Self-tanning: good colour without the risk

Secrets for achieving that bronzed and beautiful look

We all know that too much sun is bad for us, and we're well aware we should cover up and use high-factor creams to protect our skin from premature ageing. But that doesn't stop us thinking that sun-kissed skin looks healthy and attractive. And this is where self-tanning products come into the picture.

The sun's rays reduce skin collagen levels elasticity causing wrinkles, sagging and slackness. The skin also suffers photo-ageing, as evidenced by ugly blemishes (hyper-pigmentation, oversized freckles, solar lentigines or liver spots). For women over 40, this is one of the main reasons for turning to the beauty salon for assistance, but it is becoming more and more common in younger women, many of whom are already seeing the effects of exposure to the sun as young as age 30 when they find they have essentially used up their solar capital.

In recent years, though, aesthetic and cosmetic advances allow us to enjoy a good skin colour without undue exposure to sunlight. Self-tanners hold the key, so let's look at how to get the best results from a product applied at home:

A two-person task
If you want to do the job properly, you're going to have to ask someone else to help. Plan ahead for best results or you'll get half way through and then remember you can't reach your own back, only to end up with patches and streaking.

Start with clean, exfoliated skin
Shower thoroughly and exfoliate, but don't apply a moisturiser before using the self-tanner. (One of the reasons for the shower is to remove all traces of any products you've used previously.) Now you've got a clean, smooth base on which to work.

Follow a careful sequence of application
To make sure the results appear natural, you should carefully plan and follow the order in which you apply the self-tanning product, rather than skipping between areas at random. We recommend starting at the ankles. Avoid the soles of the feet altogether, and simply smooth the excess of product from the ankle down over the instep as this is an area that will tend to get very dark. From the ankles move up the legs, applying the product using a circular motion and being careful to distribute it evenly. Move on to the buttocks, abdomen, breasts and shoulders. As with the insteps, smooth the excess product from the cleavage area to the neck to avoid over-colouring. Finally, move on to the arms – don't forget to apply a small quantity to the armpits – and smooth the excess down onto the backs of the hands. You should then immediately wash your hands with soap, concentrating on the palms and between the fingers but without scrubbing at the backs of the hands. This still leaves that most inaccessible area, the back, for which you really need the help of another person. Remember that you should spread the product out evenly making sure that no patches are left uncovered and that there is no excess anywhere. Try to apply the same quantity all over to avoid streaking and achieve a natural look.

How long before re-applying?
This will depend on the product – some are longer lasting than others – but in general, if you want to keep the same colour you will need to reapply every four or five days.

Eliminate excess and imperfections
If there are patches where too much product has been applied, you can usually correct the excess by using an exfoliant body scrub. In extreme cases, it's also possible to use one of the many products available for bleaching body hair.