It sounds simple: Slather on some sunless tanner, let it soak in and - voila! - you'll have a glow the Coppertone baby would envy.
Instead, many do-it-yourself tanners tell woeful tales of splotching, staining, odors and an orange aftermath that's stubborn to scrub off.
Don't let a faux tan faux pas keep you from trying again. Kick off the unofficial start of summer by knocking out post-winter paleness - without the damaging effects of the sun's rays or tanning beds. Here are some tips and tricks:
Serums and mousses and sprays - oh my! The first step to achieving an admirable tan at home is finding the right product for you. Many formulations come in light, medium and dark skin tones. Even for those with darker pigmentation, a coat of sunless tanner can help even out a complexion.
Before using all over, put a small portion on a typically covered site (the top of the leg or stomach, for instance) to ensure a good color match and that it doesn't cause redness, itchiness, a rash or some other allergic reaction.
For beginners, a gradual darkening lotion such as Jergens' natural glow revitalizing daily moisturizer (less than $10 at most drugstore chains), goes on like a body cream with a hint of color. Each time it's applied, the color gets richer.
Spray tans have evolved into another increasingly fool-proof option. Many people leave a light shade as soon as they go on so skipped spots can be noticed (and filled in) immediately. Mousses, serums and towelettes also can provide a thorough tan, but remember to wear a mitt (often included with the product) or latex glove when smoothing on.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the key ingredient in sunless tanners. It reacts with skin proteins to give the top layer its color. Chemical-based tanners are more likely to pack a potent smell than organic ones.
Time to apply
Exfoliation is essential to a smooth sunless tan, so use a loofah, rough sponge or dry brush to shed excess skin and shave. After a shower, towel off and apply tanner from the feet up (covering the upper body first and then bending over to reach the legs can causing tanner to crease). Save the hands for last.
Tip: Apply lotion in between fingers, to the bottom of feet, palms of the hands, nails, cuticles, around ankles and on elbows and knees to prevent tanner from sticking to these areas.
Most tanners absorb within a few minutes but can take up to six hours to fully develop. Wear dark, loose clothing to bed (just in case the product transfers) and by morning the full tan should appear.
Disappointed with the results? Mix some baby oil into a bath to help dissolve the tan.
Preserving the look
Sunless tans are temporary; it takes some effort to keep them up. Avoid thorough exfoliating and washing with harsh soaps. If a tanner's brand makes a body wash and lotion, use them. Products with similar formulations will be less likely to react with each other, which can cause tanners to blotch or even turn green. Reapply every two or three days to keep color rich or use a body bronzing powder to freshen up faded spots.
Don't forget the face and neck! Avoid the "bobblehead syndrome," as some makeup artists call it, by dusting bronzing powder or tinted moisturizers to the face, ears and decolletage (including the back of the neck).
Sunless tanners can be drying, so make moisturizing part of your skin care regimen.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.