear. You’ll want to stand firmly on an old towel in your shower. Without moving your feet, apply the mist to your body in a circular pattern, holding the canister a foot away from the skin and keeping it an even distance. It’s important to not move your feet, because as the product falls to the towel, you don’t want to step into it, thus tanning the soles of your feet. You’ll need someone to help you with your back. When doing your face, tilt your head back, so that your neck gets some of the application and just do a quick circle. Your face should always be lighter than the rest of your body. When you are done, stand in your shower to dry. You should be dry within about 30 to 45 seconds; if it takes longer, you’ve either applied too much product or you were too close. Contrary to popular belief, do not dry yourself with a blowdryer. Heat can deactivate the active ingredients, and standing on a damp towel, while running a blowdryer is dangerous. Allow the product to remain on the skin for six to eight hours and then rinse off. 




Until you get comfortable with a lotion or gel, start with a gradual product instead of a full-strength self-tanner. Again, you’ll find both tinted and clear products here, so it’s your preference on what you should use. Carefully and quickly apply to the body in a circular motion, using a small amount of product. When you get to the face, hands, and feet; apply a regular lotion to the skin first, and then apply the self-tanner on top of it. Let the skin dry, this may take 10 to 15 minutes and then allow to develop. With a tinted product, the development will be masked, but with a clear product you’ll slowly start to see the actual development. If you don’t wear a pair of tanning gloves during application, immediately after, take some of the scrub and wash the palms of your hand with it. When you take your first shower after development, wash your hair, the friction will help to remove any excess that is on your hands.




Some tanning mousses are meant for application in the shower and others are meant to be applied to dry skin. If they are meant for dry skin application, follow the same instructions for the lotion and gels. If they are meant to be applied in the shower, read the directions carefully. Some products will want the skin wet and some will not. Remember to scrub your hands after application, as many of these products are quick developers and hands will show some instant staining from the in-active ingredients.

To ensure your tan looks its best, keep skin hydrated with lotion (no oils), and avoid exfoliation until it’s time for your next application. After about six weeks of continually applying tanning products, you may experience some build-up, make sure to exfoliate completely and let the skin take a break for a few days before starting fresh.


Lastly, always remember that less is more. You can always apply more self-tanner, but you can’t take it off.




Kelly Richardson has over 13 years of experience educating the beauty, spa, and skin care industries on marketing, sunless tanning, and business topics. She is the president of VENONE, a communications and marketing company that supports beauty and skin care brands and businesses.

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