Health & Grooming

Taking the bronze

The newest self-tanning products deliver a dewy sun-kissed glow, says Vicci Bentley.

June 28 2011
Vicci Bentley

There can be few looks where the prefix “natural” is less than desirable. But like smoking and a saturated diet, a genuine deep suntan is now synonymous with a disregard for healthy living. Even fake tans have fallen from grace in recent years. Witness erstwhile “tantastic” poster girl Victoria Beckham’s transition from rock chick to classic, pared-down style; first to go were the preternaturally amber limbs. So if paler is the elegant woman’s shade, is bronze still beautiful?

Well yes, confirms Tom Pecheux, the international make-up artist and creative director responsible for revolutionising Estée Lauder’s colour collections. “Everyone looks better with a glow,” he says. “But what’s less attractive is dry, leathery, heavily bronzed skin. The deep tan has been replaced by a dewy, translucent, healthy looking complexion; not obviously tanned, but relaxed and ‘on vacation’.” Intelligence from the runways is that this year’s 1970s retro-tan may be duskier than of late, but still conveys less of a summer-of-love look, more summer-in-The-Hamptons polish. As Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry at Mac Cosmetics puts it, “The look now is sophisticated, intelligent, well heeled and well conditioned, like a sporty Ralph Lauren pin-up.”

Such perfection rules out self-tanning pitfalls: streaks, patchy build-up and the giveaway Tango tinge. So it’s to the salon, where, like acclaimed facialists, tanning technicians are the latest experts to accrete waiting lists for their hyper-real, sun-kissed services. At the Sanderson Hotel’s Agua Spa, international “tanning king” James Read’s bespoke Tan Tone technique promises nature-identical results. “Everyone has their own tan tone and different products suit different skin types,” he explains. For fair skins, he uses gradual tanning formulas to achieve a light bronze effect. Liquid sprays and mousses enrich medium tan tones, while lotions give the deepest, darkest bronze. As Read points out, natural tans evolve gradually, so to mimic the effect of the sun he builds his tans in light layers, meaning that they last longer and fade more evenly. “Two coats are the equivalent of a weekend in Cornwall; four, a week in the Med; and six, a fortnight in the Bahamas,” he assures. And as body zones don’t tan naturally at the same rate, he gives each its own tone, leaving the face lightest. “The face is noticed first, so a tan there shouldn’t be obvious. First, I rest ice cubes all over to close the pores, then moisturise before I tan.”

For those who muster the brio to top up a tan at home, Read offers this advice: “The trick is to get rid of old tan completely before reapplying, otherwise the build-up will look dingy.” Exfoliating the neck, underarms and ankles, where tan tends to gather, ensures a fresh, even tone, he counsels. Good results can be obtained from Xen-Tan Perfect Blend (£34.99 for 220ml), which can be adjusted to give a light to darker olive tone, and Perricone MD No Sun Tanner (£50 for 118ml), a subtle, creamy formula that takes pale skin from a pinkish golden glow to a richer tan through daily applications. Pro-vitamin D and firming compound DMAE condition the skin, while n-Acetyl Tyrosin encourages naturally pigmented tanning. Amazingly, both are low on odour.

For the acrid, biscuity self-tan whiff that clings to skin for days on end is a deterrent in its own right. Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the sugar-derivative that reacts with amino acids in the skin to darken surface cells, is also used to give bread and biscuits their high-bake look and taste. And no matter how much fragrance is used to mask the scent of self-tan during application, or how much erythrulose (a secondary, less odorous tanning sugar) is used alongside DHA, the “Hobnob effect” inevitably rebounds. So it’s hardly surprising that wash-off bronzers are an increasingly popular alternative.

“Wash-off tan gives the same colour and texture as self-tanning, but instantly and without commitment,” says Nichola Joss, skin finishing expert for St Tropez. Welcome news to those whose luminously pale skin is the most likely to showcase errors. “These products put you in control, as what you see is what you get,” adds Read. “They’re ideal if you only want a one-night tan.” They also excel at warming newly exposed summer limbs or reviving a tan past its prime.

