How to apply Fake Tan Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to apply Fake Tan

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Wilfrid Bramble - a dirty old man with soot on his face - not the best fake tan substitute around.

Fake tan, for many years considered the exclusive preserve of daytime television personalities and ballroom dancers, is an increasingly popular cosmetic product. The UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's reported a 300% sales rise in fake tan products in July 2004. This statistic that can, in part, be explained by the 'safe sun' message finally reaching consumers, who now realise the risk of skin cancers from over-exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

Despite the risks associated with sun exposure, many people agree that a golden tan looks good. It evens out the facial complexion, makes limbs appear longer and leaner, and sets off fashionable summer colours like fuschia and turquoise. You might want to cover your milky-white limbs on the first days of a beach holiday (while using a good SPF!). A white dress always looks better when worn with a tan, and a black dress can look equally stunning against golden skin. So the answer? Crack open a bottle of fake tan (sometimes known as 'self-colour') and create your own 100%-safe, sun-kissed look.

You know when you've been Tangoed...

A faked golden-brown glow is a wonderful thing, but how to avoid streaks, patches, or skin the colour of Tango orange? The first thing to understand about fake tan is that, in common with so much else in life, you get what you pay for. So purchase a reputable brand of tan. At the top end of the market, St Tropez is known as the tan favoured by the glamorous icons of Hollywood.

Other recommended luxury brands include Clarins, Clinique, Fake Bake, and, for performers and those who require a very heavily-tanned look, the Australian brand Del-Tone. Cheaper products whose reputations have been proven include L'Oreal Bronze Sublime, Ambre Solaire Duo-Tan and Boots No.7 Self-Tan, all of which contain tints that enable you to see where you've applied the product and where you need to touch up.

Use the right tone for you as well - if you're naturally slightly dark, use a medium/dark rather than a light/medium, which will have no effect. Light/medium is for Nordic and Celtic types.

Once you've bought your fake tan product, follow these simple guidelines for streak-free application:

  1. It's a little-known fact that applying most fake tans to alkaline surfaces creates the Tango look. So, if you've just had a shower or bath with alkaline soap, wait half an hour until your skin returns to normal pH before applying.
  2. Exfoliate and moisturise before fake tan application. Concentrate especially on dry areas such as knees, ankles and elbows, and apply tan sparingly to these areas.
  3. Use a formula that gives a tint when you apply, so you can see where it's gone on already and you can blend to avoid streaks. Once you've applied your tan (sparingly on knees, elbows and ankles, liberally everywhere else), wait five minutes and then rub damp hands over the whole area to blend everything in. (Damp, not sopping wet. You're blending, not removing!)
  4. Worried about tanned hands? Wear gloves during application. You could use thin latex plastic gloves (not washing-up gloves), or thin cotton gloves made specially for tan application - both St Tropez and The Body Shop supply these. Even while wearing gloves, be careful of the inside of your wrists - these can pick up tan when you're applying and blending. Give everything you don't want tanned a good wash immediately after application (before blending - you'll wash your hands one more time after that). Remember the bits between fingers and toes.
  5. Streaks and patches post-application? Tan-corrector products are now available - and you can get these in handy little wipes, to use within five hours of application.
  6. Missed a bit? Fill in the missed area carefully with a cotton bud (this is where tan with a tint helps).
  7. A surprisingly common error is not to apply enough tan first time around - this makes you look yellow rather than golden. Apart from the bits you don't want to over-colour, slap it on liberally. Still look jaundiced? You need another coat.
  8. You can use a facial fake tan product for your face, or you can use your body product, diluted with a little moisturiser. Consider where the sun would naturally bronze your face (usually the cheeks, nose and forehead) and apply there, followed by a very light all-over swish to blend in.
  9. If you find it difficult to reach the middle of the back or other out-of-the way places yourself, you might want to ask a friend for help. Make sure they follow the same advice as above with regard to application and blending.

If you feel nervous about applying tan yourself, salon treatments are available. The therapist will exfoliate, moisturise and apply the tan for you, and will be able to give you advice about applying tan yourself. There are also spray booths where fast-drying tan product is sprayed over the body in a matter of seconds - these are quick and convenient, if less luxurious.

The first time you apply fake tan, it's worth giving yourself half an hour to apply carefully, checking your application and blending, and of course removing any tan from places you don't want it to be. Apply in the bathroom (tan products can stain carpets and soft furnishings) in good light and with a good mirror so you can see where it's all going. With practice, you can get a full body tan application down to five minutes.

After application, wait ten minutes before you put on your clothes, to avoid staining them or streaking the tan. You can put on a loose dressing gown or an old, baggy t-shirt if you need to cover up.

Most tans take around two to four hours to develop; many of them continue to work overnight (even if you applied them earlier in the day), so you may wish to plan your tanning in advance if you are using it for a special occasion. You may find you need two to three applications for a deep colour; plan these in advance, as applying coats too quickly on top of each other can lead to uneven colour and flaking.

Once you have achieved the colour you like, a top-up application every four days or so should keep you golden. Remember to moisturise and exfoliate first to avoid patchy colour when topping up. Also remember, if you are using self-colour before heading out into the real sun, that fake tan does not provide protection against UVA or UVB rays unless the product specifically states that it contains sun protection. More information on sun exposure can be found in the Sensible Sun Exposure entry, and The American Academy of Dermatology who provide tips for staying safe in the sun.

Now you have your fake tanning guide (and your SPF if there is genuine sun in the sky), you have no excuse not to get out and glow!

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