I want use self-tanner this summer, but I’m scared of looking orange and patchy. I figure if I start practicing now, I can still hide my mistakes under spring clothes. Where do I start? —H., 16, Ohio

I love self-tanners! I used to love actual tans until I decided I don’t want to die, ever, so I’m basically on my way to being a fake-tanned Barbie living inside a hermetically sealed box where neither sun nor rain nor germs may besmirch this skin! When I started fake-tanning, the only formulations available were gels and lotions, the only shade you could hope for started with “orange” and ended with “-ish,” and the only scent was death. Which—see above—is my least favorite fragrance. But you are a Woman of the Future, which means you have plenty of OK- (if not nice-) smelling, actually tan-looking, options. Plus, you’re asking a woman who’s made every possible error with them, so you won’t have to.

First, a general note: No one’s eyeballs are as closely trained on your face as yours are. In other words, if, once you’re done, you see a spot you messed up, you’re probably the only one who’s going to notice. And it’ll eventually fade, anyway. So don’t freak out!

Now, there are three key elements to the perfect at-home self-tan: preparation, the double-process, and cleanup. Let’s go through ’em one by one!

Prep: Start by exfoliating the skin you want to tan. You don’t have to spray your whole body if you don’t want to—just do your calves or your forearms if you want; I won’t tell anyone. To scrub off dead skin, which can cause patchy spots of color, one of those little puff-ball thingies is not really exfoliating enough for this. Instead, use a loofah mitt or a body brush in the shower. Next, if you’re planning to shave any part of yourself in the near future, now is the time to do it. Nothing takes off a fake tan faster than a razor blade. After you’re clean and dry, it’s time to tan.

The double-process: Layering is THE key to a successful fake bake. Pick up two different formulations of self tanner. By “formulation,” I mean spray, mousse, lotion, towelettes—you know, the delivery system for the tanner. Choose any two. You’re going to apply them a few hours apart. Why is that, you ask? Well, with any self-tanner, you’re ALWAYS going to miss a spot or two, and because a spray and a towelette go on differently, you’re not likely to miss the exact same spot with both methods. If you can get your hands on a spray formula, always use that one last, because it’ll “airbrush” out any mistakes with a fine mist. For me, the magic combo is one L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Towelette, followed a few hours later by South Seas Tahitian Tan Mist. (L’Oreal makes a good spray, too, but it runs out faster.) Here are some tips on each formulation:

  • A lot of people use rubber gloves to apply the lotion/mousse/gel varieties. Whether you do or not, be sure to look in the mirror when you’re done to make sure there aren’t globs you didn’t rub in—those spots will show up EXTRA dark if you leave them to dry like that. Lotions are the hardest to apply to the middle of your own back, so if you can’t get help with that part, make sure you go over that area really thoroughly with a towelette or spray in round two.
  • There’s no real trick to using towelettes—just follow the directions on the package and be thorough. (You can also wear gloves with towelettes.) My personal favorite thing about them is that if you’re going on vacation, you can throw them in a carry-on bag, unlike big bottles of spray or lotion.
  • If you’re using spray, grab a yucky old rag or towel to cover the tops of your feet. You’ll purposely do a light application on them first, then shield them so they don’t catch all the residual spray that can collect on the tops of your toes as you spray the rest of your body. I spray each limb, then stop to rub it in with my hands. Also, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area! I have a fan in my shower and I open the window, but I’ve also lived in places that aren’t so aired-out, so I’ve done my spray tanning…wait for it…on the balcony at night! [Ed. note: Jane Marie is possibly the world’s most glamorous person.]

Whatever method you use, some universal truths apply:

SPOTS TO AVOID: Don’t spray your armpits! Unless you are spiking mad volleyballs, your armpits won’t really see the light of day. Self-tanner only goes where the sun DOES shine. Also, try to avoid getting too much tanner on your ankles. The sides of your ankles can be very dry, and dry skin collects color, so use a damp towel after application to wipe them off if you think you went too far there.

SPOTS TO PAY ATTENTION TO: Your neck, ears, and face! A light touch is all that’s needed. Or, if you have sensitive skin or are afraid of breaking out, you can skip your face and use a bronzer to match it to your luscious tan.

Cleanup: Wash your hands like crazy! Any heavy-duty cleanser should work, as long as you scrub for at least a minute. I even take my fingernails and gently scratch at my palms while I’m washing to be sure no orange gets stuck to any callouses. Then I run my damp finger across the insides of my wrists—wrist wrinkles are another place where an obvious line of demarcation can show up. Finally, with the tip of my finger, I just kind of buff away at the space between my wrist and palm.

After applying my tanner, I walk around naked for about 10 minutes, throw on a dark, loose-fitting maxi dress, and wait for the magic to happen. If you’re planning to wear something light-colored over your tan, wait the recommended amount of time (usually something like eight hours), then do a quick rinse in the shower to get rid of any residue that might stain your gown. Do NOT exfoliate in the shower for as long as you want to keep the tan.

