It’s tempting to think, As long as I’m not getting burned, what’s the harm of a light tan? After all, what would summer be without long afternoons spent lounging and playing under the sun?
The reality is that melanoma and other skin-related cancers are on the rise, and even the faintest tan is actually a form of sun damage. But there is a way you can have your sun-kissed glow and still be safe: Sunless tanning. The trick is in knowing how to apply it because there are lots of ways it can go sideways. So here are a few tips to avoid those notorious streaks.
Exfoliate all over
It’s important to start with a clean slate. So, exfoliate all over, shave or wax as usual, then moisturize—all before your apply any self-tanner. (Spend a little extra time exfoliating where your skin’s the thickest, like your elbows, knees, and ankles.) That’s going to ensure that you’ll have a smooth and even surface to start with. If you’ve had a bad experience with self-tanner, chances are your streaks or uneven coloring was the result of some bad prep.
Rather than slathering moisturizer everywhere, as you normally would after a shower, just cover the parts that are particularly prone to dryness, like your ankles, feet, knees, elbows, and palms. This is going to prevent them from absorbing too much color. You may also want to apply moisturizer around your hairline and eyebrows if your hair is very light. The rest of your skin should be dry and free of lotions to maximize the self-tanner’s effectiveness.
Apply in sections
One more step before you start applying the self-tanner: Put on latex gloves or a tanning mitt. It’s going to help the product go on evenly. It’s also going to protect your fingers and palms from staining. Then, using light, long, vertical strokes, apply the tanner a section at a time. Use it sparingly around your joints, neck, face, and hands, but make sure that all exposed skin is covered.
Don’t rush the process
Patience is important. If you don’t give the tanner enough time to develop evenly, you’ll run the risk of smudging. Wait 10 minutes before getting dressed. And then wear loose-fitting clothes for the next few hours and try to avoid sweating. Try to hold off on applying makeup and perfume, too. And avoid water for four to eight hours.
Protect your skin
Self-tanner products can dry your skin out, so be especially vigilant about moisturizing all over every day. And after three or four days, gently exfoliate to encourage natural fading. Also, it’s important to remember that the self-tanner is not a “base,” nor is it a sunscreen. You still need to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher before you head outside.