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The glow guide: how to fake tan the right way according to an expert

Here's how to get sun-kissed, streak-free limbs from home

Close up studio shot of a beautiful natural blonde woman. Natural sunlight.© svetikd
Orin Carlin
Content Writer
March 28, 2023
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'Tis the season to ditch the tights and bare our legs – here's how you can get ahead.

Peeling off our trusty layers and being blindsided by pallid, ashy limbs is at odds with our spring 2023 vibe. Many of us could do with a dash of help in the sun-kissed department and in the absence of any actual rays, fake tan is worth its weight in beauty gold.

MORE: Body makeup for party-ready radiant skin – tips & tricks according to red carpet makeup artist Kelly Dawn

READ: 34 fake tans to make you look like you've been on holiday even if you haven't

Whether you're a die-hard glow-getter or a total fake tan novice, you're in luck. Formulas these days have come on leaps and bounds since their biscuity-smelling (that's a technical term, I think you'll find), orange-hued predecessors, and so the illusion of sumptuous, supermodel skin is merely within a (bronzed) arm's reach.

Hello! Fashion caught up with celebrity tanning expert James Harknett to find out how you can get sun-kissed, streak-free limbs from home:

Skin preparation

 Step 1 – Exfoliation

 "As my clients have become more skincare aware, it's more common for them to be really well-versed in the benefits of thorough exfoliation," James says. "However, it's really important to stress that over-exfoliation is unhelpful, as it damages the skin's precious barrier function."

"Effective exfoliation also depends on your skin type, age and levels of sensitivity. In terms of ongoing, gentle exfoliation, there are some wonderful products designed for the body that can be used a couple of times a week (but not within 24 hours of tanning) which really target areas of concern.

RELATED: 22 best tanning drops for your face to get your glow on

MORE: Cream vs. Powder Bronzer: Which is best for your skin type?

"Beauty Pie's Youthbomb Body 360° Repair Concentrate is a new addition to the market, and contains a patented retinol ingredient which, combined with AHA, Vitamin B3 and a blend of moisturisers and soothing agents, promotes a firmer, brighter skin finish. When you use any product with an active ingredient, it's very important to remember to use an SPF the next day, whatever the weather.

"For manual exfoliation, I always return to Clarins' Exfoliating Body Scrub as natural bamboo powders are soothing and non-oily, sloughing away dead skin cells easily. When you are preparing to tan, it's key to keep oily products away from the skin, as they do not support the best finish. Pay attention to areas that you feel are driest, including ankles, knees and elbows. I encourage my clients to really get to know their own skin, as no two clients are identical, and with exfoliation, I always err on the side of caution: it is better to start off gently."

Clarins Exfoliating Body Scrub
Clarins Exfoliating Body Scrub

Step 2 – Moisturising

"I tend to recommend serums which contain active ingredients - when it comes to body moisturisers I usually find that keeping it simple is best," James advises. "Skin which is well moisturised via your daily skincare routine is always the most receptive to a tanning treatment - keeping it in tip-top condition at all times counts."

"Before tanning, use an oil-free body moisturiser. St. Tropez's Prep & Maintain Tan Enhancing Moisturiser is a tried-and-tested treatment that is specially designed to be used both before your tanning treatment, and afterwards to maintain optimum results. After exfoliating, and showering, apply by sweeping a small amount over drier areas so that tan gently glides, rather than create darker, obvious patches."

St. Tropez Prep & Maintain Tan Enhancing Moisturiser
St. Tropez Prep & Maintain Tan Enhancing Moisturiser

Step 3 – Hair removal 

"This depends on an individual's choice of hair removal method. If you wax, then I would wait at least 48 hours before you use any type of self-tanning product or treatment. Again, it is important to treat skin gently and with great care. If you shave, do so 24 hours before you tan. If you shave right before, then some of the tanning product can settle into pores, creating an unsightly spotted effect."

The tanning process

Step 1 – Finding the right shade

"The tanning industry has become so sophisticated in providing a whole range of textures and shade choices," James says. "Also, clients demand a whole tanning wardrobe now, depending on a range of factors including the time of year, the type of occasion and their own instinct for what looks best on them."

"I would say for most tanners, it's always best to stick closely to the shade of your skin before it may have been in the sun. To go from being very pale, for example, to deeply bronzed, is challenging to achieve and in 2023 looks a little old-fashioned, too. Fake Bake's Flawless range of self-tanners is perfect as it contains a natural colour guide so you can see where you are applying the product. Fake Bake's Flawless Self-Tan Liquid is foolproof for paler to medium-toned skins, and its spritz-on formula is easy to glide on. Fake Bake's Flawless Darker is the same formula, but with a darker tanning agent. It is ideal for olive or deeper-toned complexions. With time and experience, you will work out which one suits you best."

Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan Liquid
Fake Bake Flawless Self-Tan Liquid

Step 2 – Formula is king

 "I would start off with a gradual tanner just so you can get used to what shade and formulation suits your skin - it is far easier to build up a tan than dial one down!" James advises. "I am really loving the Three Warriors range from Australia, and its Gradual Tan is beautifully subtle with a buildable texture. Its certified organic formula is nutrient-rich and contains soothers to lock in hydration as your gradual tan gently develops."

Three Warriors Aqua Mist
Three Warriors Aqua Mist

Step 3 – Tools of the trade  

"Over time, experienced tanners build confidence in which textures suit their needs, and also which applicators work best with their skills. Some tanners are happy to just apply glove-to-skin with tans which have cream or mousse formulas, as they glide on so easily. For more liquid formulas, tanning mitts are a fantastic method of application. Most tanning ranges feature a tanning mitt of some form, and I really like Coco & Eve's Soft Velvet Tan Mitt which has a thumb and duo-sided texture. It's really important to wash your mitt after each use. For a really professional finish, the Tandi Tanning Brush can be used to sweep and blend your tanning product on areas which traditionally are harder to get right such as the hands and feet."

Coco & Eve Soft Velvet Self-Tan Mitt
Coco & Eve Soft Velvet Self-Tan Mitt

Step 4 - The perfect application

"Once you have prepped and prepared, it's time to tan. My first tip is to set time aside and tan mindfully, which means no distractions; it is the perfect excuse for some pampering rather than sprinting to get the job done."

"Make sure your hair is firmly secured away from your face and that your protective gloves are under any applicator you are using. I start with the feet and work upwards using sweeping upwards movements, rather than circular ones. Gently skim drier areas like ankles, knees and elbows."

 "I often get asked if I use a separate facial tanner, and the answer is often. After any tanning treatment, the colour tends to fade from our faces first so a product like Three Warriors' Aqua Mist can be used to keep your facial tan glowing and hydrated. This pure, fine mist is so natural, without clogging the pores."

Three Warriors Gradual Tan
Three Warriors Gradual Tan

Step 5 – Aftercare

"Immediately after tanning, wear loose dark clothing. If you can, avoid anything with elasticated waists or features," James says. "You want to avoid anything that will interfere with your tan developing, so bathing or exercising can be left to when your shade has fully revealed itself. The best tip is to get a good night’s sleep and wake up looking refreshed and golden."

"Once you wake up with the perfect tan, the two steps which can then undo your hard work are long, hot baths and oil-based body products. Both will lead to uneven, patchy skin which is exactly what you don't want when your skin is glowing and even. Stick to warm, short showers, reach for your oil-free moisturisers, as well as all-important SPF products," James says. "Then you are good to go to enjoy your glow."

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