To understand my passion for self-tanning — and indeed, it is a passion — you just need to know my lineage. My mother is from Texas and my father is from New Jersey, which means slathering my body in some sort of tanning agent, be it a bronzer or outdoor tanning oil (shudder), is basically a birthright. After a few shameful dalliances with the tanning bed in my college years, I know better — when applied properly, at-home sunless tanner can perfectly replicate a sunkissed bronze without the risk of premature wrinkles or deadly disease. Plus, self-tanner can be even better than the real deal, too. It evens out any skin tone, camouflages discoloration and light scarring, is fully customizable, and adds a gleaming glow — it’s like a mildly blurring, smoothing foundation for your entire body, and you don’t have to worry about taking it off with a cleansing balm every night.
The secret to the perfect self-tan isn’t necessarily in the actual application, though. The same way skin prep forms an ideal surface for makeup, taking the time to get your body skin ready for self-tanner in the difference between a perfect all-week glow and a peel-y, patchy disaster.
Speaking as someone who’s had more than her fair share of tanning catastrophes (please, no one ask about the Great Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Movie Theater Incident Of 2012), I think I’ve worked out something of the ultimate self-tanning prep and application routine through much trial and error. Below, a list of my most tried-and-true products, plus exactly how (and when) to use all of them. Perch your laptop on your bathroom counter and queue up episodes of something fun and frothy — we’re gonna be in there a while.
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