How to Use Self-Tanner

The sunless way to look sun-kissed isn't as daunting as you think

What's the best way to apply self-tanner? We asked the real experts -- women who have tried them and found techniques that work. Follow these tried-and-true tips to achieve a perfect and healthy sunless tan.

What You Need Before Self-Tanning:

1. The right self-tanner. Both tinted and non-tinted products work the same, but we recommend using a tinted product. You can see where you are applying it and it's the only way to prevent streaks of untanned skin. The non-tinted creams go on like moisturizer and you can't tell by looking at your skin where it is -- and where it isn't! Product shades range from fair to very dark. Stick to fair or medium. The darker the shade, the faker the tan tends to look.

2. Latex gloves. If you don't want to use gloves, just be aware that you need to wash your hands a few times (between fingers, too!) during the application process.

3. Twenty volume peroxide developer. Commonly used for hair bleaching, this product (available at beauty supply stores) is your spot "eraser." Dip a Q-Tip in this liquid and apply to areas where you want to remove the tan -- commonly, that might be a streak on the inside of your arm or on your heel. (Make sure you rinse well afterward.) Do not use this to remove your entire tan or on a large section of your body. If you hate your total tan, jump into the shower and exfoliate again. Exfoliating will not completely remove it, but it will fade it. Within a couple of days, it will be gone

4. Time. This process will take a good 90 minutes, at least, including drying time. Most products promise to dry in 15 to 30 minutes, but it really takes more like an hour. That may sound long, but your smooth, glossy, safe tan will be worth it! Think of it as a spa treatment.

How to Use Self-Tanning Products:

1. Exfoliate your skin. Self-tanners work by dyeing the top layer of skin, so it's important to slough your entire body to remove any dead skin build-up that will "catch" the product and result in an uneven tan. The easiest way to do this is in the shower: Use either a shower gel with exfoliating beads, a loofah or stretch bath gloves made for this purpose. Exfoliate your entire body, paying close attention to "dry" areas like knees and elbows.

2. Make sure your skin is dry. If your skin is even slightly wet, the self-tanner won't go on evenly and you will have brown streaks. After your shower, vigorously dry your skin. Don't apply the product in a steamy bathroom.

3. Apply moisturizer. A thin coat of moisturizer will make your skin as smooth as it can be and will prepare it for the most even application possible. Let the moisturizer absorb and "dry" for several minutes before applying self-tanner.

4. Apply the self-tanner as you would a moisturizer. Be sure to use slightly more self-tanner than you would moisturizer, and as you rub it in, make sure you spread it evenly over your skin. (Some women advise using circular motions to avoid streaks.) The trickiest spots are the backs of your legs and your back. (One woman recommends using a paint roller saturated with product on those areas.) Remember that the tops of your feet and backs of your hands should not be as tan as the rest of your body. Apply the product lightly around your ankles, knees and elbows. Make sure the product is fully rubbed into the skin; you will streak wherever it isn't.

5. Moisturize around the edges. To avoid distinct tan lines, apply moisturizer to areas where you did not apply self-tanner, like your feet and backside, then gently rub it into the self-tanned areas.

6. Finally, be sure to dry completely before dressing or going to bed. It may take only 20 minutes to feel dry to the touch, but the longer you can wait before putting anything against your skin, the less likely you are to get splotches. Some labels say you'll be dry enough to dress in 15 minutes, but unless you're rotating in front of a powerful fan, that won't happen.

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