I blame it on Barbie. I was a perfectly normal white girl until the early 1970s. And then she changed everything. That bitch.
Malibu Barbie circa 1971 was brown. Golden brown. With cobalt eyes, a tiny waist, and straw-straight bleached blond hair. Her unnatural yet tantalizing tan plastic skin made a permanent beauty mark on my mushy little brain. To this day, if I need a boost of confidence, I must be brown (and have my highlights touched up of course). Mal. B. would be proud had she not morphed into the Botox-battered 2009 model.
Yet at my age, you don't go peeling off your duds and skipping around unprotected in broad daylight. You slather on the sunscreen and pray to the anti-wrinkle, anti-carcinogen gods that you haven't missed a spot.
Oh, and have you heard that tanning beds are bad for you? D'oh.
So how's a girl with a serious Malibu Barbie complex supposed to get her tan on? A bottle. Of course. To fill my deep-seated need to hide behind a layer of bronzed skin, I go for the tan in a bottle. I've tried practically all of them. Even QT Tanning Lotion (it sucked but was a good start).
Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll, please), announcing the best tans in a bottle. Because of the endless choices, I've broken them down into types to make it easier for you to find the one that matches your Barbie persona.
For the newbie: Go for the build-up tan. You'll make mistakes along the way, and the gradual self-tanners are forgiving and streakless. Because it doubles as a decent skin moisturizer, I like Jergens Natural Glow Foaming Daily Moisturizer (about $8). Apply it daily, and you'll see a light tan develop in about three days.
For the instant gratification lover: Get one with a built-in bronzer. The bronzer helps you with application and you'll get the immediate satisfaction of a touch of color. On the affordable end, I like L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion in Deep Natural Tan (about $10). You'll get an instant pretty glow, while the sunless tanner works to produce a natural hue. On the higher end, I like Fake Bake Self-Tanning Lotion ($24). This deeply hued product works fast and comes with application gloves — use them or you'll have brown palms!
For the all-or-nothing tanner: A lesser known brand but a personal fave for its longevity, Solerra Silk Self-Tanning Lotion ($24) is a winner. The resulting color is a deep chocolate with just one application. Grab the whole lineup: the eXMitt to prep the skin, the Palms Tan-prep, and the Post-tan Moisturizer to make your fake tan last.
For the nature lover: Here's the problem with paraben-free self-tanners — they stink. Nearly all sunless tanners have some smell, but the natural varieties tend to be higher on the smell-o-meter scale and have less shelf life. So once you open one, just use it. Don't let it sit around too long, because then you'll end up hating it. I like Nature's Gate Organics Upper Tanagement Self Tanning Creme ($15). The formula produces a gradual, natural tan and the smell is masked by a light nutty scent.
For the serious tanner: With practice, airbrush tans-in-a-can produce the most professional-looking results. You'll need to apply the spray in a well-ventilated space that is easy to wipe down. I'd apply it in my backyard if I could, but my neighbor recently revealed that she has night vision goggles (making me wonder what other types of surveillance equipment she has). ModelCo Tan Airbrush in a Can tops my list. The tinted mist is pricey at $42 but does the job brilliantly.
Honorable mentions for overall color and ease of use are Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel (a classic for $32), Too Faced Tanning Bed in a Tube (sexy packaging with a dose of bronzer for $21), and Aqua Tan Clear Self Tanning Treatment (a good choice for the face, $36).
Whichever you choose, remember to exfoliate first with a body scrub or mitt before application and slather on a lotion to make it last — preferably one with SPF.
Now off to ponder how other childhood toys warped my sensibilities. My penchant for collecting lipsticks in every color? Thanks Mrs. Potato Head.