Fake it ’til you make it – A Guide to Self Tanning

I was an early adopter of self tan. My first experience was a misappropriated, dusty old glass bottle of Guerlain self tan once belonging to my ex-stepmother.  It was a heavily perfumed brown water that you applied with cotton wool.  I used it on my face and neck for that exotic stained by an oxo cube look – it also stained all my school shirts and the bathroom sink, as I recall.

It was the late 90’s, I was watching a lot of MTV and, ‘like totally,’ couldn’t figure out why Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears looked so good and I didn’t. The Guerlain swamp water made me realise that a tan, even a weirdly acquired one,  makes clothes look better, teeth whiter and eyes brighter.

Luckily I wasn’t the only one who had figured this out and soon, spearheaded by a very young, very brown, Victoria Beckham,  self tan was everywhere, literally.  St Tropez was the only decent one that you could buy at that time and it was pretty basic – a thick green paste that left you (and your bed sheets) mahogany coloured . It was heavily scented yet still failed to disguise those tell-tale fake tan biscuit undertones and it took hours to develop, subtle it wasn’t.


My 16 year old self prayed for developments in self tanning technology and the gods answered. Having messed around with various tans over the years, I still think St Tropez is the best but now instead of sludgy lotion they offer air whipped mouse, gradual tanner in a daily moisturiser,  sprays and even in shower self tan (which, I’ve still to try!)

Some people look great pale  – all power to my alabaster skinned sisters!  But for those that want to give their pasty skin a boost without frying it in the sun, my advice is to be willing to spend a bit of money and take the time to do it properly.

I’ve experimented with cheaper tans but they tend to smell ropey and don’t give such a natural looking colour. For a while I used the Garnier self tanning moisturiser  but it was sticky and made my skin smell sour as it was developing – needless to say it went in the bin. Go cheap at your peril.

One exception to this rule is Rimmel Sunshimmer, it’s cheap and cheerful and a fabulous quick fix if you have to get your legs out at short notice. Always go for the ‘light’ version, always use a mitt and watch out in the rain as it will go streaky. I recommend a layer of moisturiser before applying as it’s pretty dark.

Day to day, I’ve been a Fake Bake fan in the past and rate their spray tans but for home use my favourite is St. Tropez Bronzing Mouse. 

It glides on easily with a mit, smells expensive and dries fast, though it is a little icky at first. A bottle lasts a good while too, depending how often you apply of course, I’m a once a week kinda gal. If you want a deeper tan I would recommend applying a second layer the night after you’ve applied the first. You can a buy a travel sized bottle of this to get you started for around £10.


St Tropez Bronzing Mouse, Feel Unique

For the face, unless you want clogged pores and a weird brown muzzle, I urge you to use a specially formulated facial tanner . At the moment I’m using Lancome Flash Bronzer Self-Tanning Face Gel, which I apply before bed to give me a lightly bronzed bonce come morning. Again, while a little pricey, the bottle lasts for ages.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a throwback, still using self tan after all these years but I feel disgusting unless I’ve recently applied a layer of brown goop to my cold, naked flesh. I simply need to be brown and if you’ve read my blog on being moley then you’ll understand why tanning from the actual sun is certainly not an option.

Hopefully St Tropez will invent a pill for perfectly bronzed skin but until then here’s my tips for a top tan.

  • Preparation. Preparation. Preparation. Exfoliate and moisturise first.  Your skin will look better and your tan will last longer. Watch an episode of Frankie and Gracie while you let the moisturiser soak in first though.
  • Always use a mit for application and if you’re going to be baring lots of flesh then get someone to do your back, back of your neck, behind the ears and your sides – unless you’re incredibly lucky and have long arms so you can DIY.
  • Work on one section of your body at a time, applying the tanner in light, long vertical strokes until smooth and even.
  • Knobbly bones are the enemy of a good tan. Feet, ankles, elbows and hands are danger zones . Treat these areas with caution and a hefty slug of pre tan moisturiser.
  • Brown feet are beautiful but go easy on the amount of tan you use down there, just swipe across gently with your mit.
  • Leave hands until last and, again, give them a swipe with your mit using the residue from the rest of your body.
  • Use a specially formulated facial tanner for your face, go easy around your hairline, eyebrows and nose area and blend into the jaw and neck.
  • I’ve learned that chlorine is the enemy of self tan, if anyone knows a way around this then do tell!

Happy tanning bitches x


Leave a Reply