F is for Fame-Town Fake-Tan Fails and How Not to Be One: A Celebrity Guru Helps Liza go Bronze, not Jersey Shore

by Liza Herz on 9 March 2012 · 39 comments

The only thing worse than a bad fake tan is a bad fake tan on a man.

I felt sorry for Rob Lowe standing beside Julianne Moore at this year’s Golden Globes, his orange skin looking positively radioactive next to her luminous paleness. Then there was Aniston’s bf, Justin Theroux, at the Wanderlust premiere (above right). He looks like a bright orange man-alien. Very bad. And Ben Stiller next to Emma Stone at the Oscars (top left)….

But look how nicely he matches the backdrop.

Faux tans gone wrong are a special kind of horrible — they tell the world that not only are you hopelessly vain (which of course, we all are) but that you’re clueless and lacking in good judgement. So both vain and stupid. Great.

It’s a tan disaster like this that I feared when I went to meet St. Tropez Tanning Guru Nichola Joss to get my own (preferably orange-free) glow on. St. Tropez is the tan of choice in UK fashion mags and Joss, with her tawny limbs and beachy hair, is their high priestess. A British version of an LA girl, she spends a lot of time in Hollywood, buffing and polishing stars like Gwyneth (below in a gold Calvin Klein at last year’s Oscars). Joss even bronzed Hugh Jackman for his Academy Awards hosting gig in ’09.

Quipped Joss: “Just me, Hugh and a tanning mitt.” (Let’s pause here so everyone can savour the optics of being alone in a room with Hugh and a mitt.)

Joss understands that faux tanning is like plastic surgery — you only notice the bad. “We are a skin finishing brand,” she says firmly. “We never like to say fake tan.”

St. Tropez has also cooked up a line of glow enhancing luminizers” the brand is backstage at London Fashion Week, beautifully gleaming up the skin of models walking down runways for designers Erdem and Roksanda Ilincic.

So if St. Tropez can convincingly give notoriously skim-milk pale British skin a believable glow then maybe there’s a chance I won’t look like a Jersey Shore wannabe or Lindsay Lohan heading back to court.

How it works: Think of your skin as a slice of bread before it hits the toaster. The ingredient in all self-tanners, DHA (dihydroxyacetone) works with the amino acids in your skin like heat does with bread (called the Maillard Reaction for science-minded beautygeeks), resulting in a color change.

And to prevent the dreaded “Oompa Loompa” orange, St. Tropez adds green pigment which neutralizes orange because it sits opposite it on the colour wheel (that bit of information is for art-minded geeks.) They also use proprietary “headspace” scent technology to reduce the self-tanner smell that puts so many people off. (And that’s for fragrance-minded beautygeeks.)

If I were still at all hesitant about getting sprayed, Joss goes in for the kill with a powerful final point: “Brown cellulite looks better than white cellulite.” Can’t argue with that.

THE RESULT My tan (done at Toronto’s AxiSpa) took a day to develop, looked beautifully natural and lasted a week — a week I spent staring at my formerly pale, now delicately bronzed and glowy limbs. I was sad when it finally faded away.

THE AT-HOME VERSION Use the St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse ($38) with their foam mitt ($8) for even application without those dreaded tinted palms. And if you’re fearful of looking stripey or are a self-described klutz, then get Gradual Tan ($38) and Gradual Tan Everyday Face ($32) and just use them instead of moisturizer. The results will take longer and not be as intense, but you will glow. (St. Tropez products are available exclusively at Sephora.)

OTHER PICKS The drugstore has some good alternatives, such as:

L’Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Sun Splash, $17. This spray gel disperses easily for a streak free tan. Not gradual, but pretty idiot-proof.

Olay Quench Plus Touch of Sun Body Lotion, $11. This one’s nice and light in texture and tint so it moisturizes and the resulting “tan” is so gradual it’s suitable even for the hyper-phobic.

