How can I get a natural-looking sunless tan? Ask The Kit
“So the clocks have changed, spring clothes are in the stores, I’m thinking about a beach vacation and soon I’ll start to show a bit of skin — calves, at least. But I’m not feeling very ‘glowing.’ I’m loyal to SPF 50 but for the first time in two years, I’m thinking of trying some self-tanning. I used to get spray tans all the time, to go to special events, and when I travelled. Can I achieve those results myself” — Wan in Oshawa
Thank you, Wan, for including a Public Service Announcement about SPF, and for your commitment to getting your tan on without the sun damage part. Now that we have that covered, it is full-steam onward to the fun part: the products, techniques and tricks that make the most Beautiful People even more beautiful. It is Awards Season (all these capital letters are, indeed, intentional), and thus we are in the middle of a red carpet parade of celestial celebrity limbs that have definitely been bathed in high-end self-tanner by an army of skilled experts.
Emily Bloom is one such Master Sunless Artist, who trained in L.A. and Miami and apprenticed with Jimmy Coco, the Kardashians’ go-to tan artist. Bloom operated the buzzy Bronzed by Bloom on Queen West in Toronto but pivoted during the pandemic to training tanning artists and is currently working on creating “the cleanest” pro sunless tanning product.
The look these days, on both the red carpet and requested near universally by clients, says Bloom, is very subtle and natural. “Self-tanner and spray tans are for everyone, with every skin tone,” she says.
Though the typical industry image is of a white woman in a bikini, Bloom says in fact the customer base is very broad indeed. Many men are clients. “Customers with darker skin are looking to even out skin tone and enhance their skin with a glowing, more even-textured appearance,” says Bloom. A spray tan is also a great way to blend stretch marks and scars on any skin tone.
The real benefit of a spray or self-tanner is emotional, Bloom says. “It is instant confidence and a mood boost.” If you’re travelling, she recommends getting a spray tan just before you get on the plane, explaining that the colour you see on your skin at first is actually just cosmetic; the tanning process takes time to develop. (You have to shower it off, either four or eight hours after application, depending on instructions from your spray tan artist.) By the time you land, you will look sun-kissed, like you have spent three days in the sun.
When you get a spray tan by an artist in a salon — or in your home, if you are nominated for an Oscar, say — the skill of the pro is what you are really paying for (this costs an average $50 to $75 for a tan that will last seven to 10 days; up to $250 for a home visit). Bloom says a soft spray is preferable, as it offers more control and can be adjusted for areas like elbows and knees, hands and feet, which need significantly less product or you get that weird, orangey look, as well as streaks and globs of misplaced product.
When it comes to DIY application, use a light hand as well. “You don’t need a huge amount. When applying at home, you only go orange if you use too much,” she advises. “For hands, feet, especially wrists, use less product.” You can build up a little extra product on places that naturally get more sun than others, such as the shoulders. Then you’re good to go. “If a spray tan or home tan is done properly, it should just fade away, without the residue or cracking and splotches you used to see,” she says.
As for body contouring, that is a trend Bloom is happy to see wane. “It was all the rage for a time,” she says. “Celebrity tanners were drawing on abs or accentuating leg and arm muscles.” While she co-signs specific applications for this — airbrushed abs for a professional swimsuit photo shoot, for instance — she doesn’t advise trying this at home.
Product-wise, Bloom has always used her own professional brand for spray tanning, which has very low DHA. DHA, which can have a strong smell, is a three-molecule sugar created through natural fermentation. When applied to the skin, it reacts with amino acids on the dermis (the surface layer of the skin). It is safe in concentrations of 3 to 5 per cent, which is what is usually found in professional and over-the-counter self-tanners.
If you’re looking for a tanning product to use at home, Bloom advises scanning the ingredients list, avoiding alcohol (which, she says, can be drying). She says you can find products that are vegan and cruelty-free. Bloom likes formulas by Coola and Tan Luxe.
In general, this is not a product to scrimp on: Good formulations cost more. And it might take a little trial and error to find the perfect product. Bloom advises trying a new product on a small area before applying it all over. “Follow instructions for this one: Do a test strip!” she says. “If you make a mistake, you could be orange for a week.”
Shop the advice
Here are expert-approved self-tanning products to achieve a subtle, sun-kissed glow at home.
Tan-Luxe The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops, $79, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
Master Sunless Tan Artist Emily Bloom recommends this formula for evening-out skin texture and adding a customizable, subtle glow to all skin tones.
Coola Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Face Serum, $75, well.ca SHOP HERE
Another shout-out from our tan expert Bloom, this face self-tanner serum does double-duty with anti-aging ingredients like Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.