Where would we be without the beauty godsend that is self-tanner? Pale, pasty, and possibly sickly-looking, that’s for sure. But like many beauty products, self-tanner can be a double-edged sword: Those skilled in application can achieve golden goddess status with one sweep of a self-tanning mitt, while others less apt are left with streaks and blotches (and—worst-case scenario—a telltale orangish hue). The whole point of self-tanner is to look like you aren’t wearing any, after all, yet so many variables (lack of time, lack of skill, and lack of patience) can contribute to a less-than-stellar final result. Cue the resigned sigh.
With this in mind, we recently caught up with charming and knowledgeable self-tanning master James Read at Violet Grey. As he filled us in on the latest launches from his eponymous bronzing line (the Tan Perfecting Enzyme Peel Mask, $22, and Tan Extending Sleep Serum, $45, sounded especially intriguing), we realized our opportunity and issued him a challenge: to go beyond the “exfoliate beforehand” guidance and surprise us with self-tanning advice we’ve never heard before. Well, Read delivered—and then some (no surprise, considering Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Ellie Goulding turn to him to get their glow on). From frozen peas to electric shavers, keep scrolling for nine life-changing self-tanning tips!
You may have heard that rubbing a lemon wedge over self-tanning streaks can lighten them up—but that definitely doesn’t apply to the skin on your face, which is much more sensitive and can react badly to that much acid (trust us… don’t do it). The solution? Read says to DIY a curdled milk mask. “Put a little lemon juice into some milk, then place a lemon wedge in,” Read says. “Leave it in for about an hour, allowing the milk to curdle and form a paste.” He explains that the lemons activate alpha-hydroxy acids in the milk, so you can put it on your face and leave it on for about 15 minutes. The result? A gentle DIY method to strip the tan off your face and leave you with a glowier complexion.
We know by now that ice should have a permanent place in our beauty routine—but did you know you can use it in your faux-bronzing regimen, too? “Before you tan, you can rub an ice cube over your face to seal your pores,” Read says. Then, pat dry with a tissue and apply your self-tanner. The ice cube temporarily constricts pores, so they look smaller and the self-tanner applies nicer and smoother.
A tanning mitt helps distribute product for a more even, natural-looking finish. But is your technique on point? Read suggests applying the product—whether it’s a mousse or lotion—onto the palm of your mitt and then clenching your hand so the mitt folds and the product presses into the top half of the mitt. Then, apply it to your body using only the top part of the mitt. “You’re diluting the tan and making it thinner,” he says. “This is especially important if you’re applying it to your face—this way, you’re lightly buffering the tan onto your face without it being too dark. Only small amounts are going on, and you’re only getting a thin layer.”
Another tip for smooth, silky-looking legs? Grab a packet of frozen peas and run them down your legs before applying a self-tanner like James Read’s Gradual Day Tan Body ($45). “This will seal the pores in your legs, so you don’t end up with those annoying dots after self-tanning,” he says.
In a perfect world, you would have someone who loved you enough to apply self-tanner to your naked back whenever you so needed. If this isn’t the case, you can still achieve an even, smooth tan on your backside—just get creative. Read says you can wrap a tan applicator mitt on the end of a wooden salad spoon or backscratcher and use that to apply the product, or even use a mini paint roller. “Take a paint roller, squeeze your product out into a bucket, then rub it over your back with the roller,” he says. “It makes it much easier to apply!” Looks like we’ll be heading to Home Depot for our next beauty run…