Growing up, I got sunburnt A LOT. My sister and brother both got my dad’s beautiful olive skin and I took after my mum, who despite being Italian, has pale skin and freckles. At the end of summer holidays, my siblings always looked like they’d spent a few weeks in the Bahamas with a gorgeous, deep tan and I looked more like a haggard roast chicken – a blistery, peeling mess. Back in the 80’s, long before we were fully aware of the damage the sun could do to your skin, sunscreen wasn’t always the top priority. As the years went on, I would solarium myself to get my base colour going, and then bake myself in the sun. God knows I’ll pay for this at some point, but back in the 90’s and early 2000’s when I was in my late teens and early twenties, all I cared about was how good a tan made me look and feel and although I NEVER lay in the sun anymore, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still love the look of a tan. I just don’t want to look like a leather handbag by the time I’m 40 or worse, risk skin cancer.
So this summer, I devoted myself to giving fake tan a really good crack. And you know what? I think I’ve almost nailed it. But gee whiz it’s TRICKY business. There are so many things to consider – from finding the base colour that suits your skin best (FYI, there are three – Ash, Violet and Green) to the best application method, there’s a lot that goes into getting your fake tan looking as natural as possible. There are loads of tips and tricks you probably already know, but here are the ones that I find work best and you mightn’t have heard a thousand times before.
Tackle hair removal the day before: No matter what your hair removal method, do it at least 24 hours prior to laying on the tan. If you shave and then immediately go in with your self-tanner, you’re likely to wind up with spotty legs from where the tan has settled into the open follicles. Skin can also be sensitive after waxing or shaving, so waiting for that to settle before applying product is definitely a wise idea. Personally, I like to run an epilator (I use Braun’s Silkepil) over my legs so I can tackle those little hairs as soon as they spring up in between tans.
Scrub that skin!: We all know it. There’s NOTHING more important to getting a good fake tan than exfoliating your skin. If you don’t get an even base to begin with, you’ll almost definitely end up with a patchy tan. I start with a fairly gentle exfoliation in the few days prior and then the day before, go hell for leather with an exfoliating mitt (I like the Tan Off one) and scrub like I’ve just been exposed to chemicals at a nuclear power plant. Pay extra attention to scrubbing your knees, ankles, feet, hands and elbows. Don’t forget your face, but obviously be gentle. I love Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys. I then smother myself in moisturiser and then the next day while showering, exfoliate again with the gentler side of my mitt just prior to tanning.
Choose your body wash carefully: If you’re using a body wash or exfoliating scrub prior to tanning, make sure it’s an oil-free formulation. Scrubs and washes with that are oil-based will leave a film on your skin and therefore create a barrier, making an uneven tan a real possibility.
Tackle those rough areas: Just prior to tanning, apply an oil-free and fragrance-free lotion to the rougher areas of your skin that are likely to ‘grab’ the tan more than the rest of your skin. Knees, elbows, hands, ankles and feet are the usual suspects. Slap it on to those areas generously so that when you slide your tan over them, they’ll glide over the surface distributing just the right amount of colour.
The best application tools: Ok, so we all know you can’t just slap on fake tan with your bare hands, that is unless you fancy palms that look like they’ve been immersed in Cheese and Bacon Balls all day long. So you’ve really got three choices – gloves, a mitt or both. While the most popular choice is a mitt, I’d suggest really considering gloves. They’ve GOT to be tight though, because if you use ill-fitting, saggy gloves, you’re gonna be in trouble. I just find that gloves give me more control to really blend the tan in and get into all those little nooks and crannies. Plus, when that mitt slips around and gets bunched up it drives me bananas.
My absolute, can’t-tan-without tool though is a big, fluffy make up brush (or even a Kabuki brush is great) for blending. This is seriously the biggest game-changer for self-tan lovers. I work in smallish sections, so once I’ve got one area covered, such as my thighs, I then go over the area with my big fluffy brush to make sure it’s all blended and even. A brush will change the way you tan. I promise. More on this further down.
Start from the bottom: Most of us need to sit, or at the very least bend over, when doing our feet and lower legs. If you start from the top, your freshly applied tan is going to rub against your other body parts and potentially smudge it. Start from your feet and work upwards to avoid this.
Wrists, hands, ankles and feet: Blending seamlessly from the wrists to the hands and ankles to feet takes loads of practice but once you get it, it’s like winning the tanning lottery. Here’s how I do it:
– Moisturise hands, bringing a bit of the moisturiser up into the wrist area.
