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How to Get a Sun-Free Vacation Glow

Avoid the damaging rays and fake a golden tan


spinner image a woman at a tanning salon getting a spray tan
Getty Images

Skin cancer, wrinkles, brown spots. Those words have freaked out an entire generation of former sun worshippers who loved to “lie out” and bake their way to a tan. However, many people — including those who now wear an SPF 30 daily without fail — still believe they appear healthier and more attractive when their skin has a sun-warmed look. Thanks to the beauty industry, we can all go sunny-side up safely with a wider range of glow-getting options. Here’s how:

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spinner image L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops with Hyaluronic Acid; St. Tropez Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Face Serum; Clarins Self-Tanning Face Booster Drops
(Left to right) L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops with Hyaluronic Acid; St. Tropez Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Face Serum; Clarins Self-Tanning Face Booster Drops
Amazon; Nordstrom (2)

1. Get golden with a mini tan 

Not everyone wants a just-back-from-South-Beach look or needs to do a full-body tan. In fact, just giving a sallow, ashy, blotchy or tired complexion what I call “tan-lite” may be enough. Mixing tanning drops like L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Facial Drops with Hyaluronic Acid ($15, amazon.com), St. Tropez Purity Vitamins Bronzing Water Face Serum ($35, nordstrom.com) or Clarins Self-Tanning Face Booster Drops ($35, nordstrom.com) with your daily moisturizer, tinted moisturizer or night cream creates a sunny glow depending on the number of drops (one to three) and frequency of use (daily to every other day or once a week). You’re in the driver’s seat here. Simply blend a drop or more and your cream in the palm of your hand before applying. Start with the lowest dose — you can always add more the next day or night. For a seamless look in V-neck tops and lower necklines, be sure to apply any leftover mix to your neck and chest before washing your hands.

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spinner image A woman getting a professional spray tan
Csaba Toth/Getty Images

2. Go to a pro to kick-start summer

For a flawless head-to-toe tan from day one, opt for a salon spray. Only a pro can control the exact level of allover tan you prefer and get every nook and cranny — unlike at-home jobs or the swimsuit-and-sunscreen tan you’d get at the beach that leaves “tan lines.” You can’t beat it for first-day-at-the-shore confidence, and it makes changing from a V-neck to a strapless suit easy. It is fine to get sprayed in underwear for modesty’s sake but choose your briefest pair. Prevent patchy uneven color by exfoliating skin and washing or blow-drying your hair the day before “tanning.” Make sure to wear loose black clothing on the way home and wait to shower for 6 to 8 hours afterward; it will prevent patchy, uneven color development and tan stains on car seats, clothing and furniture. Costs vary, but expect to pay $50 to $75. It’s worth it.

spinner image Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner; Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water; Tan-Luxe The Water Hydrating Self Tan Water
(Left to right) Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner; Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water; Tan-Luxe The Water Hydrating Self Tan Water
Target; Amazon (2)

3. Fake it with a DIY self-tan

Choose a “tan” that’s believable for your 50-plus skin tone — not your former real-sun-tanned self. Moisturizing formulas with ingredients like plant and nut oils, shea butter and aloe vera will give dry mature skin a creamy texture, help the color look authentic and blur discolorations. The best updates are vegan creams like the Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner ($7, target.com) and clear, transfer-resistant tanning waters, such as Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water ($30, amazon.com) in light, medium and dark shades and Tan-Luxe The Water Hydrating Self Tan Water ($48, amazon.com) in Light/Medium or Medium/Dark. Prep by shaving and exfoliating the day before. On the day of tanning, shower, blot and apply moisturizer lightly to superdry spots like elbows, knees, ankles and feet where color grabs and intensifies. Then apply tanner in circular movements using hands (wash immediately after) or a “tanning” mitt for pristine palms. Wait 20 minutes before dressing.

