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Sunless tanning products can give you a sun-kissed glow without baking in the sun for hours and risking skin damage from UV rays. Getting a perfectly bronzed body without tanning your wardrobe as well requires understanding the types of self-tanning products and the best ways to use them.

About Sunless Tanners

Most sunless tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which reacts with proteins in the top layer of skin, temporarily creating the appearance of a tan. The tan fades as dead skin cells are naturally shed by the body, lasting anywhere from two to seven days after application. Sunless tanners are available in several forms, including gels, lotions, sprays, mousse or on pre-treated towelettes.

Tanning Products

Choose a subtle sunless tanning lotion. Because skin cells shed constantly, using a self-tanner will result in some transfer to your clothing, which will be more noticeable on light-colored clothing. Using a hybrid product that contains tanning lotion along with body lotion results in a lighter tan color that can be built slowly, causing less color transfer to your clothes. Avoid using lotions with built-in bronzers that act as a guide to where you've applied the color. These bronzers wash off easily and will more readily stain light-colored clothing. Stay away from formulas that promise a dark tan, which will result in darker stains.


Properly preparing the skin for self-tanning lotion will help prevent staining. Shaving or using an exfoliator helps get rid of dead skin cells, which allows the tanner to go on evenly and helps keep your color from rubbing off. Avoid using a moisturizer after applying self-tanner, which could cause the formula to run and streak. Moisturize dry skin and allow it to dry at least five minutes prior to using self-tanner.

Application and Maintenance

While most formulas wash out of fabrics, apply the self-tanner and allow it to dry thoroughly, according to the product's directions, before putting on clothing. Look for quick-drying formulas, with "instant" or "express" on the label if you want to tan and go. If you are using a product with a bronzer, you should wait at least 30 minutes before getting dressed. Applying self-tanner at night, before going to bed, gives the formula plenty of time to dry before dressing and ensures you'll wake up with a healthy glow. Because all self-tanners have the potential to rub off, swap out your white sheets with darker colored ones when tanning overnight. Moisturize the day after application to help extend the life of your tan. Pat dry with your towel after a shower or bath, and avoid scrubbing or rubbing to help keep your glow in place.