Assuming you a) never bought the idea that pale is in, and b) know all about the sun's harmful effects on your skin, you have only one choice if you still want that George Hamilton glow.
Don't bake it; fake it.
Cosmetic and chemical companies say counterfeit tanning has come a long way from the Beach Blanket Bingo days in 1960, when the granddoggie of all faux tan products debuted: QT Quick Tanning Lotion.
"Early versions of the product did tend to be streaky," says Doug Petkus, a spokesman for the manufacturer, "and I think orange might have been the dominant tone."
Despite a host of new competitors, QT is the best-selling self-tanning product today, says Petkus of Schering-Plough Healthcare Products Inc., the New Jersey-based maker of Coppertone and Tropical Blend sun products.
The last time 35-year-old Dennis Wozniak used QT was 1973, when he was graduating from high school. "I turned orange, and I never used it again," recalls Wozniak, who now orders suntan products including QT for 112 Arbor Drug stores as vice president of purchasing.
"We've always carried it, and it's always been something to round out the assortment," he says. "Once the manufacturer started improving the product, the consumer really responded to it, because now they know this is something different."
All of today's tan-in-a-bottle products claim to be newly formulated, more sophisticated and less likely to give you a Sunkist glow.
Two other self-tanners have been added to the Schering-Plough line. And major cosmetics companies such as Clinique and Estee Lauder have introduced self-tanners. Lauder's Self-Action Tanning Creme, introduced in 1979, has become its best-selling sun product and since January has been offered in three shades.
Retailers say self-tanners account for only a small part of the sun-care products business. But fueled by concerns about the premature aging and skin cancer, they and sunscreens with high protection factors have, in the past few years, become among the fastest-growing sun products.
Typically, self-tanners can be applied in a half-hour, last up to three days and cost $5 to $15 for a 4-ounce supply. How long that supply lasts depends on how much you use and how big you are.
Throughout the 1980s, dermatologists warned that excessive exposure to the sun and its harmful rays can age skin and even lead to skin cancer. By the end of the decade, sun worshipers began to take note.
That coincided with the cosmetic industry's improved ability to tame the active ingredient in self-tanning products: dihydroxyacetone.
DHA, as it's called, is a naturally occurring chemical compound that reacts with proteins to form molecules that darken the surface of the skin within two or three hours after application. It is the only additive for coloring the body that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
DHA was the key ingredient in the QT introduced in 1960, but that product is much improved, says Patricia Agin, sun care product manager at Schering-Plough's Solar Research Center in Memphis, Tenn.
Agin says researchers are working on the next generation of self-tanning products. They are especially interested in new ingredients to add to DHA and new methods for applying the product.
But Agin holds out little hope for one of the problems facing self-tanners: the after-application wait. Because DHA reacts with any protein, some self-tanners who don't wait for the product to sink in can wind up tinting their clothes and furniture.
So they just stand around nude.