The pursuit of “I just got back from Mykonos” skin is rising like it’s 2003 again. Laura Agnew delves into the dark RETURN of tanning culture (and new ways to GET THE LOOK safely)
If the biggest beauty investment of your
teens was accumulating more Chi Chi Eye
Magic Instant Eye Shadow than there were
Under 18s dances to wear it to, then you’ll
remember the cultural chokehold fake tan
had in the noughties. The holy trinity of the
era – Paris Hilton, LiLo and the cast of Laguna Beach
– all rocked an on-trend orange glow, and being pale
was akin to destitution on the social currency scale.
My own attempts to bronze with the best of them fell
spectacularly short, and still glow somewhere deep in
the Meta servers.
Nearly two decades later, tanning has again reached mass saturation. Miu Miu, Versace and Fendi campaigns feature synthetically bronzed models, celebrity spray tan artist James Harknett says he’s getting 200 requests a week, and Ken’s tan in Barbie was almost as much of a talking point as the film itself. Like many markers of style, the tanned ideal can be traced back to Coco Chanel, who accidentally got too much sun on a Mediterranean cruise in the 1920s and sparked a sunbathing craze. Before that, pale skin was aspirational in the West – the reserve of the upper classes who spent a life of leisure indoors or sheltered under parasols. But as the 20th century unfolded and commercial air travel took off, bronzed skin became synonymous with the glamour of spending winters
on the Riviera or in the Caribbean. And somewhere along the way, sun-kissed skin became shorthand for looking healthy even though, as we all know by now, a natural tan signifies skin cells in trauma. Worryingly, a new generation of actual sun- worshippers may be rising. You only need to check out this year’s Euro summer humblebrag – a carousel comprising an artful bowl of olives, some twinkling water and a deep tan line across a hip bone – for evidence. Spend long enough on TikTok and you’ll see people splashing on beer or snorting nasal spray containing Melanotan – a chemical tan enhancer dubbed the ‘Barbie drug’, which stimulates skin cells containing pigment with intense side- effects – in order to supercharge their sunbathing. Equally concerning are the black market solariums and ‘collariums’ (a combination of tanning and red light skin therapy) accessible via secretive social media accounts as tanning beds have been banned commercially for almost a decade in Australia. Sun safety has come a long way since the girls of Puberty Blues tanned their boyfriends’ names onto their stomachs, but maybe not as far as we think. Non- melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, and about two in three of us will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before reaching 70.
The sensible among us know that the only safe method of tanning is the fake one, and for the most flawless, natural-looking
finish, a spray tan is hard to beat. The technology has levelled up in recent years, and contactless salons now offer 24/7 access to
automated booths so you can get a quick spray – we’re talking under five minutes – without the need for small talk in a paper
G-string. They open up a world of possibilities to those previously intimidated or inconvenienced by the in-person experience.
Special care has been taken to rid the ritual of its ickier elements – the scent, the stickiness, the colour transfer – and for the
most part, they’ve done a pretty darn good job of it.
DIY fake tan formulations have also come a long way since the burnt umber tones that streaked palms and ankles in the noughties. As well as tans in cans, there are now tans in water, tans in drops, tans in skincare and extendable tans, available in flattering colour-corrective green or purple bases. The latest innovations are marketed to non-tanners – those who might be interested, but remain sceptical – as the perfect entry point, and also to dedicated tanners as an exciting new element in your self-tan ‘wardrobe’. A few of Isle of Paradise’s cult Self-Tanning Drops can be added to foundation for a gentle colour that combats pigmentation, redness and scarring. Newer to the market, Bondi Sands’ Technocolor range uses varying levels of DHA colour enhancers and hydration to offer four personalised formulas based on skin tone and desired finish. The aim, explains Alexandra Peek, chief marketing officer of Bondi Sands, is to “provide you with the most natural looking tan, rather than just the deepest. It’s the most like-for-like colour if you were to tan in the sun.”
In the polling of fake tanners for this story, the confidence boost it delivers was a recurring theme: “My skin feels less pigmented and I feel generally like a hot bitch, you know?”
“I feel more confident, hotter and more cohesive.” Some
were prescriptive in their approach: “I fake tan every
fortnight, but never my face as I don’t want to clog my
pores. If you’re going to do the face, tan drops are the only
way to go.” Others, pragmatic: “With skin cancer in my
family I think it’s nice that there’s an option for me to have
bronzed skin without the risk.”
Owning your faux glow? That’s hot. Confident that the terrible tanning of my past would remain in the noughties where it belongs, I booked a spray tan. Afterwards, I only needed a touch of Fenty mascara in the morning to look like a well-rested human, and it turned my I-have-nothing- to-wear wardrobe on its head because all your clothes suddenly look a little bit better when you feel like you look a little bit better. One morning, as I stood in the kitchen wondering how early was too early to eat a Magnum mini, my mother remarked that I looked healthy and I suddenly felt awash with the quiet power of the spray tan. It felt good, and the Magnum was delicious.
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