Thanks to my Irish heritage, my skin is always mega pale. In the depths of winter, people ask me if I’m able to tan come summer. That’d be a big no. It’s either my usual shade of white-pink or lobster red, so when the sun comes out, so does my SPF 50. Along with protecting me from second degree sunburns (which did happen in my teens, it’s very gross), it basically eliminates the chances of me getting any semblance of a tan.
Since I’ve also avoided self-tanning products, I’ve literally never, ever had a tan. All that changed when I met Sophie Evans, the official brand ambassador for St. Tropez. She’s responsible for the glowing skin on the Chanel and Erdem runways, and has worked with the likes of Kristen Dunst, Elle Macpherson and Zooey Deschanel. If there was ever anyone to walk me through my very first tan and arm me with tips on how to apply self tanner, it’s Evans.
I know we’re talking about self tanner here, but full disclosure: Evans applied my tan for me. Here is my before and after:
The shot on the right was taken the day after I had my tan applied. It was definitely a bit of a shock to see my skin so much darker, but I totally get the appeal. My skin was much more even, particularly on my face, and I looked like I spent a week on beach somewhere without the consequences of sun damage. I’m not sure if it’s something I’d do on a regular basis, but you know I’ll be grabbing a bottle of self-tanner, and consulting the following tips, to get a perfect glow before my summer vacay.
Here’s what I learned when I took the plunge and went from reflective to radiant:
Prepping is key
Common belief: exfoliating is the most important pre-tan step. But Evans tells me different. “Moisturizing is actually more important,” she says. “Exfoliator will make the tan last longer, but you need something that is very hydrating because dry skin is what it grabs to.” That means you could be left with a darker tan in spots that are prone to dryness, like your elbows and knees. So moisturize all over before you start applying, but avoid anything with citrus or oil in it, because those ingredients will break down the pigment.
There are options
You have lots of choices when you’re looking for the right self-tanner. “Mousses and sprays are good for most skin types, but if it’s very dry or sensitive, I’d go for an oil or a lotion,” says Evans. When it comes to the shade, she says you don’t have to avoid the dark range just because you’re pale. “It’s about how you want to look. If you want to look like Beyoncé, we can do that. If you just want a pop of colour or you want to camouflage stretch marks and scars, go for a gradual tan.”
You need a few tools
Especially if you’ve never used self tanner before, stock up on all the right tools. “Make sure you have an applicator mitt,” says Evans. “That’s really important to protect your hands and to apply it with.” Evans also recommends having makeup wipes and a bottle of moisturizer on hand for unexpected slip ups or dry spots.
There’s an application process
Self-tanning is both an art and a science, so you want to follow a bit of a formula when you’re applying. “Do your legs first, but stop at your ankles,” says Evans. Then do your upper body, your arms, and your hands last. Doing your feet and hands last is important because you can move the excess product down your legs or arms, so it fades naturally. When it comes to the face, Evans tells me that skin tends to go darker than the rest of the body because its pH balance is higher. One way to mitigate this is to layer a moisturizer underneath the tanning product.
Contouring isn’t just for your face
Did you know you can emphasize your abs, calves and arms with a little extra tan? Me either. Stick with what you’re using everywhere else on your body for the base, but then go in with one shade darker wherever you want definition. For application, its similar to contouring on your face. “Like a make up artist would apply foundation, you can use a makeup brush or a beauty blender to blend it out,” says Evans.
You can hit CTRL+Z
Mistakes happen, but don’t freak out because you can undo them. “What I like to do is use hair removal cream,” says Evans. “If you have a dark patch, put hair removal cream on and leave it for about two minutes. Then wipe it off, and it’ll minimize it.” You can also use baking soda with lemon juice, but Evans says you can get more accuracy with hair removal cream.
You can fight the fade
This is all about hydration, again. “Moisturizer is your best friend,” says Evans. “But an in-shower tanning product, like the In Shower Gradual Tan, will be the best maintenance.” About three or four days after applying your tan, use a gradual tanning product to help make the colour last, and add it in your shower routine every three or four days.