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Exchanging long pants for bare legs is one of summer's great pleasures but only if you feel good about how your legs look. While few of us have flawless gams (especially after a kid or two), you don't need a perfection permit to wear shorts. But your legs can look a lot better fast. With these simple strategies (plus some easy fake-its), you'll be a shameless show-off in no time.
"Dry skin is unhealthy skin," says Sandy Johnson, M.D., of the Johnson Dermatology Clinic in Fort Smith, AR. "Well-hydrated skin provides a better barrier to the environment." And it makes legs look smoother and prettier too. To fight flakiness:
Choose the right moisturizer "Our skin is naturally hydrated in the summer because of extra moisture in the air," explains Dr. Johnson. That means you can retire the rich creams in favor of lighter formulas. Lotions are the least heavy, because they contain more water and less oil than creams. Dr. Johnson recommends picking one with water as its first ingredient.
"Whatever moisturizer you decide to buy, apply it while your body's still damp," she says. "This seals the water into your skin." To try: Johnson's SoftLotion Nourishing Renewal Lotion ($5, drugstores).
Do a serious scrub Unless you exfoliate first, even the best moisturizer can't do its job. "As we age, our skin becomes drier because the bottom layer doesn't regenerate as frequently," says Dr. Johnson. Exfoliation strips away flakes on top, allowing fresh cells to come to the surface. To try: St. Ives Healthy Brilliance Brighten & Glow In-Shower Exfoliating Body Polish ($7, drugstores).
Soften in the shower Get a head start on hydration with the latest generation of body washes: cream oils. These products usually a mix of glycerin, oils, and petrolatum cleanse and soften all at once. "Cleansing can strip moisture from the skin, but cream oils have been shown to improve skin's moisture content after washing," says Ellen Shepard, senior research and development scientist at Unilever. To try: Caress Moroccan Exotic Oil Infusions Body Wash ($4, drugstores).
FAKE FABULOUS LEGS
Miracles may not come in jars, but a tube of self-tanner comes pretty close. Besides banishing a winter-weary pallor, tanner evens out tone, hides imperfections, and just makes everything look a whole lot better. The color should last at least three to five days (or longer, depending on which product you use; tanners containing high amounts of dihydroxyacetone DHA are usually the slowest to fade). If you fear that self-tanner is too tricky to apply, relax. Thanks to new formulas, getting a glow is easier than ever.
Prep for perfection Yes, exfoliate (it's the key to even, long-lasting color). But also be sure to shave or wax before you tan. "Removing hair soon afterward will remove the tan as well," says Pam Oullet, spa director at Willow Stream Spa at Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada. And since self-tanner affects only the top layer of skin (the DHA causes a chemical reaction that darkens the cells of the epidermis), exfoliation will strip away color too. So skip the scrubbing for at least three days post-tan.
Try a tinted version Formulas that are slightly bronzed make it easy to see where you've already applied tanner and which spots you've missed. To try: Lancôme Soleil Flash Bronzer Instant Colour Self-Tanning Leg Gel ($28.50, department stores).
Put it on like a pro Apply creams and lotions by rubbing firmly in a circular motion; smooth away extra product to avoid streaks. One lotion we like: Dove Energy Glow Daily Moisturizer with Subtle Self-Tanners ($7, drugstores; see page 70). To try: L'Oréal Sublime Glow MicroFine Mist ($10, drugstores).
Ace those trouble spots Dry knees, ankles, and feet tend to sop up extra product and then turn darker. Oullet recommends smoothing on a regular moisturizer beforehand, which will lessen the amount of tanner that's absorbed. To avoid a line where your ankles meet your feet, she says, "do your leg first, then add a little moisturizer to the residue that's left on your hands and run hands from your leg to your foot." Use a tissue to rub around nails to remove excess.
Nervous? Tan gradually Tanner-lotion hybrids have low doses of color combined with moisturizer, so it's harder to make a mistake. You'll see a subtle difference a few hours after you first apply it, with the color increasing each time you slather it on. Try Aveeno Continuous Radiance Moisturizing Lotion ($15, drugstores). Or try a body bronzer like Neutrogena Sheer Body Tint Temporary Tan ($10, drugstores). You'll get immediate color that will wash away in your next shower.
MASK YOUR VEINS
Stubborn spider or varicose veins can mar the look of your legs. For permanent solutions, talk to your doctor about in-office treatments such as lasers and sclerotherapy ($300 to $800 per treatment), as well as endovenous ablation (around $2,500 per treatment, often covered by insurance). In the meantime, there's plenty you can do at home to minimize the look of prominent veins and to help prevent new ones from forming.
Stretch Stuck in line? Stand on the balls of your feet and contract your calves to keep blood moving, says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Body for Life for Women.
Pop a baby aspirin One a day thins blood and improves its flow, taking stress off veins but ask your doctor first, says Thomas F. O'Donnell, M.D., director of the Venous Center at Tufts-New England Medical Center.
Don't cross your legs It cuts off blood circulation, says Dr. Peeke.
Cover up with makeup The right heavy-duty concealer (one designed for the body, not the face) can really disguise spider veins. Go for a long-wearing, water-resistant formula like Dermablend Leg and Body Cover Creme ($18, dermablend.com).
Get a glow A self-tanner's allover color will reduce contrast on your legs, so discolorations are less noticeable.
Consider creams carefully Don't expect an over-the-counter potion to completely erase veins, says Paul M. Friedman, M.D., a dermatologist and director of the DermSurgery Laser Center in Houston. Only medical treatments can produce those results. But some creams can improve the appearance of capillaries. One new product that seems to show promise: Avon Anew Clinical Spider Vein Therapy SPF 15 ($25, avon.com). In a company-sponsored test, women who'd used the product for eight weeks prior noticed up to a 50 percent reduction in the appearance of their spider veins.