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Sun-kissed without the Sun: Tips for using self-tanner

Updated on May 12, 2007
A quick tip- lotions that gradually turn you tan over time (several applications) tend to work better than those who claim to only take one application.

Everyone loves that sun-kissed look, but by now we all should know about the dangers of UV rays. So here is how to get a great tan without the sun, and avoid that orange look!!

There are two main keys to achieving a perfect bronze glow with self-tanner, the first is careful application, which can be tricky; and the second is finding the formula that works right for you. A lotion that makes someone else look bronze and beautiful may make you turn out orange.

Unfortunately the key to finding the right formula is really just trail and error, that's why winter is a great time to try it, just put a little on your leg or back where no one will see it and find the right lotion for you.

As for the application, here are some tips that should help you out!

Ten tips for a flawless application of self-tanner:

1. Self-tanning takes time. Allow AT LEAST a half hour, although an hour would be best. But don't be discouraged; it would still take longer to get the same amount of color from the sun and with self-tanners there is absolutely no risk of wrinkles, skin cancer or sunburn!

2. Take a quick shower or bath (don't soak) and exfoliate your skin, either with a washcloth or body scrub. Don't overscrub, but do pay extra attention to your knees, ankles, feet, elbows, and neck. This will help achieve a uniform appearance since self-tanners grab on to dry surface skin cells, and you may have more dead, thickened skin cells in certain areas. After showering and completely drying off, apply a thin layer of lightweight moisturizer over the areas where you will be applying self-tanner. This will help the self-tanner glide on without clinging to dry patches. A little extra moisturizer over ankles, knees, and elbows can prevent those areas from looking patchy. I have seen some recommendations to mix self-tanner with your moisturizer, but I advise against this because it will encourage streaking (unless you can precisely mix them which isn't easy) plus it will take longer for the self-tanner to absorb and dry.

Note: Perspiration also will make self-tanners streak, so take a cool shower or bath to keep from sweating. Your skin must be completely dry to get the best results. Do not apply self-tanner in a steamy, hot bathroom or on a humid, hot day (unless your home is air-conditioned).

3. Ideally, you should apply the self-tanner while naked, but you can also wear an old bathing suit (one you don't plan to wear outside) to help determine where you want your tan line to end. Either way, have a game plan of where you want to stop and start the color. (Do you want tan armpits? What about places like your heels, hands, and ears?) Remember that self-tanners will stain clothing until they completely absorb into the skin and take effect on the skin cell.

Note: Applying self-tanner on your back requires a friend with a helping hand, although you can use a long-handled paintbrush (note that this poses some issues of potential dripping and uneven application if you are not able to blend the product in).

4. Apply self-tanner to one section of your body at a time. Be more concerned about even application than rubbing it all the way in. Avoid areas of your body where you do not want to have color.

5. To prevent tan palms, you can try using surgical or plastic gloves to apply the self-tanner. This can work well, but can also make application trickier. Another option is to wash your hands every few minutes or after you apply the self-tanner to a section of your body. If you wait too long you will have strange-looking palms. It helps to have a nail brush handy to be sure you get the self tanner off your cuticles and the area between your fingers.

6. Be aware that different parts of your body "pick up" self-tanner more easily than others. For example, some people find that their legs turn brown more easily than their arms or torso, while others find that their faces and necks change color fastest. Experience will help you determine which is true for you. Be careful around your nose, eyes, ears, hairline, and lips. A cotton swab, makeup sponge, or synthetic makeup brush can help blend a thin, even amount smoothly over those areas. To keep light hair from turning color, apply a layer of conditioner or Vaseline over the hairline.

7. Wait AT LEAST 15 minutes before getting dressed (remember that self-tanner can stain clothes). Do not exercise or swim for at least three hours.

8. If you make a mistake and end up with streaky or dark areas of skin, consider using an exfoliant such as my 2% Beta Hydroxy Acid Liquid over those spots. Then, in the morning, manually exfoliate those areas with a wet washcloth. This should rub off any uneven stripes.

9. Take special care with problem areas. As an option for your hands (which can be particularly tricky to get looking natural) apply self-tanner as you would a moisturizer, but then quickly wipe your palms off on a slightly soapy washcloth. Then take a Q-tip dipped in cleanser, eye-makeup remover (one that is not greasy so it doesn't spread or smear), or nail polish remover and carefully use it to wipe around the nails and cuticle area and between your fingers. You can also use a makeup sponge to apply self-tanner to the back of your hands, tops of your feet, temples, and hairline. By holding the sponge deftly between two fingers, you only need to worry about preventing this small area from changing color.

Note: Skin-care products such as AHAs, BHA, topical scrubs, Retin-A, and topical disinfectants can affect the self-tanner's action on your skin or even eliminate the color by exfoliating the surface skin cells (self-tanners only interact on the surface of skin). It is best not to apply these products the evening you apply a self-tanner. However, if you must do so, wait at least two to three hours before you do.

10. Reapply self-tanner as you feel the need. Generally it will start fading in about three to four days as the surface layers of skin shed.

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