Photo c/o Christian Montone via Flickr

*For Ape to Gentleman’s Top 10 Self Tanning Products for Men click here.

To tan or not to tan? A ludicrous question. Who doesn’t want to ‘be tanned’? I’m not talking about the chiselled, overly orange, adonis look sported by the over-eager ‘celebrity’ of today. Every ape and every gentleman is one proud man when returning from his summer break to ego-boosting comments ranging from, “wow, you look brown mate” or more subtly, “been away mate?”. Your motivation for the bronzed look maybe the envy of your mates, achieving a healthy look, to accentuate your pectorals at the gym, a special event, the fear of strolling along La Croisette in Cannes with nothing but a pair of Vilebrequin swim-shorts and pasty white legs, or just for some serious self-esteem even Maslow would be proud of. Whatever your reasons a tan is a good look and let’s face facts, unless you live in the sunnier climes of Los Angeles, you’re going to need to fake it!

Best Self Tanning Practice

‘Faking it’ comes in two formats; tanning beds/ booths and self tanning products such as creams, mousses, wipes, sprays and gels. Right off the bat, for skin damage and serious skin problems possibly relating to use of tanning beds/ booths Ape to Gentleman won’t advocate it, at all, no, just don’t bother. Our preferred route to that bronzed look comes in the form of self tanning creams, mousses, wipes, sprays and gels. Gone are the days of sneaking your partners bronzing potions – men are seriously interested in self tanning and rightly so, with an Ape to Gentleman saying; “men who look good, feel good” never being more apt. As ever, the market is saturated with offerings all promising you that perfect tan so we’d like to suggest how you go about self tanning and with which products, separating the best from the rest.

Self Tanning Education

Before we start, we must educate; your tanning product of choice will most likely contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the active ingredient. The tan is not a skin dye, stain or paint, but a chemical reaction between the DHA and the amino acids in the dead layer on the skin surface. This process does not involve altering skin pigmentation nor does it require exposure to potentially harmful UV light to initiate colour change. The reaction between the dead layer of the surface skin and DHA results in that golden brown colour we so desire.

Self Tanning Method

Many apes and gentleman find tanning daunting because of the potential for orange results and months of ridicule from their friends. If you follow these simple steps* and select quality products (listed below) you’ll be fine.

*Steps 3 and 4 won’t apply if you opt for a salon service.

  1. If this is your first use of a self tanning product please apply a small test patch to your skin and wait 24 hours before full face and body application.
  2. Cleansing and exfoliating skin the night prior to tanning will remove dry, flaky skin which will result in less streaks and better tan longevity. Additionally on the night prior, apply a good quality moisturiser all over your face and body focusing on problem areas such as the wrists and hands, elbows, knees, ankles and feet. This will ensure the product doesn’t gather and give away your secret.
  3. Thicker skin tans more easily when using self tanner so it’s important to keep your palms product free. Most good self tanning products come with an applicator mitt or glove – it’s advisable to use it.
  4. Next, the application. As previously mentioned, we don’t want the overly tanned look – the aim is for a healthy, natural bronzed appearance. This can be achieved by selecting the correct colour product to match your skin tone (choose wisely from choices such as light or dark). However you choose to dispense your product be it a self tanning cream, mousse, wipe, spray or  gel (whichever you prefer), it’s crucial that you cover your entire body, leaving no patches – don’t worry if you cover some areas more than once, just make sure you cover all areas and in a gentle smoothing motion. Don’t rub or aggressively massage the product into your skin – you’ll get an uneven result if you do! The only exception to this rule is where you have excess hair (such as on the chest), make sure the product is throughly and evenly absorbed – you may have to gently rub the product into the skin.
  5. You’re done! Now, slip on some loose fitting boxer shorts and allow the self tanning product to settle and absorb for at least 15 minutes – this absorption time will alter from product to product, please check.
  6. After 15 minutes or so, you can dress but it’s advisable to wear loose fitting and dark coloured clothes to avoid any ‘smudging’ or transfer on to your favourite white linen shirt. Most products today won’t colour transfer once sufficiently absorbed so don’t worry too much. It’s also advisable not to shower, bath or swim until your product is sufficiently absorbed.

Final points:

  • Provided you’ve followed the steps above the result should be a natural, even, healthy looking tan and not a pair of pasty white legs in sight.
  • Your hands are washed more than the rest of your body (we hope) which will result in the tan ‘washing’ off faster than other areas so try and avoid washing your hands for a couple of hours until the self tan product is fully absorbed.
  • If you wish to maintain your tan, feel free to re-apply 2-3 days later.
  • Remember to moisturise, this will prolong your tan. This rule applies for fake or genuine tans.
  • Men with sensitive skin should opt for water-based products as opposed to oil based.
  • A self tanner is NOT a sunscreen (unless specified), sunscreen must be worn in addition if you are in direct sun light.


As self tanning for men continues to gather in popularity make sure you’re doing ‘it’ right, follow our 6 simple steps, choose from our top 10 list and enjoy a natural, healthy looking tan, all year round or as and when required.