If you need to get a wax or a manicure, touch up your hair color, or shave your legs, do it before applying any self-tanner. "All of those treatments can remove self-tanner," says spray tanner Anna Stankiewicz of Louise O'Connor Salon in New York City.
Self-tanner sinks into dry skin, leaving dark patches that look entirely unnatural (and, let's be honest, a little gross). Slough away any flakes on your body with a coarse scrub, focusing on rough spots like the knees, elbows, ankles, and heels. For your face, use a cleanser with glycolic or salicylic acid and a skin brush such as the Clarisonic Aria to remove dead, dull skin. Avoid anything oil-based, since it leaves behind residue that causes streaks, Stankiewicz says.
We know, we know—this one seems way too obvious. But after showering, towel off and wait ten minutes until you're 100 percent dry.
So we just said to make sure you're completely, totally, not-a-drop-of-water-on-you dry, but you'll need to add a little moisture back into your skin before you get to the self-tanner. Dab a lightweight lotion around your nostrils, knees, elbows, and ankles (as well as any other dry spots) to keep them from turning dark or orange, Stankiewicz says. Our picks? DDF Ultra-Lite Oil-Free Moisturizing Dewfor our face and Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion SPF 15 for our body.
"I think mousses are the easiest to rub in, but sprays are great for hard-to-reach areas," Stankiewicz says. The rule of thumb? Choose a self-tanner for your skin tone, not your desired result. Go with a light to medium formula if you have fair skin and a dark formula for olive tones. If you opt for a gradual formula, remember that it can take two to four applications to reach the right shade. St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse is one of our favorites for body, while we love Clarins Liquid Bronze Self Tanning For Face and Décolleté for our face.
This technique separates gorgeous sunless glows from bad fake tans. With clean hands (or latex gloves, if you prefer), smooth on self-tanner in circular motions approximately one teaspoon at a time. Start at your ankles and work your way up to your shoulders to prevent any weird marks when you bend over, and save your arms and hands for last.
You've come too far to get careless now. Dab a dime-size amount of formula where you'd naturally tan (your forehead, the apples of your cheeks, the bridge of your nose, and your chin) and blend outward with your fingertips. Be extra careful around the nose and above the top lip—these areas pick up more color because they tend to be drier. Using what's left on your fingers, feather the tanner out into your hairline and past the jawbone. Wash your hands immediately after you finish.
Give the formula extra time to dry. "If the directions say five minutes, wait ten," Stankiewicz says. Then brush a talc-free baby powder all over. "It stops the tanner from transferring to your clothes," she says. Avoid showering or sweating for 6 to 8 hours.
Self-tanner mistakes happen, but there's no need to start from scratch when they do. If streaks or splotches appear, Stankiewicz recommends rubbing half a lemon on the area for two minutes before lightly buffing it with a damp towel.
We can't guarantee how long your bronze will last, but certain measures can be taken to prolong it. Wash with a gentle cleanser and make sure your skin is always moisturized. Avoid using retinols and acne treatments, which can dissolve color on your face. When you're ready to refresh your skin, exfoliate and begin the cycle again.
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