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When one of my close friends told me she started using fake tan a few months ago, I laughed at the thought of a Black girl covering her body in the biscuity lotion. But as the phrase goes: ‘first they laugh, then they copy.’
Last Sunday, I found myself applying two coats of fake tan to my entire body. And the verdict? It’s safe to say I’m hooked.
Fake tan isn’t something you usually associate with women of colour.
Where I grew up in Essex, white classmates would compare fake tans or, later, hit the sunbeds in the quest for that golden, bronzed look. But it wasn’t something I considered. Fast forward to 2022 and my ‘for your page’ on TikTok was suddenly filled with several Black women sharing the merits of tanning.
Initially, I was surprised to see how many Black women were tanning themselves at home. But the before and after results showed a significant difference to their skin tone.
Hyperpigmentation is common for Black women and fake tan is a great way to even things out if it concerns you. This is something Alicia Lartey, an aesthetician who calls herself ‘the self-tanning extraordinaire’, tells me.
“Fake tanning allows you to replicate the glow you would have if you visited your home country or even hide hyperpigmentation or some forms of scarring,” she says. “Sunless tanning is the only way to tan safely without causing any damage to your skin.”
She adds that sun exposure can make pigmentation darker in some cases. Sunbathing also puts people – regardless of skin colour – at higher risk of skin cancer, so it really is much better to get your tan from a bottle.
Similar to me, Lartey spent her formative years in Essex and has been tanning for years, as a shared beauty ritual with the people around her.
“Fake tanning during summer is a weekly thing for me, the same way I have wash day for my hair, I have fake tanning day,” she says. “I will top up during the week if I feel like I need it.”
Black women aren’t the only ones starting to tan. On TikTok, plenty of South Asian women are also enjoying the products.
Inspired by the rave reviews, my colleague Faima and I put the fake tan to the test.
‘I don’t think it’s made a huge difference’ – Faima Bakar
“I would never think to tan myself because I’m already quite a nice brown colour which I like, but I do love that holiday tan glow. So when I saw that women of colour were tanning on TikTok, I thought it might be a good idea, especially as the sun is always playing hide and seek in the UK.
“I used the Bondi Sands tanning products [a combo of Bondi Sands dark self tanning foam and the Liquid Gold self-tanning foam] and I really enjoyed the texture and smell of both. The glove allowed easy application, and it felt so smooth on my legs.
“I actually tried the lighter shade first, then the dark one on my legs, because after a few hours, it didn’t look any darker. I don’t think it’s made a huge difference but there is slightly more of a tanned glow which I like. I would be more inclined to try it in winter, when I’m less naturally tanned, I think.”
‘In love with the results’ – Habiba Katsha
“I started with the Bondi Sands self tanning foam in dark, and after applying two coats, I saw a small difference. But then I went in with the Liquid Gold self-tanning foam and this made my skin automatically glow.
“I left it on for a few hours and then went in the shower and I was in love with the results. My body is all the same colour now and my skin looks more bronzed and golden, I’m definitely going to use this again in the summer.”
How to fake tan, well
Though the application process was fairly simple for both of us, there are some ground rules to follow before tanning.
“You have to prep your skin, you cannot have a successful tan without properly exfoliating and moisturising your skin,” Lartey says.
“Avoid putting fake tan over areas of inflamed or broken skin. Do not use a fake tan that is too dark for your natural complexion.”
If you’re going to shave or wax, she also recommends completing your hair removal at least 24 hours prior to your tan.
“Enjoy the experience, this is extra time you get to spend with your body – it’s for your enjoyment,” she says.
As more women of colour are using fake tan, Lartey believes that tanning brands should start reflecting us in their marketing.
“Tanning brands have made tanning for anyone that is not a thin, white woman a secret,” she says. “That’s because the lack diversity in their marketing, their teams and their social media. If you can see there is a new market emerging you should reflect that.”