Self-Tanning Q & A

Martha Stewart Weddings, Spring 2004

If your wedding dress reveals some skin and you would feel better with a bit more color, you may want to consider a self-tanner. Creams, lotions, gels, and mousses create temporary color and can be applied fairly easily at home or professionally at a day spa. The results deliver a healthy hint of tint, without any dangerous sun exposure.

How far in advance should I apply the tanner?
Most self-tanners develop their color in nine to 12 hours, but you should use a self-tanner, or have it applied professionally, two to three days prior to your wedding so that the shade has time to set and any touch-ups can be made, says Ann Marie Cilmi, senior manager of training and education for Bliss Spas in New York City.

Will the tanner rub off on my dress?
It won't come off if applied well in advance of your wedding. While many self-tanners are colorless, some are tinted to provide immediate color, allowing you to see where the product has been applied. This tint, which can transfer onto clothes, washes off in your first postapplication shower. To avoid staining, don't try on your gown before showering.

What are the latest methods in sunless tanning?
Airbrushing and UV-free tanning booths both offer speedier applications and the most even color. Airbrushing, available at many day spas, starts with a full-body exfoliation. An aesthetician then uses a targeted airbrushing wand to dispense a fine application of self-tanner all over your body. The process takes 45 minutes and costs about $100. UV-free tanning booths also involve sprayed-on applications, but they are not done by an aesthetician. Instead, shower-like stalls -- with wall jets -- mist self-tanner onto your body from head to toe in less than a minute. Expect to pay about $30 per session.

What are the pros and cons of different methods?
The latest lotions, gels, sprays, and mousses have improved formulations that provide better color results and faster drying times. However, they can be tricky to apply on your own and have the potential to deliver uneven color. Spa applications of self-tanning lotions usually start with a full-body exfoliation, which can ensure more even and thorough coverage. Overall, airbrushing techniques provide a more even and faster application. And UV-free tanning booths are both fast and effective, but you are responsible for exfoliating and protecting hands and feet from staining. You may want to test different techniques two to three weeks before your wedding so you can decide which one works best for you.

How do I apply the tanner myself?
Start with smooth, well-hydrated skin. Use a scrub in the shower to slough away dead skin, then choose a product with a built-in tint so you can easily detect missing spots. Wear plastic gloves to apply the self-tanner in long, even strokes all over the body (you may need someone to assist you with out-of-reach areas). Since dry spots like knees and elbows tend to absorb color more readily, treat these areas with a 1-to-1 ratio of self-tanner and moisturizer to prevent stains. Finish by applying self-tanner to the backs of the hands, rubbing them together from your wrists to just below your fingernails. Avoid palms and between fingers where skin doesn't naturally tan. Let it dry for 15 to 20 minutes. Your color will fade over the course of seven to 10 days as your skin naturally exfoliates. To maintain it, reapply self-tanner every three to four days in the same way you did originally.

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