It's a growing trend: We're baring our legs for more of the year, and well into our 30s, 40s and beyond. So summer or not, we need ways to show them in the best possible light. To the rescue: this hip-to-toe action plan, complete with the best ways to tone up, hide flaws and believably fake a golden glow.
Tone, tighten, ta-da!
Having the right fitness regimen — and sticking to it — is key. "Fortunately, legs respond pretty quickly to exercise," says Amie Hoff, a certified trainer in New York City. Do this to firm up fast:
- Tone up with cardio. Most cardio options — like running, biking and swimming — are terrific for legs, leaving them sleeker and more defined. Aim for three to five 30- to 45-minute workouts a week.
- Switch it up. "It's not good to do the same exercise over and over," says celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson. Go back and forth between cardio and strength training: "After doing weight exercises, choose a sport like kickboxing or dancing."
- Try the move that works wonders: the Squat Jump. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Sit back into a squat position, then leap up as high as you can, swinging your arms up over your head as you go. Land in your original squat position, keeping your knees behind your toes. "Do three sets of eight," Hoff says. "Add a few side lunges and you'll end up toning all the major muscles in your legs."
Hair removal, four ways
Options abound — from razors to lasers — and they've all improved drastically, making the process easier than ever and (well, almost) painless. Here are the ins and outs so you can pick your best method.
- Shaving. It's quick, cheap and super convenient. To prevent nicks and razor burn, use a shaving gel or cream and a good, sharp razor, says Karyn Grossman, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. Schick Hydro Silk has rounded edges (contoured for legs) and lubricated strips to help maneuver around curves.
- Waxing. Waxing leaves skin beach-worthy for a few weeks, with no stubbly regrowth. (At home, try Nair Brazilian Spa Clay Roll-On Wax.) Bonus: "Over years, frequent waxing damages the follicles for permanent hair reduction," Dr. Grossman notes. Between waxings, nix ingrowns by exfoliating with a gentle scrub and using a lotion with alpha hydroxy acids.
- Depilatories. These rinse-off hair removal creams (like Sally Hansen Simply Smooth Hair Remover) dissolve hair below the skin's surface, leaving legs smooth for up to six days. Sensitive skin? "Do a patch test a day in advance," Dr. Grossman says. "If you feel irritation, rinse and apply some over-the-counter one percent hydro-cortisone cream."
- Light Therapy. After about five in-office laser sessions (around $250 each), you'll see a 70 to 90 percent reduction in hair; 12 to 15 sessions will give you nearly 100 percent, forever-smooth skin. At-home options are a bit less powerful but more cost effective; try Remington i-Light Pro, an intense pulsed light (IPL) device. FYI: Lasers make you more sun sensitive, so start in December if you want to be ready by next summer.
The best self-tanners
- Quick-dry. Choose a lightweight spray, like Neutrogena MicroMist Airbrush Sunless Tan, which absorbs fast.
- Streak-free. Use a tinted formula, such as Estee Lauder Golden Perfection Tinted Self-Tanning Gelée for Body.
- Anti-orange. A glow treatment will give you just a hint of color. We like Jergens Natural Glow & Protect SPF 20.
- Time-saver. Fake it with shimmery bronzing lotion, like Laura Mercier Body Bronzing Makeup.
- On-the-go glow. Self-tanning towelettes are great for your bag. Try Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad For Body.
Make veins vanish
For spider veins
Look better long-term: The gold standard is sclerotherapy (it starts around $300), in which a solution is injected into spider veins, making them fade away, usually within three to six weeks.
Look better tonight: Try Dermablend Leg & Body Cover SPF 15 ($27; dermablend.com), a stay-put concealer that camouflages imperfections.
For smaller veins
Look better long-term: "Lasers are great for zapping a fine meshwork of red vessels," says Miami dermatologist Christopher O'Connell, MD. ($250 and up per treatment)
Look better tonight: Per-fekt Tan Matte Body Perfection Gel is sheer but hides flaws and won't rub off.
Can you get rid of it forever? No. Minimize it for a while? Absolutely. Here's what really works.
What causes it: Tough cords of connective tissue attach your skin to the muscle beneath. Fat presses up on the skin while the cords pull down, creating a dimpled surface.
What helps it:
- Exercise. It lowers body fat and brings the skin closer to the muscle.
- Self-tanner. "Darker skin offers less of a visual contrast, so flaws don't stand out as much," says New York City makeup artist Rachel Bensimon.
- Caffeine-packed cellulite creams. They temporarily dehydrate fat cells so skin appears smoother and tighter for up to a few hours.
- In-office treatments. "If you have a few dimples, a dermatologist can use a needle to loosen the bands of connective tissue and pop out the dents," says Dr. Grossman. (Cost: $1,000–$4,000.) In addition, the FDA recently approved the new cellulite-fighting procedure Cellulaze, in which an optic laser threads through a pinhole in the skin, melting fat and cutting through connective tissue bands for fast improvement. (Cost varies, starting around $3,500 per leg.) "But these things aren't permanent cures; they usually require touch-ups after a year or two," notes Dr. Grossman.