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Self-tanning lotions deliver safe glow

Forget spray-tanning (too orange) or fake-baking (too dangerous). This year, the best way to get the look of sun-kissed skin may be to slow-glow.

"Gradual" self-tanning lotions promise to deliver plenty of hydration as well as a touch of sun. And almost every brand of moisturizer has one in its line now.

We tested 10 of the newest, reformulated or repackaged ones on shelves this spring. Here are the three that worked the best.

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OUR TOP THREE PERFORMERS

Neutrogena Summer Glow

(For fair skin tones; $9.79 for 6.7 ounces at CVS)

Claim: Gives a light, natural glow, plus UV protection

Sunscreen? Yes, SPF 20

Instructions: Use daily; allow several minutes to dry before dressing.

Appearance/smell: White and creamy, light but not runny; soapy and subtle scent

Good points: Saw results within two applications. Easy to control the amount of "tan" as results are gradual, not immediate and obvious.

Bad points: A bit more orange than a natural tan

Noticed results: After two uses, it took my legs from "scary white" to "acceptable for public viewing."

Results lasted: Several days

- Catherine Mallette

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Nivea Sun-Kissed Firming Moisturizer

(For light to medium skin tones; $7.99 for 8.4 ounces at Ulta)

Claim: Builds a healthy glow in five days, improves skin firmness, provides lasting moisture

Sunscreen? No

Instructions: Apply liberally; avoid contact with clothes until lotion is absorbed

Appearance/smell: White and creamy, but a little runny; pleasant, light citrus fragrance

Good points: Skin really did "glow" without turning orange

Bad points: Because it's thin, it's easy to apply too much. I did, and ended up wiping some off with a towel.

Noticed results: After two applications (two days)

Results lasted: Until about two days after I stopped using it

- Stephanie Allmon

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Olay Touch of Sun Overnight

(For medium/dark skin tones; $6.99 for 6.7 ounces at SuperTarget)

Claim: "Wake up with a sun-kissed glow."

Sunscreen? No

Instructions: Apply before bedtime. Leave it on for at least 15 minutes before lying on sheets or putting on pajamas.

Appearance/smell: Thick, smooth and a good, solid bronze color; a strong but pleasant chamomile-lavender scent

Good points: As advertised, the results were immediate and a good match to my natural caramel skin color.

Bad points: I tan easily -- as do most with darker complexions -- so it's not a product I would use often.

Noticed results: The next morning

Results lasted: Four or five days

- Maricar Estrella

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ADVICE FROM A DERMATOLOGIST

Dr. James McCarty, of Southwest Cosmetic Dermatology Associates in Fort Worth, Texas, answered some burning questions about self-tanning lotions.

Q: How do gradual self-tanning moisturizers work?

A: All self-tanners have a chemical in them called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which causes a chemical reaction with the top layer of the skin and produces a darker color. A lower concentration of DHA (as in these products) causes a slower color change.

Q: Can anyone use them?

A: There's no such thing as a product no one has reacted to ... but I have not personally seen anyone who ever had a reaction to these things. If you have certain kinds of growths that absorb DHA, it can turn growths darker. But if you stop using the product, (the darkness) will go away.

Q: How long can you use one bottle or tube?

A: Follow the expiration date on the label like you would any other product. Like anything else, these eventually go bad.

Q: Most of these moisturizers don't contain sunscreen. Should you apply sunscreen before or after you use a self-tan lotion?

A: It doesn't matter whether you apply sunscreen before or after these moisturizers; the important thing is to use it. Look for a sunscreen that protects against the sun's UVA and UVB rays.

- Stephanie Allmon

Others we tested:

- L'Oreal Sublime Glow for fair skin tones

- Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer for medium/tan skin tones

- Banana Boat EveryDay Glow SunDial Self-Tanning Moisturizer for lighter skin tones

- Bath & Body Works True Blue Spa Glow & Steady Daily Moisturizer For Body

- Vaseline Healthy Body Glow for medium skin tones

- St. Ives Healthy Brilliance Renew & Glow for fair to medium skin tones

- Aveeno Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion for all skin tones

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