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I've always loved the sun-kissed look and remember going to great lengths as a teenager to turn my skin a perfect golden brown. If my hours spent baking in the Florida sun didn't do the job, I would lock myself up in the airplane bathroom on the return flight home and use my mom's stick bronzer liberally. Thankfully, I've since learned about the dangers of sun exposure and now rely entirely on bronzer to fake the glow I crave. From bronzers to self-tanners, there are countless options available today, making it easier that ever to get a tan that's not only natural-looking, but healthy too.

Instant Gratification

Bronzer comes in a handful of formulas - pick from powder, cream (stick or compact), or gel. Bronzing powder is my favorite because it's quick and virtually mistake-proof. Use a short, fluffy brush to apply bronzer where the sun naturally hits your face - your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin - and dust your neck and chest if you're wearing a bare top. For a dewy look, try a cream formula. Gel formulas give you a sheer, stained look and are good for oily skins. Use your fingers or a sponge to apply cream and gel bronzers the same way as a powder formula.

Once you decide on the formula, pick your shade. The most natural-looking bronzers have predominantly brown tones (with a bit of red) to them. Avoid bronzers that are orange-toned or frosted; these look artificial on any complexion. Most companies offer light, medium, and dark shades. Pick your shade based on how you tan naturally. For example, if you turn a medium, golden brown in the sun, a medium bronzer is your best bet. Your bronzer should blend easily and warm up your face. If the color looks too orange or obvious, try one shade lighter.

Color in a Bottle

If you want color that lasts a few days, try self-tanner. Clean, smooth skin is the secret to a good out-of-the-bottle tan, so always exfoliate any rough patches before you apply the tanner. Do a patch test on the inside of your arm to make sure you're not allergic to the formula. When applying self-tanner to your face, spread a thin layer to start. If you want darker color, you can always wait until color develops and do another application. Avoid your eyes and make sure to get your ears and neck so that there aren't any obvious lines. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after applying self-tanner, and allow enough time for it to absorb before getting dressed or going to bed. Mistakes like too dark color or obvious streaks can be faded with a gentle exfoliant and lots of moisturizer. Use a tinted moisturizer on your face to help even out your skin tone. When it comes to picking self-tanner shades, the same rules as bronzers apply.

Beyond Tan

Our cheeks tend to get flushed when we're outdoors, so I like to recreate the look with blush. After applying bronzer or self-tanner, sweep pink or rose blush on the apples of your cheeks. If you've been blessed with a porcelain complexion, even the lightest bronzers and self-tanners will look unnatural on you. Skip them and use a soft pink or apricot blush to warm up your complexion.