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Lancôme Flash Bronzer & Physicians Formula Pearls of Perfection

Lancome Flash Bronzer, Physicians Formula Bronzer
Lancome Flash Bronzer, Physicians Formula Bronzer

It's February, which means you're probably feeling like one of the following:

A) Claire Danes, dying, in Little Women

B) Wendell Borton from The Simpsons

C) A lump of gruel

You're peaked, you're pale, you're a little dinged up. There's no reason to take it lying down, though. The antidote is easy (and, in fact, requires standing up). All you need is a solitary hour, some gross motor skills, and a dark-colored, caftan-like garment.

To fake a suntan is to invert your beauty snobbery: in my experience, you need to invest more in your body than you do in your face. Sure, it's counterintuitive. If you're going to spend 40 bucks on your upper arms, why spend only $11 on the part of you that people actually see? But trust me. Bronzer, in powder form, is not a commitment. Too dark? Splash some water on your face. Too light? Pile more on. Self-tanners are another beast. A semi-permanent body stain? Leave that to the European labs. Seriously.

It turns out real tanning—as in beaching yourself on the deck for hours, chugging water, ruining clothes with Bain de Soleil stains, seeing spots, and developing that distinctive only-in-the-sun b.o.— is for suckers. Take it from a lifelong faux-sun skeptic: when it’s good, self-tanner actually rules. (Don't be scared of Snooki-colored palms and a Garfield-like face.) You just really can't be a cheapskate. Lancôme Flash Bronzer ($37) is the best. There, I said it. Lucky magazine’s beauty director, Jean Godfrey-June, swears by it, too; she likes the Leg Gel, but I say go for the body gel, since it’s glitter-free. The color is perfect. Significant enough that people will notice, but not so drastic that they’ll say anything. And there aren’t any streaks. None! It doesn’t even react differently with dry skin, which means no crazy-looking elbows. As for that...distinct self-tanner smell? Well, at least it’s milder than most. *

Here’s what to do: Queue up House of Cards, get naked, and slather the stuff on. It squirts out of the bottle looking like Grade B maple syrup, but glides on like Purell: no tack, no sheen, no sparkle. The color develops in 30 minutes, but why risk inseam lines? Stay nude until you get goose bumps, and then slip into your favorite luxuriously ugly garment (everyone's got one!). By the time you’re ready to put on a more permanent outfit, you’ll look like one of those mythical creatures who eats fruit as a snack, kayaks for fun, and gets the mail barefoot.

When it comes to your face though, just head to CVS. This is actually the more fun part of Operation Tawny, the part where you get to indulge your 7th grade self. And nothing’s really changed since then. Beeline it to the back of the makeup aisle where they still keep the weird, off-brand products and grab a pot of Physicians Formula Pearls of Perfection Multi-Colored Bronzer. Remember that stuff?! It’s high on my List of Things I Forgot I Always Wanted By The Time I Was Actually Allowed To Get Them. The pearls come in a medley of matte colors that, when combined, create the ideal rosy-bronze hue. (Don't ask why they don't just make all the pearls that one perfect rosy-bronze hue.) They rattle pleasantly in their little plastic tub, and the included applicator sponge develops a pretty, mottled pattern after a few days of use. Pat (or dust) it on post-moisturizer, pre-concealer, so things don’t get too gunky. Most bronzers have too little red in them, but this one is just ruddy enough to counteract winter's Grinch-y undertones.

So let’s hear it for non-glitter, non-carcinogenic beauty routines. And for an among-the-living look already.

*Warning: If you believe in the power of pheromones, never apply self-tanner before a date.

—Alice Gregory

Alice Gregory is a Brooklyn-based writer. Find her at @alicegregory. Illustration by Karleigh Sherman.