I’ve talked quite a bit on my site about how important it is to exfoliate your skin thoroughly before applying any self-tanning product. However, I still get asked HOW to exfoliate before self-tanning. So in this guide, I want to cover all the gritty (see what I did there?) details, from how to exfoliate, to what you should use, to why it’s so important.
So let’s jump right in.
Why Should I Exfoliate Before Applying Self-Tanner?
No matter which self-tanning product, or spray tanner, you use, it almost certainly contains DHA. DHA, or dihydroxyacetone, is a harmless chemical, a type of sugar actually, that ultimately creates the tan on your skin. DHA is actually a type of sugar molecule, so it can be derived synthetically as we see in many products, or naturally from sugar cane or sugar beets, which is why organic self-tanning products can exist.
When the dead skin cells on your body come in contact with DHA, the amino acids in those skin cells have a chemical reaction that ultimately forms a pigment called melanoidin, which replicates a real tan from the sun. However, since the DHA reacts with the first cells it comes in contact with and does not form pigment deep inside your skin, the tan from self-tanning products doesn’t last very long, and typically requires frequent reapplications.
Typically this whole reaction process takes around 5-10 hours, which is why many people prefer to apply the product before bed, go to sleep, and then take a shower in the morning to remove any lingering product and stop the tanning process.
This is where exfoliation comes into play. If we don’t properly exfoliate our skin before applying the self-tanning product, then the tan will form on the outermost layer of our skin that may already be close to coming off naturally.
In case you aren’t familiar, exfoliation is the process of safely removing the outer layer of dead skin cells on our body through slightly abrasive scrubs and other products. This allows new, healthy skin cells to form, which is why most beauty experts recommend exfoliating at least once a week anyway.
So, if we properly exfoliate our skin about 8-24 hours before applying our favorite self-tanning product, and then properly moisturize, we will have healthy, fresh, well-hydrated skin cells to apply our self-tanner to. Not only will this help our tan come out without streaks or blotches, but it will also extend the life of that tan!
Ok, so now that we understand a bit more about what exfoliation is, and why it’s so crucial for a great sunless tan, let’s talk about what exfoliating products are best to use.
Best Exfoliators To Use Before Self Tanning
There are tons of great exfoliation products on the market, but not all of them are meant for preparing your skin for self-tanning. You can pretty much break all exfoliation products into three categories:
Chemical Exfoliants – These are typically a bit more expensive, and use chemicals like slightly abrasive acids to safely remove dead skin cells from the body. You often find these in the form of scrubs or lotions. I do not recommend these for preparing to apply self-tan.
Physical Tools – This would be things like dry brushes, loofahs, exfoliating gloves, or other products meant to exfoliate the skin. Although these work well, I find that it can be hard to get even exfoliation over your entire body without being too harsh on your skin.
Mechanical Exfoliants Products – This is probably the most common, and what I typically recommend. They are relatively inexpensive and work great when exfoliating the entire body. You’ve likely used a product like this, as they work extremely well. These usually contain some sort of abrasive material or scrub such as sugar, salt, coffee, sand, crystal, or other material that helps to scrub dead skin cells off.
These types of products are ideal for using prior to a self-tan. What you don’t want to use is something that is too harsh of an exfoliator such as products with crushed nut shells. These tear at the skin and can cause long-term harm as well as issues with the tanning process.
So what product to I recommend?
My Favorite Pre-Tan Exfoliator Scrub
Asutra Organic Exfoliating Scrub –This is the product I have been using recently, and I think it works absolutely perfect. It is gentle enough that it protects your skin and hydrates it, but harsh enough that it does a great job removing the outer layer of dead skin cells. I’ve tried quite a few products, and all of them worked fairly well, but this one is my favorite right now. It’s fairly inexpensive, and you can just pick it up on Amazon, which is great.
Alright, now that we’ve talked about what exfoliators are, and what my favorite is, let’s talk about how to use it!
How To Exfoliate Before Applying Self-Tanner
Alright, so I personally like to use my exfoliating products in the shower, so I’ll typically do this the morning that I’m going to apply the self-tanner. You don’t want to apply exfoliating products immediately before you tan because you want to give your skin just a little bit of time to heal and regenerate. I also like to use my self-tanner before bed so that I can leave the product on and then shower in the morning, so this works out well for me.
I like to take a good bit of my Astura exfoliating scrub and start with my feet and work my way up being sure to cover my entire body. Use simple circular motions, but don’t scrub too aggressively. You want to find a sweet spot between being sure to get rid of the dead skin cells, but also being sure to not be too vigorous.
You’ll also want to be a bit more gentle on areas that are sensitive such as your chest, neck, and face. In the areas that tend to absorb more self-tanner such as your armpits, knees, wrists, and ankles, you’ll also want to be more gentle.
Once you’ve thoroughly used the exfoliant on your entire body, go ahead and rinse it off. After you get out of the shower, be sure to thoroughly moisturize. This will apply even hydration to your newly exfoliated skin, allowing the self-tanner to apply evenly and give you the most natural looking tan possible!
So, is it good to exfoliate before self-tanning? Absolutely! In fact, it is one of the most important steps you can take in getting a great sunless tan. Along with moisturizing, it is absolutely key. I hope that this quick guide gave you all the knowledge you need to exfoliate before applying self-tannger. If you have any questions at all for me, leave them in the comments below!