By Genevieve LeFranc
Skirt hems are getting shorter; chalky, winter skin is peaking out from under stuffy layers; and store windows are already showing off tiny bikinis and resort wear. The weather is getting warmer, which means shorts, sundresses, tank tops—and with it—bare skin. If you’re not blessed with one of the rich brown mocha skin tones of your African, Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern sisters, you can get a jump on summer by transforming your skin from milky, winter white to glowing, supple bronze.
There’s no doubt—a tan makes you feel prettier, look healthier, and enhances muscle definition. Nothing beats being on the receiving end of compliments on your luminescent complexion when you’ve been putting in overtime at the office and haven’t seen the light of day in weeks. However, by now we all know the perils of overexposure to the sun and baking in it during your vacation is the fastest way to age skin, speed the formation of wrinkles, and increase your chances of developing skin cancer (I won’t even get into tanning beds but if you’re using one, stop immediately). If you’re ready and willing to pass up or at least drastically reduce laying out but don’t want to give up that warm healthy glow, self-tanners are one of the best options. Some formulas do a great job of building color gradually with natural results that can last up to a week, but many self-tanners get a bad rap for their less than pleasant smell, streaky application, or orangutan-like results.
Skeptics, take note! Follow these tips, do’s and don’ts, and suggestions for the best formulas, and you’ll be looking like an exotic island princess in no time—no vacation required.
It’s not only about the product you choose. You need to know the essential tips and tricks of application, or any self-tanner will end up looking tragic. First and foremost, you must exfoliate with a body scrub in the shower, paying close attention to rough, dry areas like elbows and knees—dry skin will absorb more tanner, creating an uneven, blotchy look. Try Laura Mercier’s Almond Coconut Milk Scrub. Shave beforehand, but do not apply moisturizer, lotion, sunscreen, deodorant, or perfume—your skin needs to be totally clean to ensure proper absorption of the self-tanner. Stay away from sugar or salt scrubs that are oil based.
When you’re ready, rub Vaseline on your cuticles and nails to protect your manicure and keep your fingertips and nails from staining. Next, apply the tanner limb by limb, starting with your legs, sweeping the product over the shin and calf, and then over the ankle, foot, and toes. Continue with your thigh, from front to back, applying any excess over the knee. Then, apply tanner to hips, stomach, and torso, and lastly shoulders and arms. Wait ten minutes before getting dressed, and don loose fitting, dark clothing. No point staining your favorite pieces. Avoid water, bathing, or activities that will make you sweat for at least eight hours. If your tan hasn’t properly set, sweating will cause unsightly streaking a la Christina Aguilera. By now your hands will be covered in the product, so to remove the tanner from your palms and not the tops of your hands, rub your palms along a wet washcloth. If you mess up or your end result is streaky, you can fix flubs with an astringent toner or even toothpaste. If your application is patchy and uneven, try exfoliating again. If the color is too light, repeat after allowing time for the tan to fully develop. Now that you know how to properly apply self-tanner, you’re ready to go out and pick the perfect product.
Guerlain’s Terracotta Self-Tanning Spray for the Body
In 1984, Guerlain of Paris created the first bronzing powder called “Terracotta.” Their bronzer is my go-to product for a bit of color on my face, but they now make one of the best spray tanners on the market. It dries very quickly, so you can get dressed almost immediately, and the color is supremely natural—a rich brown rather than a fake orange. The tan even deepens as the day goes on! It’s not exactly cheap, but trust me, it’s worth the splurge. After all, it was legendary French designer Coco Chanel who popularized the suntan in the first place!
Laura Mercier Bronzing Gel for the Face
This bronzing gel is perfect for enhancing the tan on your face. Dab a bit on after moisturizer and before any powders. While this option is a bit pricier, the bronzer provides a youthful, just tanned glow with a touch of rose. It warms the skin and adds a spark of shimmer without looking too cheap or overly youthful.
Jergens Natural Glow
This lotion formula is perfect for a gradual, subtle tan that builds over several days. It’s perfect for women who embrace their paler complexions or don’t have the patience to maintain darker, more obvious one-application self-tanners. Rub the lotion in after showering, and within a few days you’ll notice a beautiful difference. The one downside is the chemical smell typical of many self-tanners, but for the cost, miserly beauty girls will deal.
Decleor Self-Tanning Milk and Gels for Body and Face
Decleor self-tanning products are some of the best and least pungent self-tanners you’ll come across. This product really is near perfect: It hydrates, unlike many drying self-tanners, it won’t streak, and it looks completely natural (albeit with a bit of shimmer) without the slightest trace of the dreaded orange. There is that telltale self-tanner smell, but the tanning agents are 100% organic and work on both the face and body.
St. Tropez Whipped Bronze Self-Tanning Mousse for Face and Body
This salon brand has earned a cult following and is coveted by celebrities like Elle MacPherson. Swimsuit and lingerie models know their self-tanners, so you can count on this one. Within about three hours of application, you’ll have a guaranteed deep, completely natural-looking tan. This is most definitely not a gradual self-tanner, and because it’s fast acting and dries quickly, I recommend using the St. Tropez applicator pad—preserve your manicure and fix any missed patches in a cinch. Their website even features detailed, helpful videos that teach you how to perfect your application. This product deepens over time, and has a more pleasant fragrance than most self-tanners out there.
Dior Bronze Auto-Bronzant
My mom swears by this self-tanner from Parfums Christian Dior for three simple reasons. One, it doesn’t have the offensive smell often associated with self-tanners. In fact, it actually smells quite nice. Two, the result is subtle but noticeable. You can build it up over the course of several days and it will last for quite a while. And three, the formula is completely matte—it does not have any shimmer at all, which she claims is a big plus for women of a certain age who should not be trying to carry off a look best left to their daughters. There are two formulas, one for face and one for body but for the same price you get more product in the body formula which can be used on the face as well.
Finally, don’t forget to always wear a moisturizer with SPF to prolong your sunless tan, and. more importantly, to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays.