Best Ways to Fake a Tan

fake tan
Faking a tan helps protect your skin. See more makeup tips pictures.

Let’s face it - most people look better with a tan. I know I do (at least I think I do). You know how dark clothes make you look thinner? Well, I think dark skin has the same effect.

I miss those days of not caring about my skin and getting as brown as wood from just playing outdoors. But now I’m a fanatic about covering my face. My daily moisturizer has a 30 SPF and when I sit by the pool or on the beach I wear a hat, sunglasses and usually sit under an umbrella. And I try to remember to reapply lotion every few hours. And you should too.


According dermatologist Casey Gallagher, MD, sun exposure, the predominant source of ultraviolet radiation, is never healthy. “Based on recent reports, the International Agency for Cancer Research has elevated both ultraviolet radiation and tanning beds, which emit ultraviolet rays, to the highest level of cancer-causing agents,” Dr. Gallagher warns.

He says that while some people think of the sun as a good source of Vitamin D production, it’s much safer to take supplements.  And when it comes to over the counter tanning products or spray tans -- they pose no threats, unless you have an allergy to one of the ingredients.

Or an aversion to the smell. All sunless tanning products are made with DHA (dihydroxyacetone), which temporarily stains the skin surface and fades like a suntan does as skin cells are shed naturally. And they all have that stinky tanning solution smell, although some do a better job of masking it than others.

So, if you want to look like a bronze goddess (without wrinkles, brown spots or carcinogens) here are your options:

1) Professional Spray Tans

Pros: For the most even tan, with no blotches, streaks or funky colors, a pro, or custom, tan is the best way to go. Jimmy Coco, professional spray tanner to the stars (Eva Longoria-Parker, Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum to name a few), says two of the benefits of a professional spray tan is that it can correct tan lines and add body contouring (i.e. enhance the appearance of muscles and abs).  You can get a professional spray tan (a.k.a. airbrush tan) at many spas and salons.

Cons: It cost mucho dinero (about $75 to $100 a session) and does not last longer than the average week-long at-home treatment. And it’s not for the shy or timid since you have to get naked and have someone spray you everywhere.

2) Booth Spray Tans

Pros: These are a cheaper, and more private, alternative than a professional treatment (about $25 a session) with good even coverage and no tan lines. It’s like being in a car wash but instead of your car being sprayed with soap and water, you’re naked in a booth and sprayed with tanning solution. A shower cap protects your hair and creams are supposed to protect areas like elbows, knees and ankles to prevent them from getting too dark.

Cons: I’ve used a spray tan booth a few times and while I loved the no-tan line look, I always had problems with even coverage on my feet. Blotchy feet are not attractive in sandals.

3) Self-Tanners

Pros: Cheapest route and usually easy to use in the privacy of your own house. There are hundreds of these products on the market but lists Clarins Self Tanning Gel, Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer, and Neutrogena MicroMist Sunless Tanning Spray as the top three. It’s best to exfoliate first for a smooth, streak-free tan, and to experiment with shades. Test a small discreet part of your body to see which tone works best with your skin color.

Cons: How the heck are you going to reach your back? Although many of my friends rave about these products (Clarins in particular) I've always been too nervous to try for fear that I’ll miss a spot.

4) Makeup/Bronzers

Pros: Bobbi Brown says using makeup to give your skin that sun-kissed look is like “instant gratification.” Her advice for applying it is to “use a short, fluffy brush to apply bronzer where the sun naturally hits your face - your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin - and dust your neck and chest if you're wearing a bare top.” She also recommends gels or cream for a “dewy look.”

Cons: Bronzers are really only good for your face and chest.  Not so much for your body.

And although tanning beds used to be a popular way to fake a tan (remember when Kramer fell asleep in one on "Seinfeld"?), they've been shown to cause cancer so we'll just skip them as an option. 

To make your sunless tan last longer, Todd Beckman, owner of The Tan Company, offers this advice:

1) Wait at least four to six hours before showering or swimming

2) Use moisturizer daily

3) Avoiding exfoliation until your next session

4) Stay away from salt water and chlorine (Uh, isn’t going to the beach or pool the main reason you got a fake tan in the first place?)


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