If Katie Holmes' sizzling sun-kissed look on the cover of Allure magazine has you reaching for a self-tanner, stop before you slather.
Allure's beauty director Patty Tortolani and dermatologist Amy Forman Taub gave us a prep talk as spring — and faux glow season — begins.
Expert-tested brands: Tortolani has screened tons of fancy formulas, but her favorite self-tanner is Jergens' new Natural Glow and Protect with SPF 20 ($8.99, grocery stores/drugstores). "Just this season, Jergens has reformulated all of its products to eliminate the foul odor typically associated with tanners," Tortolani said. "And a gradual tanner is the easiest way to boost your skin tone from a ghostly pallor to a subtle glow."
Jergens adds value to this one with sun protection, which most women don't think to apply on their average workday. But Tortolani and Taub emphasize that if you're spending any extended time outdoors, that SPF won't cut it. You'll need boosters, reapplied throughout the day.
On the high end, Taub likes St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse or Spray ($36-$44, skinfo.com) and Dermaquest Dermaglow Self-Tanner ($29.50-$44, skinfo.com). "The majority of people find these two to be a very natural color and nonirritating," Taub said. There's no single self-tanner that's best for everybody. "Some people's skin color and texture of skin work better with some brands over others," Taub said.
The No. 1 step for success: Exfoliate first. This reduces the risk of telltale splotches and streaks. The tool you use can be as old-fashioned as a wet washcloth circulated on skin. Add a scrub if you choose, such as L'Occitane Ultra Rich Face Scrub ($34, sephora.com), or go high-tech with a Mia Clarisonic device ($119, sephora.com), Taub said. For two-in-one, the new Brazilian True Tan combines a glycolic exfoliant and a self-tanner in one tube ($39, sephora.com).
Also, keep skin quenched with a lotion or body butter like Kiehl's Creme de Corps Soy & Honey Whipped Body Butter ($38, kiehl's.com) to extend the tan.
Saving face: Errors are glaring on the face. Tortolani likes multitasking Dr. Dennis Gross Beauty-to-Glow pads ($14; sephora.com) for the face because they exfoliate before going to work on the glow. "The genius is that, in addition to tanning ingredients (DHA, erythrulose), they also contain glycolic and lactic acids to help remove dead skin cells," Tortolani said.
Whatever the brand, some choose a lighter shade or mix it with moisturizer so the face isn't quite as dark as the body.
"Always take the tanner up into your hairline, so it doesn't look like you're wearing a mask," Tortolani said. "And don't be scared of the eye area, otherwise it'll look like you are wearing sunglasses."
About that odor ... "The ingredients that make tanners work are also the ones that make tanners smell," Tortolani said. That cloying odor that skin emits as the self-tanner develops is the result of DHA, a sugar derivative, reacting with amino acids in skin. Manufacturers typically try to cover it with fragrance. But Jergens' latest innovation is a formula that blocks our olfactory receptors from detecting the odor. And Jergens adds odor-absorbing ingredients. "That said, we all have different odor receptors," Tortolani said, "which is why some people are more sensitive to the DHA smell than others."