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spinner image Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint in Salty Caramel; South Seas Skincare Island Glow Body Bronzer; Kopari Rose Gold Sun Shield Body Glow SPF 45; Coppertone Glow with Shimmer Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
(Left to right) Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint in Salty Caramel; South Seas Skincare Island Glow Body Bronzer; Kopari Rose Gold Sun Shield Body Glow SPF 45; Coppertone Glow with Shimmer Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Ulta Beauty; South Seas; Target; Walmart

4. Opt for a temporary sun kiss

Transfer-resistant sunscreens and body creams and gels with a shimmery champagne, golden or bronze tint are a short-term solution for giving dry, dull skin a fresher, more radiant look for one day or night. They can revive a self-tan that’s fading, enhance natural skin tones or provide a more uniform look when your arms, chest and face have a sunny look but your legs do not. For “dressed” situations — like a party or destination wedding — a sheer, shimmery bronzer like Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint in Salty Caramel ($52, ulta.com), available in seven shades from pale Pearl Swirl to deep Chocolate Reign, or South Seas Skincare Island Glow Body Bronzer ($28, southseasskincare.com), originally created for Dancing With the Stars contestants (one universal shade works for all), adds polish to arms, shoulders and legs. Use your hands, a makeup sponge or a dense kabuki brush to apply and blend. For casual situations in swimsuits or shorts, pick sunscreens such as Kopari Rose Gold Sun Shield Body Glow SPF 45 ($39, koparibeauty.com) with moisturizing oils and pearlescent minerals and Coppertone Glow with Shimmer Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 ($19, walmart.com) with subtle golden flecks.

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spinner image Pixi by Petra On-The-Glow Bronze Tinted Moisture Stick in Soft Glow; Anastasia Beverly Hills Cream Bronzer in Sunkissed; Nars Laguna Bronzing Cream in Laguna 05
(Clockwise from left) Pixi by Petra On-The-Glow Bronze Tinted Moisture Stick in Soft Glow; Anastasia Beverly Hills Cream Bronzer in Sunkissed; Nars Laguna Bronzing Cream in Laguna 05
Target; Sephora; NARS

5. Add bronzer to your makeup routine

Whether you “tan” or not, bronzer can add a sunny warmth to the face. But caution: Some powder bronzers look unnatural, cakey or glittery on mature skin and emphasize hyperpigmentation, dryness and wrinkles. Better choice? A new category of cream bronzers like Pixi by Petra On-The-Glow Bronze Tinted Moisture Stick in Soft Glow, Warm Glow, Rich Glow, Beach Glow ($18, target.com) blend seamlessly right over your choice of face cream, tinted moisturizer, sunscreen or foundation. Those with very pale, dark or rosy-toned complexions can get a perfect bronzer match from brands with a range of shades that address and identify not only skin tone but also undertones, such as the Anastasia Beverly Hills Cream Bronzer in Sunkissed ($35, sephora.com) and Nars Laguna Bronzing Cream in Laguna 05 ($38, narscosmetics.com). Use fingers or a full dense foundation brush to blend cream bronzer on the tops of cheekbones, across the forehead and on the bridge of the nose.

spinner image e.l.f. Halo Glow Liquid Filter;  Milk Makeup Lip + Cheek Cream Blush Stick in Perk; Chanel No 1 De Chanel Lip and Cheek Balm in 2 Healthy Pink; Maybelline Cheek Heat Gel-Cream Blush in Rose Flush
(Left to right) e.l.f. Halo Glow Liquid Filter; Milk Makeup Lip + Cheek Cream Blush Stick in Perk; Chanel No 1 De Chanel Lip and Cheek Balm in 2 Healthy Pink; Maybelline Cheek Heat Gel-Cream Blush in Rose Flush
Target; Sephora; Ulta Beauty; Walgreens

6. Summer-ize makeup with color and glow

Some women have never been beachgoers; others have given up the idea of any kind of bronzed effect for good. They, too, can achieve a summery feeling, but it’s more of a healthy flush and radiance. Keep the “glow” simple in hot steamy weather. You might simply amplify your usual face makeup with a primer/highlighter like e.l.f. Halo Glow Liquid Filter ($14, target.com), which — when mixed with your usual tinted moisturizer, BB or CC cream or worn as a highlighter on tops of cheekbones, at temples and inner eye corners — brightens away fatigue. A dash of coral, pink, peach or red color on lips and cheeks (depending on skin tone) also really brings energy and warmth to the face with practically no effort. Try a creamy, swivel-up stick such as Milk Makeup Lip + Cheek Cream Blush Stick in Perk ($24, sephora.com), a hydrating balm like Chanel No 1 De Chanel Lip and Cheek Balm in 2 Healthy Pink ($45, ulta.com) with a pink, berry and red for every skin tone, or a cream-gel like Maybelline Cheek Heat Gel-Cream Blush in Rose Flush or Coral Ember ($9, walgreens.com). Don’t get nervous — some of these are superconcentrated and vibrant in the package but are sheerer, softer and more diffused on the skin.

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