You've faced dressing-room-mirror shock and have picked out a fab bathing suit. But before you dare to bare on the beach, you must atone for a winter's worth of skin sins. Here are the required rituals to revive dehydrated, flaky and dull-looking skin.
EXFOLIATE. Skin that's been cloaked all winter lacks luster. If you're planning to tan (whether it's on the beach or from a bottle), skin must be smooth or you'll end up with splotchy spots. Exfoliants scrub off dead cells, unveiling brighter, smoother skin. They also help unclog pores so a moisturizer can work its way in to thoroughly hydrate. Mix up your own paste by combining 1 cup salt, 1 cup olive or safflower oil, 1/2 cup oatmeal, and a few drops of an essential oil such as lavender, orange or lime (a good scent for men). Make sure your skin is free from any cuts, surface irritation or sunburn -- and avoid being freshly shaven (ouch). Gently massage the paste onto damp skin, using circular movements with the pads of your fingertips, thoroughly covering all areas. Rinse with warm water, then massage a moisturizer into still-damp skin.
SHAVE. Preparation is the secret to a smooth, close shave. Thoroughly cleanse and exfoliate the area to be shaved, using warm -- never hot -- water. Before zipping away with a razor, examine the direction of the hair growth. You'll get a closer shave by shaving with the grain of the hair first, and then changing directions to lift the hairs. (Shaving against the grain first can result in razor burn -- especially in the bikini line or the neck area for men.) With a sharp blade, take smooth, single strokes across the area you're shaving. Once your skin's dry, apply a calming dose of aloe vera gel or corn starch powder. Ice works well for those prone to unsightly red bumps. Follow with moisturizer.
FAKE A TAN. Self-tanners can help jump-start your summer glow. They perform most effectively if you have exfoliated and shaved at least 24 hours before application. About 20 minutes before applying the self-tanner, treat your skin to a good moisturizer, focusing on the knees and elbows, which tend to be the driest and if they soak up too much self-tanner can broadcast the fact that your glow is faux to the world. Then, work the self-tanner evenly into the skin, avoiding long strokes, which can be harder to follow if you use a non-tinted product. To prevent stained clothing, completely dry your skin before dressing. And remember, your fake tan doesn't mean you're protected from getting a sunburn.
BLOCK THE RAYS. In addition to a wide-brimmed hat and cool shades, you need sunscreen. Sunscreens work by absorbing the sun's rays before they penetrate the skin. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Cover your skin thoroughly and don't rub in the sunscreen; instead, pat or spray it on dry (never wet) skin so it rests on top and is more effective. Use waterproof sunscreens for sports or swimming. Creams have to be regularly reapplied because they start to dissolve as you sweat or hop in and out of the ocean. And don't get cloud-complacent: Ultraviolet rays penetrate cloud cover, so apply protection even on overcast days.
Freelance writer Diana Carswell has been an independent beauty and skin consultant for 20 years.