If you prepare well for a self-tanning session, the process will go more smoothly and you'll be happier with the results.
The first step is to take a shower or bath. The point here is not only to clean your skin, but to exfoliate it as well. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells. By exfoliating with a loofah or a gentle exfoliating cleanser, you'll create a smooth, even surface on which to apply the self-tanner. If your skin has patches of dry, dead skin, it's more likely that the self-tanner will leave dark patches [source: Baumann].
Dry off completely and let the bathroom air out. Excess moisture on your skin can interfere with the reaction between the self-tanner and your skin cells. You also want the room to be cool enough that you're not sweating during the process.
Don't apply a moisturizer after your shower. Most moisturizers contain occlusives, or ingredients that form a protective layer on the skin's surface to hinder the effectiveness of self-tanners. The only places you may want to apply moisturizer are your elbows, knees and knuckles. Your skin is thicker in these spots, and they can absorb more self-tanner and leave those areas darker than the rest of your body. A little moisturizer can lessen that effect.
If you have light hair, you'll want to avoid staining your eyebrows or hairline with self-tanner. A good trick is to coat those areas with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, an excellent occlusive [source: Chalmers]. If you're going to use a mist or spray product, wear a disposable shower cap.
Experienced self-tanners recommend investing in some disposable latex gloves. If you allow a self-tanning product to remain on your fingers or palm for long enough, it will dye those areas, too. And nothing says "fake bake" like tinted fingertips. If you don't want to use gloves, be prepared to wash your hands frequently during the product application.
Now you're ready to get down to business. Get our tips for applying self-tanner on the next page.