My First Spray Tan Was A Disaster But The Second Was Awesome: Here’s My Idiot’s Guide To Getting It Right

I didn’t even really want to look ‘tanned’ – just ‘well’, like I'd spent the weekend at my country pile or in Cannes or somewhere equally expensive.

May 13, 2013 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

I spent my childhood in Africa and as a result always assumed that the nut-brown tan I acquired playing out under the tropical sun was my natural skin colour. Not so. When we returned to England to live I faded until I became what E.M. Forster delightfully terms ‘pinko-grey’.

If I had a flawless, creamy, porcelain complexion rather than the sallow one twenty soggy English summers have given me, I probably wouldn’t bother with fake tan. But in an effort to recapture the sunkissed skin of my younger years, I’m willing to try anything.

That's how I ended up having a spray tan a few years ago and ended up BRIGHT orange. I love this photo because even though it's black and white, you can still see how fluorescent I am!

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Orange. Also, yay Blur!

I had to travel home positively glowing under the harsh lights of the Central Line looking like that - mortifying. I waited impatiently for it to fade so I could show my face in public again and shied nervously away from spray tans for years, until Friday, when St Tropez invited me down to the Corinthia Hotel to have one on them (St Tropez was the 'Official Skin Finishing partner' at the BAFTA TV awards last night - they did Sienna Miller and the awesome Olivia Colman!)

I was ushered into a swanky suite by St Tropez tanning expert Michaella and if you haven't had a spray tan before, this is how it went down:

There's no way to sugarcoat it - you have to strip down to your pants. You can wear paper knickers, keep your own on or go butt-naked. I kept my own on. This is when you should be VERY CLEAR about what you want. I told Michaella about my traumatic tango-tan experience and explained that I'd like something very subtle. I didn’t even really want to look ‘tanned’ – just ‘well’, like I'd spent the weekend at my country pile or in Cannes or somewhere equally expensive.

Apparently I'm not alone - clients (both famous and ‘regular’) aren’t asking for the mahogany-hued spray tans as much these days, opting instead of something lighter and more believable. I mean, everyone knows if you haven’t been on hols and we’ve had the bleakest winter in living memory so really, who would you be kidding, Malibu Barbie?

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Before and after the spray tan

She recommended St Tropez' new Sensitive range which is hypoallergenic and good for sensitive skin (dur!) as well as being safe for use by pregnant women. There’s no guide colour – just an iridescent sheen (so you can’t see where you’ve applied it as easily, and you don’t know the final shade it’s going to develop into until eight hours later).

You stand on some sticky feet pads in front of the tanning booth with your hair swooshed into a velco-fastening towel and assume several mildly ludicrous positions (I christened them “lunge” and “claws”). You are sprayed on the front, back and sides. The depth of the tan is determined by how many layers are applied - I think I had two to keep it super-light.

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St Tropez tanning expert Michaella with her booth and her spray gun!

Then Michaella did her signature move – removing excess tanner from the surface of the skin by gently but thoroughly buffing. This was done primarily to get rid of that horrid sticky feeling which makes putting your clothes back on particularly unpleasant, but also to work the product into the skin for a more subtle, natural finish.

I was instructed to avoid water for the next eight hours, much like a gremlin, and off I went. There’s no denying there is a smell, but it’s not that creepy digestive biscuit odour of ye olde self tanners – this is more suntan lotion mixed with men’s aftershave and I’m kind of down with that. In fact, I grew quite, if not fond of, then at least accustomed to the smell and when it faded, I rather missed it.

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Clothed again (check out my new trainers!)

I slightly broke the rules and showered before bed, but it was a relief to see the brown water disappearing down the plughole rather than rubbing all over my sheets. By the morning the tan had developed fully and I love it. I really do. My skin has reached the golden colour it usually gets after five days on a beach holiday – right before the moment when I recklessly decide to go for the burn and fry myself to a blistered crisp (happens every time, never learn.)

You can get the Sensitive range as a mousse, lotion, face product and as a spray tan in salons. I was given the Tan Enhancing Moisturiser to take home with me and I've been slathering it on diligently ever since.

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Next day: NOT ORANGE!

What I hadn't really realised before was that a tan can be used almost like an accessory, to enhance a particular aesthetic.

Flicking through the SS/13 St Tropez catwalk review I saw how different techniques had been used to achieve vastly different effects, from the burnished bronze skin you'd see on the beach in Rio at Issa, to House of Holland's Californian geek "reluctant, freckled tan" (I think this what I went for) and skin with an almost 3D holographic effect, like the gleaming flanks of a spaceship at Erdem. It was fascinating.

One benefit to a spray tan is that it disguises imperfections; I have lots of tiny red veins on my face and no facial under the sun is ever going to get rid of them, so I don’t like to go out without some kind of tinted moisturiser or foundation on. A spray tan doesn’t disguise them completely, but their visibility is definitely diminished to the point where I’ll happily go out bare-faced. (You can prize my eyebrow pencil from my cold, dead hands though, soz.)

Oh (and you know this matters to me), your teeth look whiter with a tan too!

Have you ever had a fake tan disaster? Got any more tanning tips? Share!