ABOUT: Dera Enochson, a makeup artist who worked in product development at Toni & Guy, spent two years developing the formula for this self-tanning lotion, funding the experiment by mortgaging her house three times. The time-released DHA (the active ingredient in self tanners) gives an olive undertone to people with pinker skin.
PROS: Vanilla-, cucumber- and melon-scented lotions smell great, and a built-in bronzer shows where you've applied them. There's no need to prep skin by exfoliating prior to application: "I just slather it on," Enochson says. "We wanted it to be a one-step process." The tan develops in three hours.
CONS: At $56, this self tanner is pricier than other bottled options.
TIPS: It sounds counterintuitive, but people with dark skin should use a light to medium tanner for a candlelight effect, while people with pale skin should use the dark tanner to get a rich, brown glow.
ABOUT: These towelettes come pre-moistened with the precise amount of self tanner needed for a full- or half-body tan. The self tanner is a clear liquid that dries quickly and develops in two to four hours.
PROS: Application is quick and easy — rub the towelette over your body in a circular motion until the towelette is dry.
CONS: Because the tanner goes on clear, it's hard to tell if you missed a spot. The half-body towelettes were too small to tan half of my body; they would have worked to tan just arms or just legs, but when I tried to tan both limbs and torso, they ran out of formula midway through.
TIPS: A double-dip technique worked best for me: Apply one coat, let color develop, then apply a second coat to even out any streaks and deepen the color.
ABOUT: This water-resistant, silicone-heavy gel comes out of the tube looking like chocolate mousse and imparts a bronzed, airbrushed quality to skin. It is a bronzing gel, not a self tanner that reacts with skin to change its color, so results are temporary.
PROS: Skin immediately takes on a smooth, sun-kissed glow. The lotion feels pleasant going on and is dry to the touch once applied. It's also gratifying to watch yourself immediately turn tan, and if you don't like the color, the gel washes off. The results are streak-free and surprisingly natural.
CONS: This tan only lasts until your next shower.
TIPS: Build several layers for a deeper tan, or wear it over self-tanned skin to cover streaks. Don't moisturize prior to use, and don't dilute it with water, since the formula is water-free.
ABOUT: A trained technician custom-blends the color for clients' skin and sprays them with two coats of the tanner in a cold mist. Once clients are dry (after five to 10 minutes), they are dusted with powder to mitigate the stickiness of the tanner. The whole process takes 30 minutes or less, and the tan develops in eight to 12 hours.
PROS: Expert application takes the guesswork out: You're guaranteed a smooth tan, even in hard-to-reach areas like the shoulder blades or notoriously prone-to-turning-orange areas like the palms of the hands.
CONS: The tanner includes a built-in bronzer, so you may leave the salon looking unnaturally dark.
TIPS: "The best time to do it is afternoon or evening, because you don't want to get wet after you get sprayed," says Fini co-owner Kendall Jenkins. Wear loose, dark clothes that won't be ruined if they get sprayed with bronzer. Moisturize each day afterward so the tan will fade evenly, and avoid soaking in a bath or hot tub. "That makes it fade more quickly," Jenkins says. "Take showers, not baths."