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Self-Tanner Application Tips You Won’t Find on the Bottle

Scrub, Then Rub

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Self-tanner tends to cling to dry skin, leaving you with that dreaded uneven, patchy look. The fix: a pre-application head-to-toe scrub-down with an oil-free exfoliant, says Anna Stankiewicz, master airbrush tanning guru for Suvara Tanning. “Oil-based scrubs leave behind a residue that prevents self-tanner from getting into the layer of skin that it needs reach, which can lead to streaks,” she explains. Try H2O+ Sea Moss Black Sand Body Scrub ($20;

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Bronze Before Bed

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For the best results, you’ll want to wait a full eight hours after applying to take a shower, swim laps, or break a sweat, says Sophie Evans, St. Tropez skin finishing expert. Which makes “tanning” at night ideal—the formula may even penetrate better in the p.m. “While you’re sleeping, your body temperature heats up and your pores open, allowing for maximum product development,” Evans says. Just be sure to apply at least 15 minutes before hitting your sheets to prevent ruining them as well as your color.

Build a Barrier

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Since naturally dry spots (hands, feet, elbows, knees) tend to grab more color, before you even open the sunless tanner bottle, apply a light layer of moisturizer to these areas. Blend well, being careful not to go beyond your wrists or ankles. “If you glob on a thick layer of lotion, you’ll get an obvious line of demarcation,” Stankiewicz says.

Master It With Mousse

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A foaming formula, which is easier to spread and blend, is great for self-tanning novices, according to Stankiewicz. Apply a quarter-sized amount to each body area—ankles to knees, knees to hips, torso, arms, and back—using a circular motion. “You never want to apply self-tanner in an up and down manner—there are no straight lines on your body,” says Katie Quinn of Kona Tanning Company and lead body makeup artist at the 2012 Victoria’s Secret fashion show. “Follow the curves of your muscles.” Try St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse ($42;

Blot to Avoid Spots

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Before you dress, dust areas that tend to get sticky— armpits, cleavage, the inside of your elbows, behind your knees, between your thighs, etc.—with talc-free baby powder. “It’ll keep skin dry and prevent any creases from forming,” Stankiewicz says. Try Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Dusting Powder ($6;

Think Minimal on Your Mug

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“Less is always more when it comes your face,” Quinn says. Start with just a pearl-sized amount of tanner and blend it all over your face and up into your hairline (or as close as possible—blonde, color-treated hair can absorb the self-tanner and turn color). If the shade isn’t deep enough for you, repeat this for two to three days, Quinn adds. Self-tanner will only make any dark spots look more prominent, so before you apply, dab any marks with a clear, wax-based lip liner to block absorption. Quinn likes e.l.f. Studio Lip Lock Pencil ($3;

Fix Faux Flaws

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Even the most meticulous applicator may find herself with a streak or two. Don’t freak out. Try the new Bronze Buffer Self-Tan Remover ($10 for 2;, a sponge that gently buffs away excess color. If that doesn’t work, use Quinn’s trick: “I’ve found that Windex will remove self-tanner within one to two hours of application.” Soak a cotton ball in the solution and squeeze out the excess. Then swipe it back and forth over the streak using a very light touch. If you take off too much color, simply reapply more self-tanner, using circular motions and blending the borders of the area being touched up, Quinn says.

Waterproof Your Look

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Unfortunately water and self-tanner don’t mix well. But a girl’s gotta shower! No worries, just douse your skin with body oil a few minutes before you step under the spray. “The oil acts as a protective barrier from the water so your tan will last longer,” Stankiewicz says. Plus it’ll make your skin super-soft. Switching to a gentle cleanser that says it’s pH-balanced can also help, as harsh bar soaps that have a high pH will strip skin of its natural oils and your color. Try Neutrogena Body Oil ($10 for 8.5 ounces; and Sebamed Liquid Face and Body Wash ($13;

Reapply When the Time Is Right

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Moisturizers with a small amount of self-tanner are a great way to maintain your faux tan or attain a subtle glow. They’re meant to be used every day, but Stankiewicz says you may see better results if you apply daily for the first three days, then start skipping a day between applications. “Otherwise, you’ll end up with a buildup that can lead to a patchy look,” she says. Regular self-tanner is best applied every five to seven days. If your color starts to fade sooner, do a mid-week touchup with a combo moisturizer-tanner to add a light layer of color without turning orange, Stankiewicz says.