Well, my friend, first I'd like to welcome you out of the cave you've been living in for the past five years. You missed some pretty good stuff. Let's see...Britney went crazy...umm...Tom Cruise went crazy too...umm...ooh! Nicole Richie is pregnant! Yeah, I think that's pretty much it. Oh wait! I almost forgot the most important thing: Fake tanning was invented!
Now, fake tanning is a lot like The Force. In good hands, it is a wonderful thing that makes your legs look smooth and skinny and doesn't give you skin cancer (sadly, the perks don't include being able to move things with your mind, but I'm sure L'Oreal is working on that). But in the wrong hands, oh my, it is a streaky, scary-orange mess that threatens to dominate the world. Christina Aguilera is on the Dark (orange) Side:
If you are strong of will and ready to begin self-tanning training, here are a few that are, in my experience, as wonderful as Obi Wan, and a few that suck as much as Darth Sidious (I've tried all of the following tanners on my legs--I advise leaving any whole body bronzing to the experts):
My fave? Neutrogena Instant Bronze Streak-Free Foam:
I'm in love with this tanner. It has bronzer built in that you can see right away before the real (well, fake real...umm, you know what I mean) tan develops. The color is fantastic--dark enough to hide cellulite (yes, really), light enough to avoid looking like Carrot Aguilera up there. It dries extremely quickly. This recommendation is a bit complicated, however, as this is probably not the best product for self-tanning novices. While the instant bronzer lets you see exactly where you've tanned, the quick-drying foam can be a bit difficult to master. I guess my recommending this is sort of like a car enthusiast recommending a Maserati: it's a good car to be sure, but you should probably learn to, like, drive a stick shift before you start thinking about getting one.
About $9, available here.
L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion:
Great color, great price, and so easy to use. Just smooth it on like a lotion and your tan will magically develop over the next couple hours. You don't get to see exactly where you've tanned like you can with the Neutrogena foam, but it's pretty hard to mess up with this one, so it's OK. $7, available here.
Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer:
This stuff received Tickle Me Elmo-caliber hype awhile back, and in my experience, it very nearly lives up to all that excitement. This is different from other self tanners in that you use it as a moisturizer everyday, and within about a week you have a nice, natural tan built up. It's basically impossible to end up streaky or orange. Personally, I find the slow-and-steady method a bit boring (I'm an all-or-nothing type of gal), but this is really great for the more rational and cautious self-tanners out there.
$6, available here.
Neutrogena MicroMist Tanning Sunless Spray:
A spray tan at home is awesome in theory. In practice, not so much. Maybe I'm a clumsy dumbass (possible), but the "MicroMist" was more like the "Concentrated Blast of a Pressure Washer," leaving me with large, wet, spray-tanned spots that I had to rub in to avoid looking pronouncedly diseased (all this while the bottle brags, "no rub application"). Plus, have you ever tried to spray something on your own back, completely evenly? Yeah, there's a reason for that: It's impossible.
L'Oreal Sublime Bronze Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion:
There's only one word (tinted) that separates this stuff from the Sublime Bronze on the Good list, but somehow that one word is enough to make this one stay sticky for way too long. I will say that the color is very pretty--a slightly shimmery caramel--but it's still not worth the sticky factor for me.
Lancome Soleil Self-Tan for Legs Flash Bronzer:
This stuff actually works really well, and has great color; I'm just putting it on the "Boooo!" list because it is basically identical to the L'Oreal Sublime Bronze (hmm...I wonder why? It's not like they're owned by the same company or anything...), but costs four times as much for less product. And the bottle's not even cute. So there.
Coming Up: A self-tanning guide for lazy people who hate exfoliating (that's not just me, right?)