If an anthropologist were to analyse modern society’s relationship with fake tan, it’s highly likely their verdict would be “rocky”. Although its first rather dubious iteration, Coppertone, launched in the US in the Sixties, it wasn’t until the Seventies that DHA (the ingredient responsible for turning skin bronze) was approved for use in cosmetic products and the market boomed, just as the links between skin cancer and extreme sun exposure were coming to light. Since then, fake tan has gone in and out of fashion as often as brow shapes. Over the past few years, haunted by radioactive orange British reality TV stars, patchy coverage and that tell-tale biscuity smell, bottles of self-tan were relegated to the back of bathroom cabinets right next to the bust creams and spray-on nail polishes that never quite caught on.

But the tide has turned and tanning is now firmly back on the beauty agenda. Even better, it now offers enhancement to everyone, from the very fairest to the darkest complexions. Maybe it’s because we’ve grasped the importance of an hourly slather of SPF30, so a sun-induced tan has fallen out of favour. Or perhaps it’s down to the s/s 2017 catwalks, where limbs coated in sheeny veils of realistic-looking tan strutted down the runways at Calvin Klein, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi and Sophia Webster. But right now, the renaissance comes down to one key element: product innovation.

Tanning is firmly back on the beauty agenda because of one key element: product innovation 

A decade of research, investment and big breakthroughs means tanning products finally boast a range of shades that are more believable than ever; quick (and reliable) instant formulations plus targeted solutions for getting tricky face tanning just right. It might just be time to explore the tanning arena once more…

Authentic shades

Fake tan’s fall from grace is, for many, down to the orange factor: the fear of looking more tangerine than tanned goddess. But new technology means anyone can now find a just-back-from-Formentera glow in a bottle.

Where traditional formulas relied solely on synthetic forms of DHA to give skin a bronze hue, this new age of tanning realism relies on an optimum mix of DHA and balancing extracts. Sisley is leading the way with a self-tan range powered by erythrulose, a chemical compound that softens the effect of the DHA. “Less than two hours after application, DHA brings an orange-yellowish coloration to the skin, but after 20-24 hours erythrulose gives a more uniform and less orange colour to the skin,” explains José Ginestar, director of research and development at Sisley.

Where old-school fake tan formulas also did themselves an injustice wastheir exclusivity. Firmly the realm of women with mid-range skintones, paler complexions were fearful the colour transition would be too obvious, while darker-skinned women weren’t sure that self-tan would make a difference. But now the doors have been well and truly flung open as brands expand their offering to include formulas suited to all skintones.

To some, tanning darker skin may seem a little pointless, but it’s not necessarily about deepening colour. “The colour change might not be as obvious, but a tan has the ability to bring out warmer tones in the skin and to conceal discoloration, lift dullness and banish any grey undertones,” says tanning expert Jules Von Hep.

Vita Liberata has extended its range in both directions, adding a light and a dark shade to its Body Blur line (£29.95 each). Like a tinted moisturiser for the entire body, the Latte Light shade is made up of subtle golden pigments that look truly believable on even the lightest of pallors, while Mocha includes red pigments that negate any ashiness found in darker skin, adding a warmth as flattering as Instagram’s Valencia filter. Better still, the creamy formula contains blurring particles that will disguise visible veins on the back of the legs and any pesky blemishes across the back.

For customisable colour, think of Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Boosters (from £20) as the cordial of the tanning world, containing highconcentration tanning agents which work on pale skins as well as Asian and black skintones. The best part is that they put the control completely in your hands: add just one or several drops to your existing face or body lotion depending on the shade you’re looking to achieve. On fair skin, Stylist recommends one drop for a tan that suggests a weekend spent at your local lido or three for a week in Tulum. Darker complexions can take more, so apply a couple of drops daily for skin that looks a little perkier and well rested than usual.

High-tech your tan

Speed things up

The other obstacle that has cordoned off the world of quality fake tan for so long is time. With less spare time to spend on our beauty regimes than ever, the conventional tanning process has been far too laborious for busy modern women to attempt. There’s the extensive body prep for starters: hair removal should be done 24 hours in advance and an intense session with a loofah is a must, as exfoliating dead skin cells is the only way to ensure an even application. And then there’s the downtime afterwards. Many traditional formulas require at least eight hours of development time before you wash it off and can finally face the world again. Frankly, most of us would rather put in the hours in front of House Of Cards. “Multitasking modern women want beauty buys that are as hardworking as they are, which makes multi-purpose products that can be used with speed and ease the holy grail of tanning,” explains Ruth Newman, director of beauty for House of Fraser.

