Thursday, February 26, 2009

Self Tanner 101

Ah, late winter. Even though it's still cold and gray, we're close enough to summer that we begin to fantasize about the warmth of the sun and the bronze glow it imparts. Somehow, we feel more alive. But alas, we're still a long way from bathing suit weather (a fact some of us are glad for!) Enter the tan in a can, a vacation in a bottle. With a bit of technique, today's formulas can provide a realistic looking tan without the sun, and, more importantly, without looking like an Oompa-Loompa.

I can't help but go into a mini-diatribe on how silly it is to subject your skin to actual tanning- how it prematurely ages you, how one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, how tanning beds are just as dangerous as actual sun (so much so that over half of US states have legislation making it illegal for minors to use them.) I simply don't understand why people take such risks when viable options are out there.

I am a pale girl, I learned a long time ago that I was never going to be tan by any normal standards, and I've come to embrace my pallor. Having said that, Snow White was never depicted in a bathing suit for a reason (probably many). Because of my lack of color, I'm extremely wary when it comes to self tanners, which are more forgiving the deeper your skin tone. Through trial and (unfortunately) error, I've come up with a few techniques that will help you get the best out of your bottle.

First, it's important to prep your skin before you tan. I actually like to give myself a week to gear up and get my skin in condition. Use a non-oily body scrub in the shower every other day, concentrating on rough patches like your knees and elbows. Oil based scrubs will leave a residue on the skin and can cause self tanner to streak, so if you do use a scrub with oil, make sure you wait a day before tanning. On the days working up to your tan, apply body lotion all over, again paying special attention to your driest areas. The day you tan, shower, scrub, and then put lotion just on your knees, elbows and feet.

There are tons of self tanners on the market, in everything from sprays to sheets, I highly recommend a using a tinted self tanner, in either cream or gel form. Aside from the instant gratification, the tint acts as a guide so that you can see where you're putting the color and how well you're blending it. I also recommend a patch test: I always do a few applications on just one arm- this way you can hold one against the other to make sure you like the color you're getting.

When you're ready to apply, rubber gloves are the only thing you should be wearing (OK, maybe a bra and undies if you must). Self tanner takes at least 10 minutes to absorb into the skin; if clothing rubs against it can result in an uneven tan and stained fabric. Working in small areas, apply tanner to your gloved hand and rub your palms together to distribute. Start with your lower legs, doing the area from your knees to your ankles, but not actually applying color there. From there, move on to the area above the knees, and then the rest of your body. Treat your arms as you did your legs, skipping your elbows. After you've blended completely (there are no lines visible anywhere) remove your gloves, distribute a pea sized drop of regular body lotion into your palms, and rub it over your knees, elbows, ankles and wrists, blending the tanner from the surrounding areas. You won't be able to see it, but trust me, it's there.

Now, just wait. And I mean wait. DO NOT attempt to dress until your body is no longer balmy. I like to do my self tanner before bed, that way I wake up feeling as if I've been on vacation!

To upkeep your new glow, continue to scrub in the shower every 2-3 days, which will help make sure your color fades evenly. Reapply tanner once a day until you reach your desired depth, then every 3 days after that to maintain your shade.

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