As a redhead I have struggled my whole life with the idea of tanning. If I were to naturally tan, it would require a great deal of gradual sun exposure over a period of months to achieve color. In the process I would be doing considerable damage to my epidermis.
Thus I have been on a quest for a number of years to find the perfect self tanning solution/process that works the best with my skin chemistry.
I began using self tanner at the age of 17 around the year 1998. Back then the solutions were horrible. They resulted in orange, uneven, splotchy...noticeably fake tans. Luckily science, research, and the hard work of technicians have resulted in much better self tanning options.
Recently the gradual (build a tan) concept has been on the market.
These are my favorite solutions. The concept is a moisturizer with a small amount of self tanner in the solution. The color resulting from a single application of this product is barely noticeable.....but after two or three applications a definite darkening will be realized.
My personal favorite is the Equate Healthy Glow Daily Firming Moisturizer. Equate is a Wal-Mart generic brand.
I know some people shy away from generic/store brands. But from a science standpoint they are no less of quality. You would be surprised how many national brands (jergens, proctor and gamble, etc) actually make store brands.
For my skin chemistry the equate healthy glow results in just the right color and just the right amount. I would encourage you to experiment with several brands to find the one that works the best with your own body.
The art of a self tan is in its application. I prefer creams over sprays. If you are already olive toned/tan then a spray will be fine for you as mistakes are easily masked by your own darker complexion.
For us fair skinned individuals...the sprays are going to be too concentrated and you will look "spray tanned"
Lets say I want to be tan for a weekend. Its a five day process to achieve what I believe is a natural look.
Sunday to tuesday nights....I daily exfoliate in the shower and do complete body moisturizer all three nights. This helps to remove dead/dry patches and preps the skin with moisture for the wednesday and thursday night applications of the self tan.
Care should be taken around knees, elbows, hands, ankles, and feet.
On Wednesday I shower with a basic soap...no fragrance or moisturizing body wash...just a clean pH balanced soap. Then after drying off I apply lotion to my knees, elbows, hands, ankles, and feet. This lotion with sit in the cracks of the knees, elbows, and rougher parts of your body. This prevents the self tanner from settling in the cracks and prevents dark orange splotches. The lotion sort of acts as a barrier cream.
Then I put on latex gloves and under a ceiling fan I begin the application process. I start with my back. If a friend is not on hand I put the self tanning cream on a flat door or wall and rub up against the surface to apply the tan to the center of the back. I then move to the legs, torso, shoulders, arms, and end with the face. Much care is taken on the legs to avoid the knees until the legs are almost done....at that point lightly brush over the knees. After the tan is completely absorbed into the skin I remove the gloves and lightly brush over the backs of my hands with the under sides of my forearms....this creates a gradual end of the tan as it approaches the knuckles of the hands. Do not attempt to apply to the fingers and knuckles...it will look horrible.
After I am done I stand nude under the fan for about 5 minutes to allow the tan to completely absorb and dry. I always do this only at night before bed. You do not want to do it in the morning or before any possibility of sweating. Its best to apply at night, then sleep. This give the tan the ability to develop exactly where you applied it and not run or become splotchy as a result of sweating.
In the morning when you wake...if done correctly you should notice a nice gradual color development that should last for about 4 or 5 days.