On paper, gradual tanners are the gold standard in quick and convenient tanning, but until now, their overall finish and wishywashy colour has felt lacklustre. Elemis Total Glow Bronzing Body Lotion, £35, is set to change that. A one-stop shop of sturdy but subtle tanning pigments alongside a skin-smoothing concoction of protective antioxidant green tea, nourishing elderberry seed as well as red algae to firm and hydrate, it takes away the need for laborious skin prep. Apply daily for two to three days until you achieve your desired shade, then use again as and when you wish to top up the colour.

At the other end of the spectrum, instant formulas that take away the usual eight-hour development time are perfect for fitting into busy mornings or before unexpected events. Thankfully, they’re nothing like those gravytoned greasy lotions of your university days that you slathered on your legs before trotting off to the student union, just for it to miserably drip down your legs when that inevitable rain storm hit. Indeed, the new class of instant tans has never been more reliable.

Benefit Hoola Zero Tanlines Body Bronzer, £25, may look like Marmite at first squeeze, but it stays put for 12 hours, doesn’t rub off on clothes and washes off quickly at the end of the night. Plus, the handy sponge applicator means you can buff your way to a seamless, glowing tan in a doddle – spend extra time blending around the knees and ankles where skin tends to be drier and more susceptible to patches. Drier skin types will revel in Nars Laguna Body Tint, £30. It has a subtle bronze effect, is laced with antioxidant-rich oceania saffron, hydrating monoï and tamanu oils and SPF30 to ensure skin is fully protected as you flaunt your newly bronzed limbs at the rooftop bar of The Ned.

Experts say our focus on clean eating is helping us get the most out of our fake tanners

Face the facts

Your body may be sorted, but traditionally the hardest part to tan effectively has always been the face. “Matching your complexion with the rest of your body was once an afterthought for brands and the same formulations used for the body were simply housed in a smaller container and labelled ‘for the face’,” admits tanning expert and brand founder James Read. “But now we’ve entered the era of high-tech tanning with transparent tanning masks and anti-ageing tanning hybrids galore.” And as a result, a believably sun-kissed face has never been easier to achieve.

Charlotte Tilbury’s Overnight Bronze & Glow Mask, £38, is one of the most effective facial tanners the Stylist beauty team has tried. Apply a light layer every night until you reach your desired shade – the colour develops as you sleep. With no pigment, your White Company sheets will be safe and the conditioning blackcurrant seed oil and soothing oat kernel extract makes it perfect for pale skintones that suffer from spontaneous bouts of redness. It will also add a believable wash of healthy colour to dark complexions, meaning you can skip foundation altogether come morning.

Recognising that hydrated skin is vital in avoiding any unsightly patches, Vita Liberata has funnelled skin-nourishing botanicals and rosehip oil into its facial tanners, as well as anti-ageing benefits due to a healthy dose of collagen boosting peptides. Add a couple drops of the Self-Tanning Anti-Age Serum, £29, to your moisturiser and massage into theskin in upward strokes. Meanwhile, Sisley Self Tanning Hydrating Facial Skin Care, £88, negates the need for a separate moisturiser completely. A mix of plant-based actives, chestnut extract and vitamin E, this protects from free radicals, triggers skin repair, boosts circulation and locks in hydration.

But it’s not all down to the right products. Experts say our focus on clean eating is helping us get the most out of our fake tanners. “Spinach, kale, avocado, yoghurt and cheese are all rich in L-lysine, an essential amino acid not produced by the body which plays an important part in the depth of colour you can expect to achieve when applying DHA-based faux tan,” explains Alyson Hogg, CEO and founder of Vita Liberata. DHA reacts with amino acids in the skin (L-lysine in particular) to achieve varying shades of brown and yellow, so without them, your tan won’t develop as well.

Thanks to all of this impressive innovation, that anthropologist will have to revise their verdict – our current relationship with fake tan has gone from rocky to smooth sailing…

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