It’s been almost a decade since I swore off actual tanning—you know, in the sun or in a tanning bed—so self-tanning is a familiar ritual for me. With a fresh faux tan, I feel younger, thinner, more glowy … ready to take on the world! With that in mind, I wholeheartedly recommend the experience. What I definitely don’t recommend is cutting any corners. To succeed in the art of self-tanning, one must play by the rules! Here, I’ve put together a list of the most important ones I’ve learned through experience.
- FINDING YOUR COLOR IS KEY. Whether you employ a DIY approach or get sprayed by a professional, you’ll hate your tan if the shade is bogus. To make sure you get it right, perfect the process well in advance of any big events on your calendar—you don’t want to accidentally show up orange, and, believe me, a botched self-tan won’t exactly come right off with a washcloth. If it’s a new product you’re using, patch test it to make sure it works with your skin tone. (I learned the hard way that self-tanners are not universally flattering, when I tried getting a spray tan at a salon within walking distance of my home to save time. I now endure a 15-minute drive in terrible-no-matter-the-time Sunset Blvd. traffic to visit Sunset Tan in West Hollywood, which is, in my opinion, the best and most economical option in the area. They use Infinity Sun solution; the color develops into a nice, non-orangey bronze every time.
- AVOID GRAINY SCRUBS. Yes, you need to exfoliate (and shave, if that’s something you do) right before self-tanning of any kind. But, as the people who make the Infinity Sun products explained to me a few years back, coarse or gritty scrubs, like those made of sea salt, can create microscopic tears in the skin, making for a not-so-even application of whatever self-tanning product you use. That’s why it’s best to use a chemical exfoliant, like their Exfoliating Skin Renewal, instead.
- IF YOU HAVE THE MEANS, GO PRO. In the interest of time alone, heading to a salon for self-tanner application is advisable. In the interest of great results, going pro is almost definitely going to work out better, too. Best case: a custom spray tan, administered by a human who does it for a living. Better than DIY? A booth, like Mystic Tan or Magic Tan.
- IF YOU MUST DIY, USE TAN TOWELS. If you want to be extra dark, start with a traditional self-tanning lotion in the AM and finish with Tan Towels at night. Application at home does not get any easier than with these things. They are virtually un-mess-up-able.
- GO DARKER ON YOUR LEGS AND FACE. It might sound weird, but I promise you it’s not—it’s how I do it! Because I apply a truckload more products to my face than to my body (where really, all I use is lotion and sunscreen), my sunless tan always fades much more quickly there. Having a bronzed torso with an ivory face is not a good look, is it? Same story with the legs, which fade more rapidly than the rest of my body due to shaving.
- BE SMART ABOUT AFTER-CARE. You already know that there are no baths, showers or sweat sessions until your tan has had a full 8 hours to develop. (This is why I tend to get sprayed a couple of hours before bed—and make certain to wear loose, baggy sweats that keep any color from a) getting rubbed off or b) transferring to my sheets.) After that, you do everything you can to ensure the tan lasts. Apply body lotion as often as three times a day to prolong the color—just make sure it’s water-based, with no oils appearing in the first three slots on its list of ingredients. Also? Stay out of the pool, especially if it’s full of chlorinated water as opposed to saline.
- WEAR LESS MAKEUP. Almost as nice as a good spray tan’s slimming effect is its beautifying effect. In the days that follow my spray tan, I relish in the fact that I can pull off skipping foundation in favor of a fresh-faced look. Which happens to make a lot more sense for summer, unless “beauty pageant” is the esthetic to which you aspire.