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How to tan properly

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / May 21, 2009
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To help you avoid turning the color of a basketball when self-tanning, follow the experts' advice on how to apply sunless tanning sprays and lotions.

Prepare skin properly

"Hop in the shower, and with a wash cloth, make sure that you exfoliate completely," said Dr. Jeanine Downie, a New Jersey-based dermatologist with an A-list clientele. "Turn off the shower, and wipe yourself down with a dry wash cloth. Then you should use body lotion, not oil, from head to toe. After that, put the self-tanner on.

"Please don't sit right down immediately, because you'll get those orange streaky lines on the back of your knees," she continued. "Also, don't pick up your baby and smear it all over them. A baby's skin can't take it."

Dr. Jeannette Graf, a dematologist, suggests using an at-home microdermabrasion kit before using self-tanning products.

"It's gentle so it's not going to harm the skin," she says. "But it will be very effective at removing the dead skin cells. You can use it all over the body and shower off."

Don't overdo it

Perhaps the best way to achieve a natural looking tan from a can is don't use too much product.

"It's all about undertones," said celebrity makeup artist Brett Freedman. "The thing is to know when you're tan, and stop. When women do self-tanning, they do their whole body. They really don't have a tan line, so they really lose sight of what color they really are."

Always wear sunblock

Most important of all: Dermatologists say there's a misconception that self-tanners provide protection from the sun, but unless you are using a sunless tanning product with an SPF, you can still get burned and the sun's UV rays will still damage your skin.