Well worth a flutter is Guerlain’s encouragingly named Terracotta Jambes de Gazelle (£36 for 100ml), a sheer amber mist with a sunny orange-blossom scent and a long-wearing matte finish that won’t rub off on cuffs and hems. Equally effective is Nars’ gel-based Laguna Limited Edition Body Illuminator (£33 for 150ml), which leaves limbs with a slightly warmer, subtle bronze glister and a coconut aroma. Applied quickly in long, fluent downward strokes with a mitt (such as a St Tropez Tanning Essentials Tan Applicator Mitt, £3.57), both are easy to layer up to a hue that suits. As a final, refining gesture, Joss highlights shins, centre thighs, shoulders and collarbones with St Tropez Rose Skin Illuminator or Gold Skin Illuminator (both £12 for 50ml) – a technique she uses for catwalk shows that makes limbs look more honed and flatters clothes too: “Details such as the length of a hemline or the curve of a neckline are brought into focus when the skin has a touch of radiance.”

Dewy, illuminated skin is also the strategy behind facial bronzers. Now enjoying a year-round resurgence, they model, lift and refine facial contours more effectively than blusher alone. New matte, airbrushed textures, such as Estée Lauder’s Bronze Goddess Soft Matte Bronzer (£26) and Shiseido’s Bronzer (£32), give a cool, almost suede-like finish that’s light years away from the hard-edged glitz of old-school types. Where shimmer is used, it’s for accent only.

Benjamin Rousseau, Lancôme UK’s national make-up artist, sculpts under the cheeks, along the bridge of the nose and jawline with Star Bronzer Minéral Mat (£32), then accentuates cheekbones and the top of the forehead with the sheeny Star Bronzer Intense (£32). “The subtle pearls in the formula reflect the light beautifully,” he encourages. In the Diorskin Nude Glow range, the Healthy Glow Summer Powder in Aurora (£29.50) gives a similar, just-off-the-beach radiance that gently kindles whey faces. Even so, “bronzers can look scary in the palette because they’re so highly pigmented”, admits Jane Richardson, international make-up artist at Nars. For the most subtle and even effect, she chooses a soft, fat complexion brush instead of a targeted blusher brush. “Pick up the pigment and swirl it onto the back of your hand, so the particles are diffused into the bristles and not concentrated on the brush surface. Then just kiss the skin on the forehead, around the temples and along the cheekbones, where the sun hits naturally,” she suggests.

Bronzing experts are unanimous that what really clinches a “day on the beach” realism is a pop of blusher to mimic a sun-caught flush. Read uses red Chanel lipstick, massaged onto shoulders, décolletage and cheek domes. Or there’s Soleil Tan de Chanel 4 Facettes Bronzing Powder (£32.50); in Bronze Corail and Bronze Rosé it solves a tan-compatibility quandary by offsetting two grades of bronze with fresher peach and pink tones. Nars’ Limited Edition Blush Bronzer Trio (£39) simply combines the best-loved Laguna bronzer and Albatross highlighter with Orgasm blusher, which, despite its saucy name, was inspired by a sun-induced flush. “Sweep it high on the temples, near the eyes, for a modern look,” suggests Richardson.

While a few strategic sweeps of bronzer will give the illusion of holiday skin, well-chosen eye and lip tints enhance the effect. Barber suggests offsetting matte caramel cheeks with light-catching metallic shadows, such as Mac Crushed Metallic Pigment in gilt-edged Bronze (part of the Surf the Ocean set of four limited-edition shades, £25.50); blended upwards from lash to browline it creates a softly smouldering effect. Bobbi Brown’s Bronze Tortoiseshell Eye Palette (£48) holds six shimmering and metallic shadows, including intriguing Olive Sparkle, plus a matte Banana highlighter and Espresso definer. Keep lips dewy with Yves Saint Laurent’s Volupté Sheer Candy in a fresh coral (£21) or Dior Addict Crystal Gloss in Luminescent Peach (£20). A wash of pastel blue or green eyeshadow, such as Mac Shadow in Aquadisiac or Lime (£11.50), with understated beige lips courtesy of Estée Lauder Pure Colour Lipstick in Tiramisu (£15.50) gives an urbane, just-back-from-vacation appeal, for when the crisp white shirt and chinos go back on.