Self-Tanning: a 101 (and, Um, a Confessional)

Despite growing up in South Florida, I am incredibly fearful of the sun. I mean, I'll go out, but not without SPF 50, a hat, sunglasses, and saying, "Can we go inside?" ten times. I have an olive skin tone that turns a sickly shade of green-ish yellow if I don't have a tan, however. I know, I know. Try not to be jealous. So, I'm proud to admit it, but, yes, I use self-tanners. Hold your outdated Jersey Shore joke. Although it's true that plenty of people overuse the powers of self tanners (see: any Hawaiian Tropic contest), so many products are now available that make it easy to get a natural-looking amount of color.

Before I start recommending you products, I should say that these recommendations come from years—literal years—of trial and error. I'd show the pictures of a 14-year-old me looking like an Oompa Loompa, but I eliminated those from this planet a long time ago. Let's just say that I've experienced just about every self tanning issue that there is. I've gotten too orange. I've had streaks all over. I've had tangerine palms. I've broken out. I've really been through hell and back, guys.

  • Your basic formula 101: You've got lotions, tan towels, gradual self-tanners, and aerosols. Go for gradual self-tanners and aerosols. Lotions are more likely to get streaky, and tan towels tend to stain your hands. Aerosols, on the other hand, are great for getting hard to reach areas, and gradual self-tanners are ideal for building a natural tan over time.
  • Best aerosol: St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Spray for $35. Can you find drugstore self-tanners for a fraction of the price? Absolutely. But, no matter what I do, those cheaper products always leave me streaky and smelly, which, let me assure you, will never be a summer trend. St. Tropez promises an "Aromaguard fragrance technology" that eliminates the tell-tale aroma of the self tan. Yes, I wish they had done better than "Aromaguard," too, but it does work.
  • Best gradual: As much as I love the above, I don't recommend using it on your face. That's where the gradual self-tanners come in. The Jergens' Natural Glow collection is all sorts of amazing. I like to use the product every other day to give me a more natural-looking tan.
  • Best mistake-eraser: Of course, even if you're using great products, oops-moments do happen. If you suddenly find yourself orange, I recommend the Bronze Buffer. The sponge-like product gently wipes color away instantly.

Is it embarrassing to use self tanner? Perhaps. But I'd rather spray on some color than bake out in the sun. Plus, there's nothing like watching someone get stumped when I respond to her Snooki joke with, "Good one. Is it 2009 already?"

Image: cherrylet on flickr