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To self tan or not to self tan, and how to do it well

We all blame it on her, Coco, the tan.  But there she is, in more or less every shot, looking pale and interesting.  The less time and money we have sunning ourselves overseas, the more we look to other tanning options, but I’m not talking sun beds, here, rather the kind of brown that comes out of a bottle but is clearly not HP Sauce.  I won’t even give a cursory nod towards those alleged reality shows where the “stars” are head to foot jaffa orange, or a burnt shade of teak (I just did though), but I’d rather like to chat about our love of a tan.  And my own love of such which spans decades.

Before I get on to the subject of products, best and worst, I’d just like to say that aged 15 on holiday in Torremelinos, I copied my Belgian boyfriend and put olive oil on my legs.  I still bear the scar today in the shape of a large flat brown sunspot (yes I’ve had it checked), and I’m not proud of it, either.  I spend the next ten days with bandages on my shins for third degree burns.

As a British Airways long haul stewardess, I once flew the sumptuous Helena Christensen somewhere.  She sat modestly and make-up free in Club, drank a litre of water, pinned her hair up in a clip, wrapped herself in a blanket, and slept for the whole flight.  What I remember about her was that she looked like she was dipped in gold.  This is my aspiration.  Though if you look at my Avatar, I am clearly far from reaching such a lofty gold.

Last week, when cooking a dinner for my boss, a visiting Polish physiotherapist (after having imbibed two spoonfuls of coffee grounds – the kind you put in cafetieres – in hot water) said to me accusingly “You look tanned.”  Deadpan, just like that.  So I told her “Yes, sweetie, out of a bottle.” Her eyebrows shot up into her hairline somewhere.

I want to give you my top list of the best self-tanning products without going into the reasons why we aspire to the tan, or why the Japanese spend their monthly income on products to fade their skin to a whiter shade of pale.  There it is, who cares why?  But I’ll tell you how.

Number One: avoid spray tans unless it’s summertime.  I have had a couple, and my therapist would laugh her head off as she recounted how, even though one is told to wear “loose  clothes” for the after-part, several young enthusiasts try and wriggle themselves back into their skinny jeans.  I just think, well, that’s a waste of £25, isn’t it?  The spray tans are great but shockingly familiar in that you have to strip down and put on a teeny pair of black paper panties.  Think handkerchief.  It covers only what Eve covered on her exit from Eden.  I often pity the poor beauty therapist, smiles and jibes not allowed, as she sprays, straight-faced the aging forty something, making said client bend and stretch to ensure no white cracks appear.  Poor thing.  Who will see my white cracks anyway?  Not even me, should I be able in some kind of an alternate state, to lift my not inconsiderable buttocks to view the offending strip.

No, spray tans are strictly an emergency measure, ie, Oh Dear, ball dress is backless  and I look like a freshly landed trout, all pink and mottled.

But I may be doing myself a disservice and this leads me onto point number two.

Number Two; they all say cleanse, exfoliate and moisturise, but don’t.  This might be a way of selling more product, call me cynical, but I find that on a perfectly dry and unbathed skin, the self tan works great.  If the skin isn’t dry, it tends to slide off and take an age to dry.  I put talcum powder on before my foray into the tanning regime, and I bathe the next morning.  Admittedly, it can leave your bedroom smelling like biscuits, but that’s no bad thing.

Number Three: Get a self-tan outfit.  I have several.  Loose waisted bottoms, long, preferably and a loose fitting top, black, preferably.  Wash and wear.

Number Four:  put the product on like you mean it.  If it’s the Mississipi mud pie version, don’t be afraid, slather it on, and bathe the next morning.  All will be well.

Number five; My favourite self tanning products.  At this point I should say that I have several for all the different areas of my body.  But one will do beautifully.

Christian Dior Naturel – quick drying, you can use this for face and body.  Give it 20 minutes before putting your PJ’s on (clean the bathroom, vacuum the bedroom floor, scream at teen visitors “I’m busy!” otherwise they might find you naked)

St. Tropez – I’ve tried others, but this one is wonderful because although it goes on like mud, it dries to a really deep but natural tan.  Especially wonderful for limbs (if you use it on your face, that’s fine, but careful of your upper lip hair – wipe the product away from that area)

Tip: your hands.  It might seem hard to keep a natural look here, when the product seems to pool around knuckles, but I don’t put tan on my hands.  After I have done my legs, I wipe my hands behind my creamed knees, and I get a natural but tanned finish.  Easy.

Some of the cheaper tans are fine if you want to reapply every night – not all of us do.  To my mind it’s worth investing in a St Tropez or a ..

..Xen Tan- this deep tan is a lovely product which isn’t generally available on the high street but online (lookfantastic.com).  It smells great, goes on quick, fast to dry, and gives a lovely colour whatever the skin type.

I’m a very white skinned and freckled blonde, and even in the winter, I like to look a little sun kissed.  I avoid those moisturisers that promise a gradual tan, I just don’t find  them workable, they are somehow too greasy or too shiny to put on in the morning, and if it’s hot, they just seem to slide off and produce no colour whatever.

I even self tan in the winter, although no-one gets a peep at my body, of course.  And in the summer, I tend to wear cut off leggings, so my shins and feet are always a bit tanned.

There are some lovely spray tan products that you can use at home to colour your back – L’Oreal do a nice and inexpensive one.  You don’t need to rub this in at all, the mist is so fine that it covers the area really well, and who can reach backwards to their shoulder blades anyway.

My advice is to be unafraid and experiment, avoid the cheaper products if you possibly can, don’t worry about exfoliate and moisturise, it really doesn’t matter.  Avoid your hands, and your hairline (and upper lip).

Let me know how you get on!  My forearms are sticking to my keyboard at the moment.  Note to self: invest in some self tan pj’s (Johnnie Boden, why did you stop doing Yoga Pants?)

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