For years, I rarely used fake tan. At school, I’m not sure we were aware of its existence – but in any case, because I was a fraction less pale than some of my friends, I was under the (wholly erroneous) impression that I had skin which bordered on olive. (I mean, I suppose it did if you take into account that this type of olive exists… But the fact that, years later, some of my perma-tanned Canarian in-laws would laugh openly at my sheet-white skin as I crossed the beach in swimwear kind of crushes that illusion.)
At university, I was so paranoid about doing fake tan wrong and being covered in tell-tale streaky marks that the only time I dared to bronze was for the graduation ball. Although, looking at the photos, you wouldn’t know it: my skin looks as washed out as my over-bleached hair…
Then there was a halcyon two-year period when I lived in Gran Canaria and built up a rather enviable all-over tan just from being out and about in the sun most days and at the beach all weekend, every weekend.
But since coming back to England, apart from the odd dalliance with tinted moisturiser, I’ve kind of got into the habit of pinning all of my pigmentation hopes on a yearly two-week dash back to the sun, praying that my skin gobbles up enough rays to produce a deep tan that will see me through the rest of the year.
Finally, at 33, I’ve decided to get real: I barely ever – no, make that never – return from my holidays to gasps of amazement from friends and acquaintances at how brown I am. Instead, it’s more a case of colleagues needling me with that classic post-holiday jibe, ‘You’re not very brown, are you?’ And really, what is the point of me exposing my skin to the sun for hours on end for 14 straight days when the two are strangers for the rest of the year? Invariably, I take the ‘tanning’ too far on day one, burn myself, then spend the next few days sitting guilty and sheepish beneath a parasol. Plus, with Oscar now on the scene, there’s just no time for prolonged sun-worshipping. So: lately and rather unexpectedly, fake tan has become an essential addition to my limited beauty routine.
This year, I decided to kick-start my tan before my holiday to Turkey by layering on St Tropez Gradual Tan Body Mousse after my shower, instead of moisturiser. What I liked about this product was that it doesn’t require much forward-planning – you don’t have to exfoliate and depilate like a crazy person before using it, and if you apply it with a cheap-as-chips foam mitt, you don’t need to worry about patchiness and streaks. In any case, because it builds up over a period of days and weeks, the resulting glow is jubilantly streak-free.
In Turkey, I certainly felt brown enough to not fling myself into the sun the first moment I got a chance to, which is a step forward. What’s more, since returning to England, I’ve just kept topping up the slight tan I got with the remaining mousse to avoid that despairing feeling I get as my tan fades.
The only problem with the mousse product, and almost every other fake tan out there? The smell. I used to drool slightly when articles about tanning products described their fragrance as ‘biscuity’. Then I tried them. I don’t know which marketing whizz coined that particular euphemism, but it must be someone who’s used to eating incredibly synthetic, plasticky biscuits whose scent lingers and catches at the back of your throat long after they’ve been digested. (In defence of the much-maligned sun, it imparts zero odour to my skin. Just sayin’.)
However, with its latest product, the St Tropez Gradual Tan In-Shower Lotion, reeking of chemicals might be a beauty bane of the past. I’d seen this product praised in lots of magazines, and it looked too good to be true – you just lather it on instead of shower gel, wait three minutes, rinse it off, then emerge from the bathroom with an even, sun-kissed glow. But I was tempted enough to try it, and it’s actually great – it does the same job as the mousse but without the smell. The only weird thing is standing in the shower with the water off for three whole minutes – which adds a sense of jeopardy to our finely calibrated morning rush out of the front door (for the moment, I’m using that time to give my teeth and face a really good scrub).
Anyway, now that I’ve embraced fake tan, I’m slowly getting used to the idea that I can look sun-kissed whenever I want without the associated expense of a holiday, or the guilt that comes with putting my skin in danger. The question is, why has this revelation taken me so long?
Are you a self-tan addict or a bona-fide sun worshipper? Which products do you recommend?