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6 Steps to Lean, Lovely Legs

Whether it’s that your stems haven’t seen the sun in six months, you haven’t bothered to shave since Christmas, or your once-defined ankles have seemingly become one with your calves, baring your bottom half can be bleak, to say the least. So before you let your legs get the best of you, here’s SHAPE’s six-pronged “F-Factor” guide to getting your gams toned, tanned, and smoothed with time to spare before summer!

Firm Up
While sculpting shapely legs is often a lengthy process, there are some quick tone-up exercises you can add to your everyday routine. Start by skipping the elevator and taking the stairs!

“Don’t underestimate this simple activity,” says Jolene Matthews, who trains The Real Housewives of New Jersey star Jacqueline Laurita. She recommends skipping steps (i.e. two at a time) on a staircase of about a dozen. Take ten trips to the top and you’ll burn about 200 calories (plus work your abs, butt, and legs all at the same time).

Matthews also recommends something you may have done without realizing its leg-shaping benefits–dancing! “There’s a reason why dancers all have amazing legs. It’s the perfect activity. It gets your heart rate up and firms the legs,” she adds.

Other exercises that offer leaner legs in just a few weeks? Squats, lunges, jumping rope, and walking on an incline on the treadmill.

Eliminate Fuzz
“While the age-old Dove soap and razor does the job, these days there are many ways women can achieve smooth, sexy legs for a longer period of time in between shaves,” says Dr. David E. Bank, a New York-based dermatologist.

Electrolysis, the process of inserting a hair-thin needle device into the hair follicle that expels a small amount of electrical energy to eventually eliminate hair growth permanently, can be time consuming and costly. Depilatories, chemical-based hair removal creams, dissolve the hair but can irritate the skin and must be used regularly. And while waxing rips hair up at the root, it can be painful and you must have significant hair re-growth before you can wax it again (not a fan of showing stubble). Also; Beware of ingrown hairs with this method.

The most permanent option of the bunch is growing in popularity–laser hair removal. In fact, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery estimates that in 2009 alone, more than 1.2 million laser hair removal procedures were performed in the U.S.
Dr. Bank uses a type of laser called the LightSheer Diode Laser, which works by “targeting the hair follicle, below the skin’s surface.” The company that makes the laser says patients can see a 75-percent reduction in treatment time. With any laser, patients can expect to undergo at least three or four treatments at intervals of 4-8 weeks before their hair is permanently reduced.

There are also downsides to laser treatments such as pain, swelling and redness and, although rare, blistering or permanent pigment changes can occur, especially if the patient has a tan. As for cost? Prices are based on the size of the area you’d like to treat and how many treatments you’ll need to undergo. Sessions can range anywhere from $500-600 and up.

Fry Fat
Ninety percent of women reportedly have the dimply, lumpy, bumpy skin known as cellulite. Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done about the appearance of cellulite, but some experts say drinking plenty of water and ridding your body of toxins such as cigarettes and alcohol can help lessen the problem.

When it comes to getting rid of stubborn, unwanted fat, there are a few new options.“The laser lipo body sculpting procedure, a procedure that uses a laser to ‘melt fat’ prior to performing liposuction, works particularly well at reducing unwanted fat on the inner and outer thighs and knee areas with minimal risks and a short recovery time,” plastic surgeon Dr. Neil Goodman says.

Similar procedures known as S.L.I.M Laser Liposuction and VelaShape, a combination of light and bi-polar radio frequency energies that, when combined with pressure, are also said to reduce the appearance of so-called “cottage cheese thighs.”

Fix Flaws
Spider veins can ruin an otherwise flawless façade on legs. Sclerotherapy is a relatively painless procedure in which a solution is injected into the veins causing them to contract and collapse, while laser treatment uses pulsed light to shrink the veins. Just like in hair removal though, the process takes some time. A patient will have to undergo several treatments at three-month intervals to see the desired results.

When it comes to bruises and scars, Dr. Bank recommends Fraxel laser, a treatment which can get rid of old scars. A drug called Tretinion, a combination of Retin-A and Renova, has also been shown to lessen the appearance of scars. For bruising, an array of creams or gels containing the herbs arnica Montana and Bromelain have been shown to make a difference.

When all else fails, simply use a heavy duty cover-up like Dermablend that matches your skin coloring. Here’s a stylist’s secret: I’m a big fan of Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs, which is actually a skin-colored leg makeup that comes in several shades and mimics the appearance of pantyhose. It can be found at any drugstore for just a few dollars. I use it for all my television appearances—it makes legs look perfect!

Fight Fair
Porcelain skin is often considered a gorgeous trait, except when it’s on our legs. For whatever reason, they just look better with a tan. But you don’t us to remind you that sun exposure—real or artificial—simply isn’t safe.

“It's not only your face that gets those unattractive brown spots, discolorations, and wrinkling from sun exposure,” says Allison Stallings, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. She notes that women’s legs are a common spot for skin cancer.

Both Dr. Stallings and Dr. Bank recommend this daily routine to improve over all skin tone and protect from sun damage: regular exfoliation (shaving does the trick), followed by a hydrating moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30. A good, regular pedicure with a mask never hurts either.

That being said, we still like our gams golden bronzed so the best thing to do is fake it! This can be achieved through sunless tanning. You can pick up an array of products at the drugstore or cosmetics counter, or you can go to a professional. Almost any tanning salon offers a spray tan via machine. You just step into the machine and within minutes are tanned to perfection. Or, you can do what the stars do and get an “airbrush” tan done by a technician. This can cost a little more ($50-$80), but the tech can better control the amount of the spray and the color.

Flatter with Fashion
Finally, my favorite part—fashionable ways you can enhance the gams you’ve got! The best news is you can cover up those legs until you’re ready to show them to the world with a great maxi! Stock up on an array of fun maxi skirts and dresses like Busy Philips, and you’ll be right on trend. Look for an all-over print and vertical seams for visual lengthening.

There are also a few stylists’ tricks I can share to make you look super-leggy. Nude shoes visually lengthen the leg line, and when they’re nude and high heels, your legs go on for miles. Another trick for creating the illusion of longer legs is by wearing pointy-toed shoes. Look for shoes with low-cut sides for extra elongation and, if you’re a little thicker in the ankles, avoid anything with an ankle strap that’ll stump the leg line or draw attention to that area. When you’re ready for that shorter skirt, make sure the hem hits just above the knee.

So go ahead, show some legs, ladies!