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Adventures in fake tanning
I’ve never really minded being pale. I always apply sunscreen thoroughly, and when the weather doesn’t cooperate on my days off work, I’m never disappointed – I am a beauty editor, after all. It’s not that I am opposed to looking like I spent the summer on the Amalfi Coast, I’d just rather embrace my natural shade than burn, which is what happens when I attempt to achieve a colour that could be described as “golden” over a weekend.
The last time I used an at-home tanning lotion was in 2005, and my attention was divided between the instructions on the side of the bottle and an episode of The O.C. (Things didn’t end well on either account.) I mostly gave up on them after that. Sometimes I’ll use Jergens Natural Glow ($8.49), which I consider to be more of a moisturizer than a true tanning lotion – the colour is deposited gradually, so I can slather it on with minimal technique and never see streaks (my number one concern). When the opportunity to try a Vita Liberata Organic Spray Tan came up, I was enthused. I would neither burn nor have to worry that the back of my body would be lighter than the front. My tan would be where it belonged – in the hands of someone other than me.
I prepared for my appointment at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel Spa by shaving my legs (hair removal post-tan can affect colour), exfoliating (to avoid blotchy patches) and forgoing my usual moisturizing routine (silicones will stop the tan from adhering to skin). When I arrived at the cozy, dimly-lit spa, I was led to a treatment room where I changed into a disposable bathing suit (top optional) and stood in front of the tall tent-like pod where spray tanning is done. Lotion was applied to my knees and elbows, the palms of my hands and the edges of my feet – anywhere that wouldn’t normally darken in the sun. I stepped onto two giant foot-shaped stickers (to protect the bottoms of my feet) and got into the tent.
The product Vita Liberata uses for their professional treatments is called pHenomenal Anti-Age Spray Tan Solution. It’s more concentrated than their at-home line, and includes a combo of aloe, coffee and white tea to help the product apply evenly to skin. There were three gradually darkening shades to pick from. As I was recently concerned that the lightest colour in a new foundation line was too dark for me, I went with the first shade, encouragingly named Hawaii.
Hawaii was loaded into an airbrush-type machine, and I was asked to stand in a series of poses that made me feel like I was in a cross between a police lineup and a beauty pageant: I turned to face one side of the tent and then the other, and then – to make sure the tan covered the insides of my legs – I stood in the kind of fourth-position contestants do during the bikini segment of the competition. Lastly, my face was misted with three light strokes. (On advice from Alyson Hogg, founder and CEO of Vita Liberata, I moisturized my face before the treatment so it would stay a few shades lighter than the rest of my bod. It’s more natural looking.)
The colour was immediately noticeable. I was darker than I’d ever been, but not unflatteringly so – it just took a minute to get used to. I quickly dried off with a big fluffy spa robe, and put back on the loose black dress I came in with. (I didn’t notice any colour transfer, but wearing light colours is not recommended.) The whole thing took about ten minutes.
I was instructed to avoid showering and sweating for at least 24 hours while the colour deepened on my skin. I had the best intentions of staying dry, but attended a music festival on Toronto Island that evening… in the pouring rain. I mostly hid out in the media tent in fear of melting, but there was no escaping the rain waiting in line for the ferry. The tanning gods were on my side; if there was any damage done, I didn’t notice it.
It’s hard to say how long the colour lasted, exactly. Vita Liberata says somewhere between 4 and 10 days is average, depending on factors like how well you followed their prep instructions. I had no baseline to compare my fading tan to: My lack of tan lines made it hard to tell how much the colour had faded, and how quickly, but I’d say I was several shades darker than usual for at least a week.
The best part about the fake tan was the glow: my skin has that post-facial look where all your imperfections are somehow blurred. I also began to understand the appeal of bronzer – my skin was highlighted in a way it hadn’t been before. A few weeks later, I’m still pursuing that first-day-post-spray-tan look. See below for the full list of products I’ve been using more or less successfully (I am still not a professional) to achieve it.
Vita Liberata Organic Spray Tan ($95), at The Four Seasons Hotel Spa, fourseasons.com.