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The tan commandments

Having a golden glow has fallen right off the beauty radar of late, with pale and interesting celebs such as Nicola Roberts and Cate Blanchett inspiring many to ditch the tan and embrace the pale.

I've been trying my level best to work with my own pale-to-the-point-of-pasty skintone in the past few months -- wait for me, bandwagon! -- and it was easy enough to do in the winter, mostly because opaque tights and long-sleeved everything meant that skin exposure was at a minimum, anyway.

However, I've decided that enough is enough so I'm hitting the fake-tan bottle again. The unsettled weather is depressing enough without my skin looking blue, to boot.

With the prime holiday (ash cloud permitting) and wedding season just around the corner, it's a fair bet that a return to tanning form is imminent for many other Irish women too-- fashion be damned!

Let's be very clear: what I'm talking about here is a faux glow. While many of us ladies might feel that we don't really suit the pale look and prefer a bit of colour to take the edge off our pallor, the natural tan that develops following exposure to UV rays is actually the skin's attempt to protect itself from sun damage. That means, even if you have the sort of skin that goes a gorgeous golden brown rather than burning when exposed to the sun or a sunbed, you're still encouraging premature skin ageing and putting yourself at risk of skin cancer.

Here are 10 things to bear in mind when it comes to tanning . . .

Tan clings to dry and dead skin cells. Exfoliate before you apply your tan to ensure an even, streak-free result and afterwards (from day three after application) to prevent your tan from fading patchily.

Knuckles, wrists, elbows, the creases of the armpits, knees, ankles and toes are dry spots, so tan is inclined to gather around them. A little oil-free moisturiser massaged onto these danger zones and given time to sink in before tanning, will help prevent that.

By the same token, if you apply moisturiser all over just before tanning, your tan will be less intense and could be prone to streaking.

Get your desired shade while still ensuring that skin is well-hydrated by moisturising the night before.

The best time to apply tan is within 30 minutes of showering (once skin is dry and has cooled down), as skin will be perfectly clean.

Use gloves and/or a tanning mitt to avoid tell-tale orange palms. Close-fitting latex or surgical gloves are ideal and will give you as much control as if you were using your bare hands. Eco worriers, such as myself, can pick up a sturdy, reusable pair of sized hairdresser's gloves in salon-supply stores.

In addition to protecting palms, tanning mitts help ward off streaks as you can use them to lightly buff on your tan. Resembling orange, mini oven-gloves, they're widely available for a couple of quid in pharmacies and department stores.

Vaseline will prevent tan from adhering to cuticles and nails if you prefer to go bare-handed; it'll also keep eyebrows and the hairline free from tan.

Applying your tan in front of a full-length mirror will make it much easier to see any spots you've missed or that need blending. If you have a long mirror that you can move around, park it in the bathroom. It's the easiest place to clean after applying tan. Failing that, be sure to use a dark towel to protect your flooring.

Oh, and don't make things more difficult for yourself by trying to work around a bikini -- this is a job that's best done in the nip.

Tie up long hair out of the way in a bun or wrap it in a towel. Start with your legs, and then work upwards and outwards. While it's important to make sure tan is well blended, rubbing too hard will cause an uneven finish.

Gently smooth the product on instead, a little at a time, and opt for a tan with a tinted guide colour so that you can see exactly where you've covered.

A willing helper makes easy work of hard-to-reach areas. If you're flying solo and don't fancy shelling out on a high falutin' tan applicator, a friend of a friend gets great results using . . . a long-handled dishwasher sponge from Lidl that cost €1, for tanning her back. True story.

You only need a minimum of product to tan feet and toes, so lightly sweep whatever's left on your mitt after doing your legs across them. Leave hands and fingers 'til last and press them onto your bum, where they'll pick up colour without making your knuckles look like they've been Tangoed.

Use baby wipes to gently remove any excess tan from areas such as the toes or the eyebrows. If you find that you've missed a patch once the tan develops, mix some of the tan used with moisturiser and use it to fill in the area. Be sure to blend well at the edges.

Wear loose, dark clothes and underwear after applying your tan, and avoid getting wet for six to eight hours until your tan has developed fully. However, when you do hit the shower, pat rather than rub skin dry afterwards and be sure to keep on moisturising to prolong the lifetime of the tan. It is also worth remembering that most self-tanners don't contain an SPF, so be sure to use a separate sunscreen.