Think of your skin as a blank canvas, and self tanners as the paint. You want the canvas to be as smooth and clean as possible, or the paint either won't stick or even worse may stick in unattractive ways (orange elbows, anyone?). Regular exfoliation can help prime the canvas. It can be as simple as a good scrub with a washcloth or a shower puff, although the high-maintenance among you may choose one of the countless body scrubs on the market. If you can, avoid lotion or oil-based scrubs before tanning. Wait until after the tanner has dried, or better yet, look for a dual-action moisturizing/tanner.
Soap and water are the enemy . . .
. . . at least for the first few hours after you apply. You don't want to undo all that hard work, do you? Schedule your time with the tanner when you know you can go five to six hours without a shower or dip in the water.
If you have sensitive skin . . .
. . . treat tanning like you would any chemical application. Do a patch test and wait 24-48 hours before you go for a full-body application. Check with your dermatologist if you have a history of irritation to chemicals.
Make time for a trial run
After all, if the tanning process doesn't go according to your plan, you don't want to ruin your Big Day. While any of the tanning options above are a great way to boost your color for a vacation, wedding or party, you want to be sure you've got the right procedure and solution.
This, too, shall pass
Whether you're happy with the results or want to hide under a blanket, natural exfoliation will get rid of your tan in about five days.