Lancôme Flash Bronzer Dream Legs, $40 The favourite of Lucky Magazine Beauty Director Jean Godfrey June, who uses the regular version on her face, this new iteration contains caffeine (just like anti-cellulite creams) for drainage and (presumably) skinnier pins.

Jergens Natural Glow Firming Daily Moisturizer ($10), the original gradual tanner, now comes with firming benefits to reduce the look of (ugh) cellulite.

CRUCIAL DIY TIP And please, for the love of all that is holy, exfoliate before applying self-tanner or you risk patchy dark spots on those tricky bits (heels, elbows) where dry skin accumulates. Moisturizing exfoliators will coat the skin and prevent the self-tan from “taking,” so don’t use those. Instead, try a scrubby like Dermalogica’s Ultimate Buffing Cloth ($24, dermalogica.ca), which works with your cleanser/body wash to smooth away dead skin with nothing left behind. And because the cloth is synthetic, you never get that horrible oh-God-it-never-really-dried-properly smell that comes with natural loofahs.

Oh, and Joss suggests applying cuticle cream to fingers before you self-tan (so you don’t look like a nicotine-stained smoker).

Have you ever had an Oompa-Loompa faux tan? What’s your fool-proof favourite glow go-to?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane 9 March 2012 at 10:05 am

St Tropez mousse is hands down the best and most natural self tanner ever. It gives instant colour so you can see what you’ve done, lasts a long time, and is not orange. LOVE LOVE LOVE. So happy we can get it at Sephora in Canada now!


Liza 9 March 2012 at 2:23 pm

It really is. And I genuinely like the smell. Can’t say that for all the self-tanners out there…


Janine 9 March 2012 at 3:35 pm

*sigh* Without fail, no matter what scent anyone adds to their formula, my body chemistry triggers only the self-tanner cadaver-stink when the chemicals start to work.



Tyra 22 July 2013 at 1:20 pm

Oh my gosh I thought this was just a problem with me but it’s so true! I just applied the St Tropez dark formula all over my body this past weekend and even though I have already showered twice I can still smell the ever-so-unique self-tanner scent everytime I lift an arm or sit down quickly. Any tips on how to prevent this or my boyfriend will just have to suffer when we cuddle? :-p


Janine 24 July 2013 at 7:41 am

Hi Tyra — I feel your pain, and your boyfriend’s too :-(

Two things:

1) Try the Jergens No-Odour Daily Glow formula (there’s a three-day version). Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who won’t get That Smell. Details here.
2) Try a citrussy fragrance/body splash to help mask the St. Tropez. (A St. Tropez expert told me that once; must find my notes to get name…)

Good luck!


Lesa 9 March 2012 at 11:04 am

Liza, you RULE.


Janine 9 March 2012 at 2:17 pm



Liza 9 March 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thank you. (Blushing furiously now.) Tip: if you blush too much, a good self tan will play it down.


Sinus Sister 9 March 2012 at 12:22 pm

Hilarious! Can we assume your legs and arms are now different shades of BEAUTIFUL?


Liza 9 March 2012 at 2:22 pm

Funny. I’ve been religiously self-tanning my legs (bare ankle weather will be coming soon, and i want to be ready) but not the arms. So right now I really don’t match at all. Must remedy that tonight…


Tracy 9 March 2012 at 4:56 pm

I can’t stand the SMELL of fake tanning. Blech. I’ll take my pasty white cellulite over smelly fake tanned cellulite thanks.


Janine 9 March 2012 at 6:51 pm

It’s so about personal chemistry, isn’t it Tracy? I have the same issue, no matter the brand.


Liza 9 March 2012 at 9:05 pm

Oh it’s not that bad is it? (Janine is forcefully disagreeing with me right now.)

But I did get a kick out of your two equally dreadful cellulite options. Quite the mental picture. Aaaagh.


Katie 12 March 2012 at 7:36 am

You’ve convinced me! St. Tropez, here I come!


