Many of us still crave the bronze-y glow that became trendy  in the 1920s when Coco Chanel embraced the look and it became a symbol of wealth, health and relaxation. However, a tan your body’s way of saying it’s been damaged. Having served on the board of the Skin Foundation for many years, it’s my mission to spread the ugly truth about the sun’s dangers. And as the former editor of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, I’ve gathered years of tricks to perfect the faux tan. You can create magical bronzed skin without an ounce of UVA or UVB.

  1. Exfoliate Use a heavy duty salt or sugar scrub fully loaded with lots of oil for hydration. I make my own — it’s super easy — combine oil and a rough salt and you’ve got it. Scrub it on dry and then rinse it off in the shower. Focus on any rough spots, knees, elbows, knuckles. Your mission is to create a smooth canvas for a flawless application of bronze.
  2. Hydrate It’s never enough. Think of painting a wall. First you spackle and sand, then you prime. The moisturizer is your primer. And, it well help you get the color on faster, swifter and more smoothly.
  3. Cover Up Like any maintenance project you need the right tools. I like to use the St. Tropez tanning mitt, $6.50/each. I’ve also used basic latex gloves, like Comfit wear, $8.72 for 100.
  4. Set up for Success Start seated, naked on the floor of the bathroom or bedroom on a towel dedicated to the purpose, so it doesn’t matter if you get self tanner on it. Place your tool kit in front of you: the tanner and the mitt or gloves. Now, you’re ready for action.
  5. Set the Tone Approach the application like a tactical maneuver. You’re going to be quick, agile, detail oriented and get it done efficiently. Put on your gloves or mitt. There are tons of types of self tanners, I like the ones with a built-in tint so I know where I’ve put it. For example, St. Tropez Self Tan Express $44, is a foam, lighter than a shaving cream and fluffier than a lotion, so it spreads easily.
  6. Start at the Bottom Putting the foam directly on the mitt, rub and spread starting at the ankles, first one leg then the other, moving your hand in a brisk circular motion (like those big spinning sponges at the car wash!), up and around. Then after getting the lower legs and tops of the thighs done, stand bending at the waist to get the backs of your legs, working your way up. Then give it all another swipe. Now because the consistency is lighter on the mitt or glove swipe lightly over areas that wouldn’t normally be exposed to the sun, like your rear end and the tops of feet. Standing, re-apply a dollop of tanner to the mitt and start at the wrists working your way up and around one arm and the other working your way around each shoulder and across the decollate and up to your chin and behind your ears, then reaching  behind one shoulder then the other. There’s no need to apply under the arm. Beware the creases, any areas of skin that have wrinkles or are less smooth will collect more color, so keep it light. I don’t do my breasts but that’s up to you. Then apply to the stomach, reaching around to my back connecting to where I left off from my shoulder reach. This should have taken minutes, it’s a quick rub, buff and swipe. Let it all dry.
  7. Fine Tune It Later, you may see some mishaps, a darker spot here or there — a missed area. It’s ok — get a small wedge of lemon and rub, done and gone. And where you missed (but if you follow the directions you should get it all) reapply with a bit of tanner mixed with lotion to dim down the color and it’s fixed.
  8. Protect I like to do this self tanning routine in the morning before a beach day or in the evening so it all soaks in while sleeping and I wake up tan. If it’s the morning and I’m headed out into the sun I apply a sprayable waterproof sunscreen like Neutrogena Wet Skin, 3 for $26.91. It adds a protective shiny shellac-like finish to the whole faux tan, plus I know I’m avoiding a burn. Win win.

Elaine Farley is the former Beauty Director of Self Magazine, and prior to that the Beauty and Fashion Director of Cosmopolitan. This is the fifth in a series on budget-friendly tips from the front lines. Read about hairmakeup, skincare and body treatments.  Prices quoted may fluctuate.