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Top Tanning Secrets: Look Like a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model on Your Next Vacation

Some of the faux-glow pros behind this iconic annual photo shoot share their top tips and tricks to achieve a flawless tan at home.

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Take this critical first step

Don’t even think about applying self-tanner until you exfoliate. “Clients often ask me if this really makes a difference. Believe me, it does,” says Jules Von Hep, celebrity tanning expert and global tanning director at Tan-Luxe. Exfoliating sloughs off dead skin cells and excess dry skin and creates an even surface, which sets the stage for a uniform tan. Added bonus? Regular exfoliation helps combats dull skin. Try: Aesop Geranium Leaf Body Scrub or Herbivore Coco Rose Coconut Oil Body Polish. Above all else, make sure you’re exfoliating safely—steer clear of these exfoliating habits that could do serious damage to your skin.

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Tan after showering

Applying self-tanner after showering gets you a deeper, more hydrated glow, according to Von Hep. Skin is most hydrated after you take a shower, so products are able to penetrate better. Skin should be free of makeup, deodorant, and moisturizers. Pro top: Skip oil-based shower cream, as it can act as barrier to self-tanner absorption, which can lead to streaks. Don’t make these shower mistakes.

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Use different formulas for your face and body

Facial skin is different from the rest of your body, so it makes sense to use a product specifically formulated for the face. When it comes to your visage, celebrity makeup artist Allan Avendano recommends Vita Liberata Self Tanning Anti‑Age Serum. “I like to apply this generously morning or night. It develops a natural looking tan while giving you skin anti-aging benefits.” Von Hep’s pick: Tan-Luxe The Face and The Body. “These drops are a self-tan concentrate that are diluted with your favorite moisturizer.” Craving more skincare tips? Don’t miss the ways to improve your complexion in just one day

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Use a mitt

An applicator mitt is the best accessory for tanning, setting you up for an even, streak-free finish and protecting your palms from staining. “If you’re using a cream, gel, or mousse, mix the product together on the mitt and sweep over skin—almost like you’re frosting a cake,” says Von Hep. If you’re using a spray, hold the can at arms-length and mist your body in sweeping, circular motions. Then use the applicator mitt to glide over the body to blend.

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Be careful around joints

Elbows, knees, and knuckles (this includes hands and feet) tend to be dryer than other areas of the body, so they tend to absorb product faster, which makes the area look darker. “I never start in any jointed areas,” says Avendano. “I use only the remnants of the product on the glove to go over these parts gently and carefully.”

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Consider a water-based tanner

To achieve that glowing, hydrated appearance—particularly if you have dry skin—Von Hep recommends opting for tanning waters, like Tan-Luxe The Water. “The H2O plus tan element ensures skin isn’t dried out (traditional tanning mousses and conventional tanning aerosols can sometimes dry out the skin). The Water is also transparent, meaning no stained bed sheets or white shirts.” Do you have a dry complexion? Here’s why you should consider a hydrating mist.

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Tailor-make your tan

Self-tanner can look fake if you’re using the wrong product. “Too dark—or orange—of a shade for your skin tone gives the game away very quickly,” says Von Hep. To achieve a natural glow, he suggests mixing Tan-Luxe The Face or The Body with your usual lotion, serum or cream moisturizer. “For a light glow, I recommend one drop for the face and three drops for each body part. The more drops you add the darker you get.” Need a new pair of shades to go with your gorgeous glow? Find out how to pick the best sunglasses for your face shape.

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Let it marinate

Sitting in the product is the most crucial part of the tanning process. Loose-fitting clothing or a robe is best, according to Avendano. Be sure to read the specific instructions for your formula so that you know how long to “marinate,” so to speak. Nowadays there are express formulas that need to sit for only an hour or so, while others can take anywhere from six to eight hours, or longer. A great time to apply self tanner? Before bed. You’ll wake up refreshed and radiant. Speaking of radiant, don’t miss the simple steps to take tomorrow morning for your best skin ever.

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Shower sans soap…the first time

The first shower is super important. “After letting the skin absorb the tanner, rinse off excess product in the shower. It’s very important not to use soap this time around, but rather just rinse off and then towel dry by patting the skin (no rubbing),” says Avendano. Not to worry, you can resume your regular shower routine after that initial rinse.

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Build color gradually

Remember you can always deepen your color, but it’s nearly impossible to lighten it. Start with a light application, and build in depth each time you tan. Not only will you find and achieve your perfect shade, but it’ll improve your self-tanner skills. “After rinsing off, I repeat the [self-tan and shower] process again, letting the product sit for another four hours to lock in a rich, glowing tan that will last a week or two—depending on how often you shower, weather conditions, and workouts,” says Avendano. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that no matter how deep your faux glow, it won’t protect you against the sun’s harmful rays. For that you need SPF! These are the 13 sunscreens top dermatologists actually use.

Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay is an avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents. At, she covers both domestic and international travel. When she's not writing, you can find her doing yoga and adding to her ever-growing list of future adventures.