As we sit at our desks dreaming of the ocean breeze blowing through our hair, warm sand between our freshly pedicured feet, our fantasy comes to an abrupt stop when we look down and notice how our vitamin D-deprived legs basically glow in the sunlight. Sound familiar?

Since visiting a tanning salon is a huge no-no if you want cancer- and wrinkle-free skin, why not give yourself a UV-free, sun-kissed glow at home? Yes, we’re talking about self-tanner. If you have a guttural reaction to this word, we don’t blame you. Finding a tanner worthy of slathering all over your body is hard. They’re messy, they smell, they streak, and sometimes they turn you oompah-loompa orange. Not exactly the Baywatch babe look you’re going for.

Fortunately, the newer formulas out there are easier than ever to apply, sans mess or streaks. But even the best tanning products will look bad if you don’t prep your skin and apply the product properly. We asked the pros how to get a bronze-goddess glow while sidestepping any mishaps, and are proud to present to you the complete guide to getting a killer UV-ray-free tan.

Step 1: Scrub and Smooth

“The skin must be clear of all products and well exfoliated so that you are tanning fresh skin,” says Sophie Evans, tanning expert for St. Tropez. Use a body scrub to slough away dead skin cells and create a smooth canvas. Remove all deodorant, too—it can turn your armpits green when combined with self-tanner formulas! Complete any waxing or shaving 24 hours before to avoid discoloration in the pores. Plus, your tan will last longer if you don’t have to shave on top of a fresh application, says Karen Brown, founder of Ireland-based self-tanning line Karora.

Apply an oil-free moisturizer only on very dry areas, such as the elbows, knees, hands and feet, to prevent patchiness. “If unprotected, these areas can go about seven shades darker and end up looking unnatural,” Evans warns. But make sure the rest of the body is free of product. “Most moisturizers tend to act as barriers and don’t allow the DHA in self-tans to develop properly,” says Brown.

Step 2: Choose Your Formula

Lotion, spray or mousse? It really comes down to preference, Brown says, but there are some key differences between formulas.Evans lays it all out for us:

  • Lotion: If you have a dry or sensitive skin, a lotion will be more hydrating. They also last the longest. The downside is they’re not as quick drying as mousse or spray formulas.
  • Mousse: These tanners are great for all skin types and extremely fast drying and transfer proof. The downside is they won’t last as long as a lotion.
  • Spray: They’re quickest to apply and super lightweight on the skin. A sprayed-on tan should last as long as a mousse, but requires more product so it’s not the most economical option for the whole body.

Step 3: Apply

Evans suggests doing a color patch test on a larger area like your stomach before slathering on your whole body. Even if the formula sounds great and has skin-loving ingredients, getting the right color is really your end result. “We could put every anti-aging ingredient under the sun in a tan, but if the color isn’t right, there’s no point!”

To apply evenly, use a tanning mitt, like this one from St. Tropez. “Forget latex mitts as these will make product stick to hairs and look streaky,” Brown notes. Apply in long strokes, using the flat of your hand, Evans says. Make sure to dispense enough product so that it glides easily—streaks happen when you don’t have sufficient product and are dragging at the skin to attempt an even spread.

Brown’s secret for bronzing hands and feet without streaking: Do them last, and apply the formula directly to a baby wipe before swiping on skin. “It absorbs excess colour so you can gently glide and blend tan onto backs of hands, feet and ankles.”

If you feel confident in your self-tanning skills, Evans suggests some cool ways you can contour your body with tanner. “Any tan will naturally make you look slimmer and more sculpted,” she says, but you can take it one step further. Use a spray formula one shade darker than the rest of your body and apply to areas where you want to create definition, like under each butt cheek for a lifted effect, or under your chin to define your jawline.

Step 4: Make It Last

Self-tanning can be a lengthy process, so you want to make sure your efforts are well worth it. Evans suggests applying a light gradual tanning lotion every few days to reinforce your color and prevent it from fading too quickly. Lightly exfoliate every few days to make sure your tan fades evenly, and apply moisturizer every day after showering. Pat skin dry with a towel after bathing to avoid rubbing off your perfect bronze.

Ready to get your glow on? Check out our favorite products for a completely flawless fake tan.