Liza 12 March 2012 at 11:49 am

Excellent. Have fun with it (and remember the cuticle cream – or just get the mitt. :)


Katie 13 March 2012 at 5:49 pm

This must be love. Picked up the mousse and mitt today and currently look like I’ve spent a few days in Barbados. Not too dark, no orange, bronze perfection. 5 stars!


Liza 14 March 2012 at 10:06 am

Ooh. Nice. And if you’re in Toronto, then it’s the perfect weather to go bare-legged.


Sofia 16 March 2012 at 3:30 pm

Katie and Liza are really starting to convince me to get the St. Tropez mousse and mitt!! …not that i really need it at the moment since I just came back from Cuba and am Loving my tan! I just wish to maintain the tan (especially where I’m starting to peel) :(


Liza 26 March 2012 at 9:27 am

Hey Sofia – Cuba? You lucky thing, you.

But now that you’ve heard how easy self-tanning can be, we’re hoping that you’ll choose it over actual tanning. Not only is it much kinder to your skin (no cellular damage – so no increased cancer risk, no oogy wrinkles and spots later in life), you won’t peel. Win win win as far as we’re concerned.


Mary McIntyre 13 April 2012 at 7:33 am

I have tried the St. Tropez self-tanning mousse for myself and I agree, it does smell pretty fantastic, especially considering what most of these products usually smell (or stink, rather) like. Thanks so much for this review, because it’s so thorough and I especially like the cellulite bit. It’s so true though, a great tan does make you look a lot healthier and glowing, as long as you do it right and skip that dreaded “Oompa Loompa” orange as you so truthfully said. I will definitely be using these tips next time I self-tan!


teresa 6 May 2012 at 6:50 pm

Exfoliating the skin is an important step to getting an even looking tan. I found that when I exfoliate the self tanner product is much easier to apply and looks better. Exfoliating the skin removes the dead skin cells so your skin absorbs products better. I like clarins Gel.


Liza 3 September 2012 at 11:45 am

Do you mean that heavenly smelling golden Clarins scrub that comes in an oversized jar?


Andrea 9 May 2013 at 12:09 pm

What are your thoughts on Fake Bake Flawless Spray? I have naturally fair skin and have never self tanned before… Any advice?


Liza 9 May 2013 at 12:42 pm

Hi Andrea. You know, I’ve never tested it but I’ve seen it mentioned in the UK magazines so I’m assuming it’s a reputable brand. Maybe try a wee patch on a part of you that’s going to be covered up before you make the commitment to all-over body spraying.

And please do follow the priming advice above – so scroll up and read our exfoliation tips! And go slowly – choose a shade that’s designed for pale skin. You can always add more, but removing colour is a trial.

Or you can just embrace your luminous paleness. When all your friends get all wrinkly from the sun and you are still unlined and gorgeous as you get older, you will have the last laugh!

Or seek out a glowifier/bronzer shade designed for pale skin – think in terms of soft pinks and subtle rose gold shades.

If you ARE in the UK, St. Tropez has a lovely Naturals line and their Rose Skin Illuminator is gorgeous. Good luck and report back if you get a chance!


Andrea 15 May 2013 at 11:30 am

Thanks for your suggestions. I was wondering, I’ve seen on this article and on many others recomending St Tropez, but I’ve also heard that St Moriz has similar results for $10 a bottle.
What are the diferences between each other?


Liza 16 May 2013 at 7:54 am

Hi Andrea. I’m not familiar with St. Moritz. It’s a ski town as opposed to St. Tropez which is a beach town, but aside from that – I think they’re just trying to capitalize on the similar-sounding name to sell a much less expensive product. The ingredient that tans your skin DHA is the same in every self-tanner, pricey or cheap. So it’s the other ingredients, the moisturizers and the fragrances used to mask that uh, *distinctive* self-tanner smell that can account for the price differential. If you’re feeling experimental, than definitely try it. And let us know how it turns out. Deal?


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