The 9 commandments of self-tanning
The healthiest tan comes from a cream. Or a spray bottle. Or, basically, anything that isn’t the sun itself, since ultraviolet rays cause premature skin aging and (much more concerningly) cancer. So if you’re going for bronze this summer, self-tanner is the way to go. RHW is a fan of self-tan, too; she frequently relies on professional spray tan artist James Read for her red carpet glow. And while nabbing a session with him is next to impossible, we’ve got the next best thing for you: self-tan secrets straight from the man himself. —Annie Tomlin
Choose your method
Mists, sprays, oils, creams—all are effective, so choose the self-tan that is easiest for you. “The whole trend is all about lifestyle tanning, products that allow you to go along with your everyday business,” Read says. He’s particularly proud of his Coconut Water Tan Mist, which dries quickly enough to allow you to get dressed right away.
Respect your skin tone
“A tan should work with your look, not overpower it,” Read says. “If you use self-tan right, it’s about enhancing your own color.” So, for example, people with porcelain skin should aim for tawny, not deep bronze. On that note, self-tanner complements a variety of skin tones, not just fair ones. “Some people with dark skin think they can’t tan,” Read notes, “but it brings a really nice glow to the skin.”
But first, selfie
“A common mistake people make is forgetting to test a tan to see if it’s for them,” Read says. He advises doing a patch test to gauge whether a formula flatters your skin tone. Here’s how: Apply a small amount on an inconspicuous place, then wait for it to develop. Snap a picture with the flash on. “You’ll see if it suits you, and if the tan is orange, the camera will show that, too,” Read says.
Exfoliate, then moisturize
Rough skin is the culprit behind uneven, patchy tan. So, 24 hours before applying your self-tanner, exfoliate from head to toe and shave or wax if you like. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to avoid oil-based scrubs. “People say oil affects the tan,” Read says. “It doesn’t. Small amounts are fine the day before, because it dries anyway—and it makes the skin even more supple and hydrated.” After exfoliating, moisturize dry areas such as hands, feet, elbows, and knees. There, you’re ready now.
Layer your tan
Read swears by layering smaller amounts of product rather than applying everything at once. “When I’ve tanned Rosie, it’s in really fine layers,” he says. “She then goes out with it on, so it looks natural.” Another bonus: This method leads to faster drying, so you’ll actually save time in the long run.
Cover every inch
For hard-to-reach places like your back, wrap a tanning mitt around a wooden spoon and secure it with a rubber band. Boom—there’s your applicator. (Read confesses that in a pinch, he’s also used a mini paint roller.)
Watch your hands
“When you look at your hand, it should look glowy—you don’t want to see lines between the fingers,” Read says. After using a tanning mitt to apply self-tan to your arms, use the leftover product on the mitt on your hands. By never applying directly to your hands, you’ll produce the most realistic tan. (The same technique goes for legs and feet. Now you know!)
Make it last
Moisturize your skin daily to keep your faux glow going, consider using an electric razor to avoid shaving off your tan, and don’t reapply self-tanner until the existing tan has faded first. “A lot of people keep putting new tan on top of an old one, but then it gets patchy,” Read says. As your color begins to fade, do as many of his clients do: Use a wash-off tan to keep the tone even. Then, self-tan all over again.
Repeat this mantra
Even if you harbor dreams of achieving a Malibu Barbie level of bronze, start slow. “Less is always more with self-tan,” Read says. Adding another layer is easy; frantically scrubbing off excess self-tan is not. Go forth and self-tan accordingly.
Pool and model photographs courtesy of James Read.