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Step 1: Perform A Dry Run
You may be tempted to go full-on "bronze goddess" overnight, but we advise you to tread lightly. If your complexion is very fair to begin with, you'll want to go darker in phases. Start with a lighter shade of self-tanner (or a gradual tanning lotion that deposits less color), and then work up to darker shades.
The best way to find out if you're going to look Oompa Loompa orange is to perform a patch test. Evans suggests swatching the product you want to use in a two-inch by two-inch section on your stomach or thigh for a true representation of what the pigment will look like once dry.
Step 2: Go Bald
After your skin is bronzed and golden, you're definitely going to want to flaunt some short shorts. So, if hair removal is in the cards, it's best to get it taken care of before your self-tanner application. Wax or shave 24 hours prior to slathering on your product, or risk the tan settling into your pores, which Evans advises can create "an uneven, pitted look." Once your tan is applied, hands off the wax strips.
If a razor is your tool of choice, you can continue shaving even after you've applied your tanner. (In fact, if you have dark, coarse hair, shaving the day after your self-tan application will result in the smoothest finish.)
Step 3: Scrub-A-Dub
"The better the condition of your skin, the better a tan will look and last," says Evans. Ensure your skin is ready to go by exfoliating and buffing away dead skin a few days prior to self-tan application. And, we're talking serious elbow grease. Self-tanning products will grab on to any dead skin, resulting in patches of too-dark color you're sure to regret.
Step 4: Be Picky
If your post-shower instinct is to reach for the lotion, we'd — in any other context — congratulate you on your skin-care prowess (and overall lack of laziness). But, if you're prepping for a coat of self-tanner, hold off on the moisturizer. Lotion will only dilute your color. Instead, target just your driest of dry areas (knees, elbows, hands, and feet), which are prone to picking up excess pigment.
Step 5: Slather It On
Now that you've finally reached the application stage, listen up: Self-tanner is your friend. One of the biggest mistakes Evans sees first-timers and tan-aficionados alike make is using too little product. "You can never use too much, because your skin can only absorb a certain amount," she says. When you use too little, you're dragging the product, causing those ever-dreaded streaks.
For the most even application, use a tanning mitt. Keep your hand flat inside the mitt, and rub in flat, light strokes with the palm of your hand. (If the color looks darker than you'd like, don't panic. This color's merely a guide as your tan develops. It'll wash off during your first shower.) Once the guide color has dried (patience pays), dress in loose clothing to avoid any rubbing or friction.