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Sunless Tanning: Baking Is Out, Faking Is In

How to Apply Sunless Tanners

Always do a spot test with a sunless tanning product before putting it all over your body. Most people tolerate sunless tanning products with DHA quite well, but dermatologists say that people with sensitive skin may be allergic to fragrances or preservatives.

When you're ready to apply the sunless tanner, pull your hair back into a ponytail or wear a shower cap. Applying self-tanning products in the buff spares you from faux tan lines, but you can also wear an old bikini or old clothing as they may stain. (Once the tanner has dried and you shower, staining isn't a problem.) Then don well-fitting latex gloves to apply the product without staining your palms.

Shake the product well, Morgan says. Apply it to the legs, arms, and torso with circular motions, which help to prevent a streaky look. "Massage and go in circles," she says. "Distributing the product evenly on the skin is what's going to create that fluid, natural glow."

Consider using a separate face-tanning product and a body tanner, or use only one coat on the face and two on the body so that the face doesn't appear too dark, Anton says. "You can always add bronzer or a little bit of makeup on the face, but sometimes putting too much of a self-tanner on the face, you just look weird. You have to experiment a little bit if you're doing this yourself," she says.

Save the hands for last, Anton says. After removing gloves, apply sunless tanner to the backs of the hands and rub them together, taking care not to get any tanner on the palms. Anton says she uses a moistened washcloth to remove excess tanner from hand creases and knuckles and to blend the color along the sides of the palms.

Also be sure to use self-tanning products sparingly on the feet, and towel away excess product around the ankles, Anton adds. "Those little wrinkles are where it tends to settle and look orangey or really brown."

Sunless Tanning: Spot Fixes and Aftercare

If you've exfoliated and applied sunless tanner carefully but still end up with areas that are too dark on the hands, ankles, wrists, or other tricky areas, you can lighten them by applying hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, or whitening toothpaste, Morgan says.  

"To get the most longevity out of your tan," she says, "moisturize, moisturize, moisturize." Prolonged soaking in pools, hot tubs, or the ocean will also fade a sunless tan faster.

Your face may need more frequent applications than your body because cells renew faster there, Ashinoff says. 

Also remember to keep using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Dermatologists say that many people mistakenly believe that their newly bronzed skin will protect them from sunburn and sun damage.

"The tan that you get with these products is not protective," Diane Berson, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, says. "There should not be a false sense of security."

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