Nothing says you've embraced summer like a sun-kissed glow, and we've got all the best DIY self-tanning tips to achieve it. Going the tan-from-a-tube route may even help protect you from sun damage, recent research shows: Beachgoers educated in self-tan techniques and the dangers of UV rays were less likely to sit in the sun without protection and experienced fewer sunburns over the course of the summer than their nontrained fellow loungers. (It's not that self-tanners contain SPF - most don't; rather, bronzing safely can change your sunbathing habits.) Read on for the pros' product picks and techniques for believable color (no orange tans here).
1. Test it out "Self-tanners rely on the ingredient dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, a potential irritant," says Sinead Norenius, founder of faux-glow maker Beautisol. "Over the years, I've found that roughly one in 10 people can't tolerate it. The day before you self-tan for the first time, test a silver dollar-size area on the inside of your arm or inner thigh." But if you do get a rash, try another formulation before you pass on self-tanner.
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2. Get your timing right Wax at least 24 hours in advance; the same goes for any other kind of hair removal that tears hair out of the follicle - like threading or tweezing. "Otherwise, the follicles may still be open, and self-tanner can pool in them, creating tiny dark spots," explains Norenius. Also, rubbing DHA on sensitized skin ups the odds of irritation.
3. Slough off old skin first To turn you golden, DHA reacts with the proteins in the very outer layer of your skin. Any patches of old, dead skin will absorb more self-tanner, which can lead to spots and streaks. For an even start, dry-brush before your shower. Try EcoTools Bamboo Bristle Bath Brush ($6, drugstores). Or, use an exfoliating mitt with an oil-free body wash, advises Norenius. If you prefer to use a body scrub, choose one formulated for use with self-tanners, like Beautisol Go Slough Yourself ($19, beautisol.com); ordinary body scrubs generally contain hydrating oils that will impede the penetration of DHA.
4. Be bare When you get out of the shower, you may instinctively reach for a deodorant or an antiperspirant. Stop right there. "If the lotion or spray hits your deodorant, your skin can turn a funny green-gray color," cautions Norenius. It's best if self-tanner goes on dry skin that's freshly cleaned and exfoliated, so don't rub on any essential oils, spritz on perfume, or apply body lotion, either.
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Self-Tan Head To Toe
1. Start light Dark self-tanners pack more DHA, and the higher the concentration, the greater the odds you'll end up with an uneven or streaky tan, says Sally Lewis, head of product development at St. Tropez. If you're a self-tan newbie, start with a light formulation. Once you've gotten the application down pat, you can graduate to medium or dark (which have the benefit of lasting longer).
2. Select instant color Many self-tanners also contain a DHA-free bronzing lotion or temporary tanner. These formulas have pigment that delivers an immediate glow - and, like makeup, they wash off with soap and water. The slather-on bronze gives you immediate gratification, but more important, "the color reduces streaks by showing you exactly where you've rubbed it on and where you've missed," says Norenius. Try: St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse ($30, Sephora) or Victoria's Secret Beach Sexy Adjustable Self-Tan Lotion With Shimmer ($14, Victoria's Secret). Save clear self-tanners, like the classic Clarins Self-Tanning Instant Gel ($32.50, department stores), for later, when you're sure of your technique.
3. Begin at your thighs and rub the self-tanner down the length of your legs. "Start with a dollop, so that when you reach your ankles, a spot that doesn't need much self-tanner, you won't have much left," says Xen-Tan founder Dera Enochson. Then rub self-tanner on the front of your torso followed by your arms (starting with your shoulders). "Again, when you reach your wrists, the product should have thinned out," explains Enochson.
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4. Tan your face, too Most body self-tanners (like those mentioned in this story, unless otherwise noted) work just as well on your face; check the product instructions. To prevent a horizontal line across the top of your forehead, rub the self-tanner up and down into your hairline, says Enochson. "Unless you're blond, that is. DHA can alter that hair color." Rub any residual self-tanner on your hands onto your ears and the back of your neck; these pale spots will stand out, especially with a short 'do. If you have any dark spots on your face, finish by swiping them with a slightly damp cotton swab, says Norenius. Otherwise, DHA will turn them darker.
5. Spritz hard-to-reach spots The easiest way to reach the small of your back: Turn a 360-degree aerosol spray upside down and mist it, says Lewis. Try L'Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze ProPerfect Salon Airbrush Self-Tanning Mist ($10.50, drugstores). Spritz your feet, too; a lotion, gel, or mousse will tend to lay on too much color.
6. Go easy on your hands Orange nail beds and dark hands are telltale signs of a bad self-tan. Once you've finished the rest of your application, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and dry them; now you're ready to apply self-tanner here. Curl your hand into a claw so the DHA will be less likely to pool in the creases of your knuckles (plus, with your hand poised in claw position, an aerosol mist will barely hit your cuticles). If you're using a lotion or mousse, rub a bit on the back of your hand and then feather out any residue onto your fingers. (And, of course, avoid your palm.)
7. Buff trouble spots Finish by wiping cuticles with a tissue, advises Lewis. Then take a dry washcloth and buff knuckles, elbows, knees, the insides of your wrists, and the backs of your heels with a few back-and-forth swipes. "It'll prevent those areas from grabbing excess product and turning extra dark," explains Norenius.
8. Opt for gradual self-tanner if you want just a hint of tan. Apply one like Jergens Natural Glow Express Body Moisturizer ($9, drugstores) for three days straight, and your glow will culminate in a color similar to that of one self-tan application.
What are you self-tanning tips?