The Fool-Proof Self-Tanner

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There are two things I know to be true about self-tanner. One is that you need to stop scrimping and buy the good stuff, and the second is that the mitt is non-negotiable. Let's unpack one at a time.

One: I am the palest person I know. This isn't so much a complaint—I don't really mind my lack of melanin, but I find others do. Specifically when it's sunny out, and I'm wearing shorts. You see, I'm reflective. I shine bright like a diamond, if you will, and it becomes hard to look at me (to look at myself, even) if I'm not wearing protective eyewear. So for years, I've dabbled in a minimal amount of self-tanner as regularly as I shower. It's not to look tan so much as to look less pasty. And as Lacey said so elegantly a while back (the last time self-tanner was relevant, I'd say), “tan people look like 10 pounds thinner.” It's true! Get a healthy glow going, and all of a sudden, you're svelte and fit without having to lift a finger. It's an extraordinary thing.

Anyway, when you treat self-tanning like we used to treat voting in Chicago (early and often!), it's imperative that you get the good stuff. Jergens works fine...that's it. Fine. The problem with Jergens, and other drugstore self-tanners for that matter, is that they STINK. To high heaven. Your sheets will smell. Your pants will smell. You will smell. And unlike with things like SPF and pheromones, this is not a smell you should just live with. The only way I got around the smell was when I finally upgraded to St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse. Yes, this is shamelessly about one product. It's that good. It's a one-color-fits-all foam—none of that “Light-to-Medium' nonsense. Tan and pale people alike can use this to go one step (maybe a half step if you're cautious) darker in a matter of hours. Because it's a foam, the formula spreads on thin and absorbs quickly so after a few minutes of dancing around naked in the bathroom, you don't have to worry about staining everything you own with your leg prints. Any streaking evens out in the shower (yes, this is a product you can take a shower in and not lose all of your hard work immediately). Then, if you so wish, you can build up to a more solid color. I never do—best to keep it believable in my opinion, and I'm most believable with a fraction of a hint of color.

And about the mitt, don't fool yourself into thinking it's superfluous. It's the only way you're going to any sort of seamless application. The brownish-green tint will make the once gleaming and velvet handcover look super ratty. It washes out, mostly. But what's more important is that your legs are vacation ready, despite being encased in pants for the last trillion months.

—Emily Ferber

Photographed by Tom Newton.