If you're going to do it yourself, you might want some advice before you get started. Erica Kelly, MD, is a dermatologist in Galveston, Texas, who has been self-tanning since she was in high school. (She's now in her 40s.) During the summer she uses a self-tanner twice a week.
Choose Your Formula
There are lots of roads to a sunless tan. You might even want to use different formulas for various body parts. Kelly, for example, uses a spray for her back and face, a cream for everywhere else.
Your goof-proof options:
Self-tanning moisturizers: With a lower concentration of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active ingredient in sunless tanners, these gradually build a sun-kissed glow with daily use.
Best for: Achieving just a hint of color; a good starting step for novice self-tanners.
Tanning towelettes: Presoaked with self-tanner, these sheets just need to be unfolded and swiped across skin for an even glow.
Best for: Keeping up your glow on vacation. These pads are stress free. "It's almost impossible to apply too much product with tanning wipes," says Tamar Vezirian, a New York makeup artist who runs a tanning salon and mobile tanning service. She's helped some models in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue get their golden glow.
Self-tanning lotions and creams: The workhorse of sunless tanning, these formulas are often tinted so you can see if you've missed any spots.
Best for: Both practiced and beginner tanners. Because these formulas don't absorb into the skin instantly, you have a few extra seconds to blend.
Sunless mousses and gels: Lightweight and fast drying, these formulas are easy to layer, so you can build coverage or customize for contouring.
Best for: Experienced self-tanners. You need to blend fast before the color is absorbed.
Do-it-yourself tanning sprays: The fastest way to cover large areas. Technique matters: You need to apply evenly from about 6 inches away in a circular motion.
Best for: Hitting hard-to-reach areas like your back. "These dispense just a light mist of color so you can achieve results that are like an airbrushed tan," Vezirian says.