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Self Tan in December - Lead 2016
Credit: vitaliberata/Instagram

Whether you’re kicking off 2017 with a warm escape or just desperately miss your mid-August glow, self-tanning in general, but especially in the dead of winter, can be filled with trials and tribulations. The worst case scenarios—like ending up orange, uneven, or patchy—might be scary enough to make you avoid the beauty treatment completely. Since avoidance doesn’t solve the problem, and neither does ignoring innovative and outstanding beauty products, we went to a pro to find out a few tricks that will help make your self-tanning session actually successful.

Patch Test

If you have had a traumatic spray tan, emerging from the booth orange and your confidence squished, self-tanning might not be your first beauty priority. Yet it’s not a process where you should throw up your hands, close your eyes, apply the lotion or spray, and simply hope for the best. Unless it’s truly just a faulty product, you do have some control on the self-tan shade you end up with. It starts with a patch test. St.Tropez tanning expert Sophie Evans suggests blocking off a 3cm x 3cm area on your body and applying the formula. If it’s an instant formula, you can quickly see if you like the way the shade shows up on your skin.

Find the Formula for Your Lifestyle

Self-tanning is a huge beauty genre with hundreds of products claiming to conquer it, so you actually need to be pretty specific here. Finding the right shade for you also has to do with what product fits your lifestyle and your end goal. "If you have very dry skin you will love an oil self-tanner,” says Evans. "Express development solutions are great if you are a gym junkie because you can shower anytime from 1-3 hours, depending on the depth of glow you desire.” For example, if you shower after one hour, Evans says you’ll have a light glow, while three hours will give you a deeper glow. From there, you can then go about your life knowing your tan is set. As far as instant formula go, we’ve had luck with Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish ($45; sephora.com) and Manuka Doctor ApiBronze Anti-Cellulite Bronzing Gel ($50; manukadoctor.com).

Gradual Formulas Are a Beginner’s Dream

So you’re not sure how deep you want your tan and this is an entirely new concept to you? It can be scary to jump into the world of self-tanning in January, but that’s why gradual formulas will be your BFF. Seriously, they take a lot of the fear out of self-tanning because you know you’re not going to get a bronzy glow overnight. You’ll have to use it day after day to really see the difference. "Gradual Tan formulas are perfect for novices or for someone who wants more subtle color,” says Evans. "Gradual tans are as easy to apply as a body lotion, just remember to wash your hands. Apply daily to get the color that you like.”

In addition to gradual lotions, like Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer ($9; target.com), St. Tropez also makes an in-shower formula, St Tropez’s In Shower Gradual Tan ($; tk), that you apply on your wet skin and then rinse off after three minutes. It works fast, so you have a natural-looking tan in only a few days. James Read makes a Tantour Kit that allows you to develop natural glow on your face as you contour.

Apply moisturizer

Different areas of the body develop color differently, like the hands, knees, elbows, and feet. Because these areas tend to be drier and more transparent, Evans says they pick of the color faster.

To ensure your tan is even, she says to exfoliate and apply moisturizer before applying the product. "The moisturizer will act as a barrier to ensure the tan comes out perfectly even,” she says.

Stop using body retinols

If you have a body lotion with this ingredient it in, Evans suggests putting your use on pause as they "will take the self-tan off really fast and in some cases prevent the self-tan from developing.” And while you should apply moisturizer to those aforementioned areas like the elbows and knees, you shouldn’t apply moisturizer all over your body because it will dilute the tan.