This method gets me four or five days of bronzed glory. Admittedly, the double-process will make your tan a little darker than it would be with just one layer, but go big or go home? I promise you’ll be happier a little darker all over as opposed to having delicate orange-y stripes here and there! —Jane Marie

I just impulse-bought a Beautyblender at the Sephora checkout, thinking I knew what to do with it…but I don’t. Help! —Jenessa, 20

Oh, damn those little bins with their little mystery treats! A Beautyblender is a sponge used to apply facial makeup like foundation and concealer. But before we talk about exactly how to use it, let us take a moment for the Great Brush/Sponge/Fingertips Debate!

Not only do opinions vary widely among makeup artists about which of these tools works best, but brands themselves sometimes recommend one method for one foundation, and another for another formula. I was at Bloomingdale’s the other day picking up a foundation that this one makeup artist lady I’m obsessed with on Instagram recommended. She applies it with a Beautyblender, but the salesperson at the Armani counter said, “No! We recommend fingertips only!” I brought it home, wore it for two days, and then freaked out, lost control of my hand for no reason, and dropped it on the ground, which is when I learned that Armani bottles are made of ACTUAL SHARDY GLASS. :( Anyways, here’s my singular opinion on each of the three aforementioned tools for applying foundation:

From left to right: foundation brush, $24, Sephora; Beautyblender, $20, Sephora; human fingertips, free, your arm.

Left to right: foundation brush, $24, Sephora; Beautyblender, $20, Sephora; human fingertips, free, your hand.

Brush: This one is my personal favorite. Brushes are easy to use, provide full coverage, can get in all your nooks and crannies, don’t waste much product, and are useful for applying both foundation and concealer. I put a few pumps of makeup on a nonporous, clean surface that I don’t care about staining, then I Bob Ross the shit outta my face. Be sure to brush in the direction of your peach fuzz, or it’ll get fluffed up and stick out.

The downside is that brushes can be expensive, you have to clean them often (the pros say wash with soap after every use, but I can stretch that to a week if I use my new favorite brush cleaner daily), and sometimes they can leave brush marks on your face. I have a theory about how foundations with silicone and synthetic brushes repel each other and make application not-so-great, but, as I’ve said before, I’m not a scientist. These opinions are just coming out of my butt! So, if your particular brush/foundation combo always comes out a bit streaky, read on for how a sponge can fix this.

Sponge (aka what the Beautyblender is): Sponges are easy to use, provide medium coverage, and give you a finish that’s SO FLAWLESS. The B-blender, in particular, has no hard edges, unlike, say, a wedge-shaped sponge, so it won’t leave an obvious line of makeup.

The downsides are that, being a sponge, it’s bound to soak up some product, meaning you’ll run out of your favorite foundation faster. It’s also quite a trick to deposit the amount of foundation you want when the sponge is trying to hang on to it for dear life. It’s like, you press it onto your face, and some sticks, but then the sponge always sucks a little back up with it. They’re also a pain to clean, and you must do this very frequently—just like your dish sponge, makeup sponges can get super grody super fast. Beautyblender sells special cleansers for their sponges, but any good facial soap will do. Either squirt a liquid cleanser on GENEROUSLY, or rub the sponge into a bar of soap until the foundation starts oozing out. Rinse and repeat like eleventy million times, until you don’t see any color on the sponge and none squeezes out during rinsing.

Fingertips: These guys are free and easy to clean. I don’t think fingers spread the foundation around as evenly as a brush, but I’m happy to be proven wrong by one of you magicians. However, what you cannot convince me of is that I’ll be able to use my fingers without getting gobs of foundation under my nails that are currently too long to serve any good purpose other than picking noses.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, there are two ways I’ve used a Beautyblender to great success. The first technique I learned from watching way too many contouring videos on YouTube: Dampen the sponge by squeezing it a few times under running water or dunking it in a bowl. Then squeeze out the water like a maniac. This process will trick the sponge into thinking it’s full, so it won’t soak up too much of your foundation. After applying primer and/or concealer, touch the sponge to liquid foundation squeezed onto either the back of your hand or a palette, then tappa-tappa-tappa all over your face in sections. I use the pointy end to cover all the angles of my nose, then I use the broader sides for the flatter parts of my face. I don’t really use the round bottom part, since that’s where my grubby hands hold on to it, but you’re free to be a disgusting monster (JUST KIDDING) if you choose!

The other way to use it is to blend your makeup after you’ve applied it with your fingertips or a brush. Put on your base as you normally would, then, with a damp Beautyblender, just tap all over to be sure there are no brushstrokes or hard edges, and voilà! Perfection. —Jane Marie ♦

Not sure how to get your nail polish to stay on for longer than a day? Confused about pore strips? All like, “UGH, WHAT THE HELL IS A ‘LIP TAR,’ EVEN?” Look, just email Jane Marie and her team at [email protected], sign it with your name/nickname/initials, age, and where you live, and watch as all your problems are solved!