– When tanning your forearms, stop short of your wrists and then grab a densely packed buffing brush and buff the excess forearms tan down onto your wrists. Go sparingly onto hands and build up in super light layers if needed
– When doing fingers, go really easy and hold them in a claw shape so the tan covers the creases.
– Then take your big, fluffy brush and go over them again, making sure to focus on the entire wrist area, tops of hands and down to the fingers and in between them.
– Just remember, don’t try feel you need to have your hands and feet as dark as the rest of you. As a general rule, even with a natural tan, these areas are a little lighter.
Rear view: I’m not gonna lie, I get one of my kids to do this. I have bought a back applicator, but I reckon they’re pretty shitty to be honest. If you can’t get someone to help you, you can DIY one by tying your mitt to the head of a long-handled body brush with a hair tie or elastic band. You don’t have to get it totally perfect, just make sure all your skin is covered and it should wash off ok.
Face forward: While most brands have a designated facial formula, I just use my regular fake tan on my face. I use a cotton bud and run some moisturiser through my eyebrows and along my hair line to stop the tan from staining those areas – essential if you’re blonde. I never use a mitt, or even my gloves for this. I pump out a small amount of tanner onto my dense buffing brush and buff it in, working on half my face at a time. Again, I go in after it’s all covered with my big, fluffy brush to make sure it’s all even and blended. Don’t forget your ears!
Your face is one of the first places to lose you tan, so on the second day, I start applying a facial gradual tanner to keep the colour
– Run a cotton bud through your eyebrows one more time to remove excess. If you have any dry patches on your face, or even a zit or two, gently run over those areas with a dry cotton bud to remove excess tan that may grab those areas.
– Take a baby wipe or make-up remover towelette and rub over your palms to make sure no little errand bits of tan have made their way there.
– If you’ve noticed the tan has clung to any dry bits, such as your knees, take a teensy bit of moisturiser on a dry towel and gently buff over the area that is too dark. You’ve got a bit of play time immediately after applying, so it should lift off nice and easily. Go in with your fluffy brush and work over the area to re-blend.
– Your hairdryer is your best friend! Once you’re happy with your tan, set your hairdryer to cool and use it dry over your tan. Pay particular attention to areas that are prone to getting sweaty or rubbing together. For me, this is 100% the underboob area. Definitely focus on the crook of your elbow too- that’s notorious for a bit of tan-smudge.
– If you’re really hot and sweaty, apply baby powder with a brush to those areas prone to creasing to keep them dry.
– If you have somewhere to go and you’ve found an area you’re not happy with, don’t freak out. This is where a wash-off version of your fave tan is a lifesaver. Apply to dry skin and it’s almost a magic eraser for any bits that are NQR and will also give an added boost of colour. Plus, it’s way easier to apply than regular fake tan.
– STAY AWAY FROM WATER!
AFTER CARE AND MAINTENANCE:
The best body wash: Try and steer clear of using soap, as it’s harsh and could start to eat away at your tan, as will anything oil-based. I like to use soap on the areas that need it and then use sorbolene cream for everywhere else. I like Hydroderm, which is actually a soap substitute when applied to wet skin and will give your skin an extra moisture boost.
The non-sticky moisturiser I swear by: I HATE applying moisturiser. I hate the feeling of it on my skin and I extra hate how it feels when I’m getting dressed BUT I have found an awesome one that is hydrating and dries super quick. It’s St Ives Deep Restoring 24hr Moisture Lotion and it is the best. I use it every morning after my shower. If you hate moisturiser, this is your gal.
GENTLE exfoliation: You don’t want to go in hard, but you do need to get rid of the skin that starts to build up. I like to use one of those puffy loofah things that are two bucks from Woolies with a gentle hand – it’ll remove any surface skin without stripping your tan.
Gradual tan top-up: This works a charm. On day three, I start using a gradual tanner on top of my self tan to keep it looking fresh. I also do this on my face with a facial gradual tanner. I do both at night about an hour before bed and because gradual tanners are highly moisturising, this can work as your night time moisturiser too.
The best removal method: Look, it’s annoying, but you’ve GOT to get rid of every scrap of that old tan before you start fresh again. It’s just the rule. Soak in a bath or sit under a warm shower for a bit to soften the skin and then it’s time to scrub, scrub, scrub. I like using a body scrub and my exfoliating mitt and Model Co Tan Remover is my fave. There’s something weirdly satisfying about seeing all that skin and colour flake off. I love it.
Now, it’s time to start all over again.
What’s your best ever tanning tip?
We had such a great chat with Lisa Wilkinson On the Couch, which you can now listen to in podcast form below. Don’t forget to check out our podcast channel and if you like, subscribe here.