The New Tanning Rules: A Guide to Self-Tanners
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The New Tanning Rules: A Guide to Self-Tanners

The latest way to fake a bake: Goof-proof moisturizers that contain a small dose of that tan-in-a-bottle miracle, DHA. Plus, they provide other healthy-skin benefits, from firming to reducing stubble. Here, the only six tricks you need to get the perfect sun-kissed (not baked, broiled, or sauteed) glow with a fake tan.

1. Start with smooth skin

Buff dry patches in the shower with an exfoliating glove or a non-oil-based scrub (try Bella Bronze Sea Kelp & White Volcanics Scrub, $18, "Oil leaves a residue that prevents even absorption, no matter how well you blend," says Anna Stankiewicz, a skincare therapist at the Rita Hazan Salon in New York City who specializes in airbrush tanning. After towel-drying, prep drier areas (such as knees, elbows, ankles, and knuckles) with a body moisturizer like The Healing Garden Energy Therapy Antioxidant Body Lotion, $16.75, drugstores. "Parts that don't have many oil glands tend to be dry and grab most of the color," explains Stankiewicz.

2. Touch your toes first

With any self-tanner, it's best to start applying on the lowest body part you want to give a boost of color to. People tend to coat their chest and stomach first, but bending over to do legs and feet after you've done your upper body will create creases, says Stankiewicz.

3. Let it set

"You don't want to wipe away the cream before it has a chance to react with your skin," explains Stankiewicz. You'll need to wait a minimum of 15 minutes before getting dressed -- even if your skin doesn't feel tacky. "The bottom layers may still be drying," notes Stankiewicz. Speed up the process by fanning your body with a hair dryer on the cool setting. For even quicker results, use an aerosol formula instead of a cream. "Sprays have smaller color molecules, so they're absorbed faster," says Cindy Barshop, owner of the Complete Bare spas in New York City and Palm Beach.

4. De-streak

Five minutes after you've applied the product, use a dry loofah or washcloth to gently diffuse the color, especially on your wrists, ankles, and feet and between your fingers. "Your hand can distribute the color unevenly, because it's not a totally smooth surface," explains Stankiewicz. If you already have a splotched area, a gritty exfoliator won't buff away the darker hue because the tanning agent has already soaked into deeper layers of the skin. Instead, try a tanning remover like St. Tropez Self-Tan Remover, $17,, which can actually break down DHA.

5. Don't linger in the shower

Water will wash off your glow. "Minimize your routine to under 10 minutes and keep the water temperature warm, not hot," says Barshop. Don't shave as often, and skip exfoliating until you're ready to reapply self-tanner. For best stay-smooth results, use a hair-removing cream pre-application, rather than a razor (try Nair Sensitive Formula Gel Cream for Body, $7.99, drugstores). You won't have regrowth for several days.

Fake a "toned" look, fast

Start by applying a quarter-size amount of a classic self-tanning cream (try Chanel Précision Perfect Colour Body Self-Tanner, $45, onto areas you want to appear firmer, like your stomach, butt and thighs. "Creating a slight shadow with a darker color where you want more definition will make your body seem sleeker," explains Barshop. First, make a muscle to see where your body's natural indent is, then use small circular motions to blend in the cream right on that spot (wear vinyl gloves so you can spend time blending without worrying about stained palms). Wait 20 minutes for the color to dry before applying a moisturizer that contains some self-tanner over that area (and all over) to even out your glow.

9 FITNESS-Tested Self-Tanners

Banana Boat EveryDay Glow Daily Moisturizer, $11.99, drugstores
"I loved that you could customize the color on different areas, and the dial was so easy to use."
-- Alice, 26

Aveeno Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion, $7.99, drugstores
"It's as good as my daily lotion, and my fiance really loved how great my body looked."
-- Tara, 29

L'Oreal Paris Sublime Glow Moisturizing MicroFine Mist, $9.99, drugstores
"The mist reached every angle, and the subtle color looked totally real."
-- Sarah, 26

Lancome Glow Sensuelle Daily Luminous Body Moisturizer, $29,
"This gave my olive skin a glow that looked natural, plus it hydrated my skin."
-- Elizabeth, 37

Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer, $7.99, drugstores
"Easy to apply and only one tiny streak. Pretty great for a tan lover without time for an elaborate beauty routine."
-- Denise, 39

Dove Energy Glow Daily Moisturizer, $6.99, drugstores
"Self-tanners usually look orange on me, but this one enhanced my natural skin tone perfectly. I'll use it every day."
-- Lauren, 24

St. Ives Healthy Brilliance Firm & Glow Body Moisturizer, $6.99, drugstores
"My skin looked slightly bronzed and felt firmer after just a few days, and the cream smells so good I wanted to use it every day."
-- Nichole, 29

Olay Touch of Sun Overnight Body Lotion, $6.99, drugstores
"I never leave myself enough time to apply a self-tanner in the morning, so I loved waking up with a totally believable glow."
-- Loni, 21

Sally Hansen Smooth Glow Stubble Reducing Daily Moisturizer, $6.99, drugstores,
"My legs are smoother than ever, plus I have subtle color that enhances my normally very pale self."
-- Lindsey, 28

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2007.