How to apply fake tan correctly

Nicolette Loizou ( 11 March 2019 )

A golden glow has been coveted since Coco Chanel first popularised the tan, but to a dermatologist’s eyes all sun-tanned skin conveys is that you have damaged your skin.

You can suffer skin damage by lying in the sun, or by using tanning equipment, and no skin type is immune. You need to protect your skin from the sun - and not just when it’s hot.


• staying in the shade

• covering up with clothing and a scarf

• using sunscreen that is factor 30 or higher

Make sure if you are at the beach to use a water-resistant cream. Sun cream has a shelf life of two to three years and should not be stored at high temperatures or in direct sunlight. Always check the bottle for the expiry date and don’t be tempted to use it after the date. 

Read more about sun creams here

Signs of skin damage

The damage sun can do can lead to wrinkles, brown spots and skin cancer is at the most scary end of the spectrum. But what’s visible and unattractive is the lobster look that’s achieved through years of unsafe tanning. It’s also a very ageing look and is best avoided in these health-conscious times. 

How to fake a tan

So what can you do if you fancy a golden glow but without the risks? That’s easy – fake tan to the rescue. But not everyone can put it on correctly and there’s nothing worse than streaks and tide-marks lurking all over you. So here’s how to minimise the disasters and maximise a tan that would rival any A-lister.      

Read tips for skin disorders here

Tips for preparing your body before applying fake tan

​• Exfoliate the day before you apply your fake tan as this gets rid of any dead skin cells providing an even canvas for tan application.

• Do not apply to freshly waxed skin – leave for a day at least. 

• It’s better, however, to shave on the day for a neat result.  Then really slather on the moisturiser making sure you use one that’s fragrance- and colour-free as perfumes and colours can interfere with the colour of the tan.

• Pay particular attention to knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, feet and hands and anywhere where you skin might be suffering from dryness.

• Choose a self tanning product that has plenty of moisturising properties so that the skin doesn’t dry out whilst the colour develops.

Find out the best moisturiser to use here

Step-by-step guide to a streak-free tan

• Always wear gloves to apply the tan and put a mitt on top for clean, non-streaky finish. Apply the product in stages.

• Work from your feet upwards and do your arms last. Be careful around the tricky bits such as between your toes and ankles and underarms.

• When fake tanning your face go for a shade lighter. Open pores and spots can be highlighted by a fake tan leaving you looking blotchy. Running an ice cube over your face before application will seal and close pores whilst a lick of moisturiser over spots will prevent product build-up.

Fake tan aftercare tips

• Let the fake tan dry, guided by how long the instructions say and try not to get wet or sweat for a least six hours after application.

• Just because you’ve applied your fake tan successfully don’t think you can just leave it at that. You still need to look after your tan even though it’s fake.

• Make sure you moisturise daily which will prolong the colour and exfoliate every three to four days to ensure your tan fades evenly.

• Don’t be tempted to fake it more than twice a week as product build-up will lead to a nasty-looking tan. If you just want a subtle glow then add a blob of fake tan to your daily moisturiser. In fact, you can even buy body moisturisers that contain just that. Brands like Dove are easy to find and inexpensive.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.