Shopping: Earn some brownie points

Cheat your way to a perfect tan for the May bank holiday says Nathalie Curry

Expose those bare legs? Discard your layers of winter clothing? Thankfully, you don't have to be either brave or booked on a two-week beach holiday. Just reach for the bottle.

Everyone knows how a tan can bring out the colour of your eyes and sometimes even make your curves and dimples seem endearing, but the days when we could happily roast in the summer sun are gone. Even 20 minutes covered in SPF15 can take its toll on your skin.

So, fake it - and, no, that doesn't have to mean Tango-coloured cheeks and scary streaks. Straightforward to apply and natural-looking, some fake tans now include UV protection and even smell decent. With the new generation of gels, sprays and lotions, fake-tanning is a breeze. The really difficult part is knowing what to choose. Find out what our testers thought (below) or just experiment but make sure it's tinted so that you can see which bits you've tanned.

Don't be put off by the high price of some fake tans. In general, they are well worth the money and you will get good results. However, price is not always an indication of quality and some of the cheaper products are also great value.

Once you've got the product right, set aside enough time to apply it. It may sound obvious but the more care you take, the better the results.

First, cleanse and exfoliate your skin thoroughly. Dry yourself properly, since damp areas of skin will affect the evenness of your tan and, before applying the self-tan, massage some hand cream into your palms to prevent them turning brown.

Next, apply the fake tan with long, even strokes. Use it sparingly on elbows, knees and knuckles and keep it away from your hairline and eyebrows. And resist the urge to wrap yourself in your best white bathrobe for at least 15 minutes!

Finally, if tans are really not your thing but you long for some sunshine, treat yourself to Philosophy's Sunbathing bubble-bath. Lie back and immerse yourself in summery, tangerine bubbles.

"Great value. Available in Golden Tan or Bronze Tan, to best suit your colouring."

Personal Colour Self Tanning Body Lotion (SPF4), pounds 5.25, and Face Cream (SPF4), pounds 4.25, Sunshimmer (01233 625 076)

"Use sparingly for rich, long lasting tan. Suitable for darker skin but be careful of staining."

Philosophy the healthy tan, pounds 13, Space NK (0870 169 9999) or Liberty (0171-

734 1234)

"Results are darker than expected - a beach tan look. Use with care to avoid streaks."

Sun Formula Self Tanning Spray, pounds 8, Body Cream (SPF4), pounds 7, and Facial Cream (SPF4), pounds 6, Marks & Spencer (0171-395 4422)

"Instantly bronzes, for a sunkissed look. A natural, lasting tan develops after just one hour."

Go Bronze Tinted Self- Tanner For Face, pounds 16.50, Estee Lauder (0800

525 501)

"Apply for immediate, deep colour. Avoids mistakes as you can see where you've applied the lotion."

Self-Sun bronzewear tinted self-tanner, pounds 12.50, Clinique (0171-409 6951)

"Fantastically natural results. Gel is easier to apply than the lotion."

Clarins Self Tanning Gel or Milk (SPF6), both pounds 13.50 (0171-629 2979)

"Ideal for just a hint of colour. Lotion is rich and creamy whereas spray is light and quick drying."

Self-Sun self-tanning body mist, pounds 12.50, or Self-Sun self-tanning lotion, pounds 11.50, Clinique (0171-409 6951)

"Fake tan smell is very strong. Produces a long lasting, delicate colour, suitable for pale skin."

Rapid Self-Tanning Cream or Instant Self-Tanning Spray, both pounds 20, Phytomer (01635 34444 MO)

"Refreshing smell of watermelon. Greasy

lotion is easy to apply for a healthy, honey-coloured tan."

Watermelon Self-tan Lotion, pounds 5.50, The Body Shop (01903 731 500)

"Quick and easy to use for a golden tan.

Deliciously indulgent fragrance of apricots."

Ambre Solaire Moisturising Bronzer or Express Spray Bronzer, both pounds 6.99 (from Boots and Superdrug)

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