Self-tanning, the good, the bad and the way to avoid the ugly

Self-tanning has become a big part of our culture in the west. Beyond looking sun-kissed without the damage of spending hours in the sun, self-tanning helps with covering our perceived imperfections like uneven skin tone.

But how do they work?

DHA (Di Hydroxy Acetone, sorry I had to throw in some chemistry), which is the active ingredients in effective sunless tanners reacts with the nitrogen compounds found in the amino acids of the protein in the outermost layer of your skin to form brown coloured compounds. Just like how you get the brown colour in your beer, it is exactly the same reaction!!

We don’t need to get too much into the chemistry other than knowing that we have different quantities of various amino acids depending on our unique DNA. That means this reaction with our skin can produce yellow, orange or brown based colours, so the manufacturers have to add various additives to balance and improve the final skin colour and make sure you end up with the same consistent tan.

Now that you know the basics of how it works, let’s see what the issues are with self-tanning applications and how can you achieve a perfect and smooth bronze glow!

  • Choosing a skin friendly self-tanner is important. Many self-tanners use skin aggravating fragrances to cover the base smell, which is very unpleasant, and also has high concentrations of alcohol. My advice is to try to avoid cheap and sensitising self-tanners.
  • Skin preparation is sooo fundamental for ideal results with self-tanning. Most of the issues with self-tanners going wrong happen because we don’t spend time to prep the skin properly. Effective exfoliation is key here. If you are doing just a small area like your face, neck and décolletage, BOA is your best friend here. By lifting all the dry patchy skin and creating a smooth canvas you will see the enhanced smoothness of your tan. Other exfoliants here will work too but the key here is to lift the dry skin evenly across the board. We think BOA is perfect for pre/post tan skin prep.
  • Shave your skin the day before.  If you do it on the same day, you will lift some of the applied tan from your skin.
  • Moisturize the dry areas for even skin hydration as the dry spots will absorb more tanners.
  • Usually it’s better to start at your feet and work your way up, but again the key here is even application. This means avoid overdoing it. Go slow and pay attention to the areas that are lighter because they are less exposed to the sun (the underarm area is an example)
  • Make your corrections by blending the moisturizer with the self-tanner. This dilutes the blend and gives you room to correct mistakes.
  • Stay dry and avoid doing hot yoga, taking a shower or doing intense exercise. You need to allow the tanner to dry completely if you don’t want to mess up your cloths and create streaks all over your skin.

Just remember, self-tanning does not give you sun protection. You still need to wear sun protection factor over your tan.


WANT TO TRY BOA? As a thank you for reading our blog, please use code 'BOAACADEMY' for 10% OFF your BOA products.

We are so confident you'll love BOA, all purchases are eligible for our 30-day money-back guarantee. 

The BOA Skin Academy Blog hopes to bring you educational, insightful and interesting reading material on the topics of skincare, beauty, rituals, self-care and wellness. All topics are chosen and written by the BOA team, with credits where credit is due. If you have a suggestion for a topic or a question about what we have written, we would love for you to get in touch. Please email us at and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

For all our BOA customers, please leave a review on our website for a discount on your future purchases.