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Spray tans are my favorite beauty secret. Sure, they're not exactly a secret at this point—but they're an incredibly easy way to add a little glow and contour to your body without it being too obvious. I often joke that it's dangerous to go shopping with a spray tan, but it's true, as it somehow makes everything look (and feel) better.
However, self-tanner can get messy and usually ends up on my clothes, bed linens, towels, and even sometimes the furniture. So, what's dumbfounding to me is how celebrities keep all that in check. They get sprayed hours before hitting a red carpet where they squeeze into samples that have to be returned and hug other celebrities in white dresses. How is this possible? When I get a spray tan, I have to wear black for the first two days to save my light clothing from stains. And then there are the pristine, neutral-colored couches the Kardashian family sits on in every episode. How (seriously, how?) do they not leave tan marks all over those expensive love seats? I needed answers.
I reached out to Sophie Evans, St. Tropez skin finishing expert and my go-to for all things tan, as well as Carolina Gonzalez, the makeup artist behind Behati Prinsloo's bronzy look at the Met Ball (she used self-tanner as makeup, and now I can't stop thinking about it), and Jamie Greenberg, a celebrity makeup artist and spray-tanner who works with Kristen Stewart and Rashida Jones. So I trust they know the secrets I'm looking for.
Wear Self-Tanner as Makeup
"Self-tanner is great because, unlike bronzer, you don't have to keep applying," explains Greenberg. "Your whole makeup routine is easier if you have self-tanner on—you don't have to do as much makeup to achieve a healthy glow. VersaSpa Bronzing Mist ($45) is moisturizing and gives instant gratification."
Gonzalez adds, "A self-tan lasts longer than makeup! So that's one reason. But it's actually less about bronzing the skin and more about perfecting the skin—giving a bit of color to warm it up and even the skin tone while hiding any redness, dark marks, visible veins, and even cellulite. For those who don't want to use self-tanner, St. Tropez One Night Only collection, which is a wash-off formula and has no DHA, can really last you through an event. It has special technology so that it won't smudge if you brush up against something, or when you sweat, or if you spill a drink. It looks completely natural, so no one knows it’s a body bronzer, they just think it's your skin. And that's the whole point, isn't it?
"On the face, you can get away with less foundation or even no foundation with a nice glow, so it makes my job as a makeup artist much easier. It's the same for the body. When I did Behati's makeup for the Met, she was going to be wearing white, so it was important to warm up her skin a bit and give her a sun-kissed glow. The One Night Only Finishing Body Gloss ($25) was perfect to provide a hint of color and a subtle sheen. The result was gleaming, healthy skin that looked gorgeous with her white dress (and didn't rub off on it)."
Let it Dry (Fully)
"St. Tropez formulas dry in 60 seconds and will not stain sheets," notes Evans. "The self-tan takes eight hours to fully develop, so I recommend tanning before bed and sleeping in dark clothing."
Gonzalez likes to give it a bit more time, just to be safe. "Give it time to dry, five minutes should do the trick. I like the St. Tropez Tan Applicator Mitt ($7) best for the body, but for your face, apply with a kabuki brush, a makeup sponge, or with your fingers in circular and patting motions."
When using self-tanner, make sure you apply a barrier between your skin and trigger spots like elbows and heels. Applying a moisturizer or oil keeps the tan from sticking to these areas.
"If you want even more peace of mind, you can also use a fixer spray to set the tan." My personal favorite is Kiko Milano Makeup Fixer ($7) but Evans swears by an old-school, super heavy-duty fixing spray only sold in beauty supply shops.
Stay Put During the Development Period
"During the development time of the self-tan, refrain from heavy sweating and gym sessions," Evans says. "Sweat can not only cause staining, but it can wreck your tan during the development stage. If you are scared of sweating, use baby powder to keep the skin dry and the tan in place. Once the tan has developed, and the first shower has happened, the self-tanner will not transfer at all."
She continues, "Your skin is the canvas and the tan is the paint—make sure you have the best canvas to work on. Exfoliate well beforehand with a scrub that is non-oil based. Oil can leave residue on the skin that can interfere with the self-tan development. The best time to exfoliate is actually approximately eight hours before self-tan application."
A self-tan will work off the pH balance of the skin. Exfoliating and washing eight hours before will allow your pH to neutralize for maximum development.
"Make sure all your waxing and hair removal is done about 24 hours beforehand, this will allow the hair pores to close so that the tan doesn't settle in and create a pitted look. Avoid heavy body lotions on the day of your spray tan as this can interfere with the tan development as well. When you're applying, remember you can never use too much self-tan, as the skin can only absorb a certain amount of the tanning agent. Always use enough product to glide the tan on effortlessly with speed and zero force. That will help it stay put after the color has developed and your tan has formed."
Next up: three hacks for getting rid of your lingering spray tan.