Women of color are loving the fake tan right now, so we tried

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When one of my close friends told me that she started using fake tan a few months ago, I laughed at the thought of a black girl covering her body with cookie lotion. But as the saying goes: ‘first they laugh, then they copy’.

Last Sunday, I found myself applying two coats of fake tan all over my body. And the verdict? It’s safe to say I’m addicted.

Fake tan is not something you normally associate with black women.

Where I grew up in Essex, white classmates would compare fake tans or, later, go to lounge chairs in search of that golden, tan look. But it wasn’t something I considered. Fast forward to 2022 and my ‘to your page’ on TikTok was suddenly filled with scores of black women sharing the merits of tanning.

Initially, I was surprised to see how many black women were tanning at home. But the before and after results showed a significant difference in skin tone.

Hyperpigmentation is common for black women and the fake tan is a great way to balance things out if that concerns you. This is something Alicia Lartey, a beautician who calls herself “the self-tan extraordinaire,” tells me.

“Sun tanning allows you to replicate the glow you would get if you visited your home country or even hide hyperpigmentation or some forms of scarring,” she says. “Sunless tanning is the only way to safely tan without causing any damage to your skin.”

She adds that sun exposure can make the pigmentation darker in some cases. Sunbathing also puts people – regardless of skin color – at a higher risk of skin cancer, so it’s actually much better to tan with a bottle.

Similar to me, Lartey spent his formative years in Essex and has been tanning for years, as a beauty ritual shared with those around him.

“Summer tanning is a weekly thing for me, the same way I wash my hair, I have indoor tanning day,” she says. “I will recharge during the week if I feel I need to.”

Black women aren’t the only ones starting to tan. On TikTok, many South Asian women are also enjoying the products.

Inspired by the compliments, my colleague Faima and I tested the artificial tan.

The results

“I don’t think it made much of a difference. – Faima Bakar

Before and after photos of Faima's fake tan legs.
Before and after photos of Faima’s fake tan legs.

“I would never think about getting a tan because I’m already a nice brown color that I like, but I love that holiday tan glow. So when I saw black women sunbathing on TikTok, I thought it would be a good idea, especially since the sun is always playing hide and seek in the UK.

“I used Bondi Sands bronzers [a combo of Bondi Sands dark self tanning foam and the Liquid Gold self-tanning foam] and I really liked the texture and smell of both. The glove allowed for easy application and 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 dark anymore. I don’t think it made a huge difference, but there’s a little more of a bronzed glow that I like. I would be more inclined to try it in the winter when I’m less naturally tanned I think.”

‘Passionate about results.’ – Habiba Katsha (me!)

Habiba legs before and after using artificial tan.
Habiba legs before and after using artificial tan.

“I started with Bondi Sands self-tanning foam in the dark, and after applying two coats, I saw a slight difference. But then I went with the Liquid Gold self-tanning foam and it made my skin glow automatically.

“I left it on for a few hours and then I took a shower and was in love with the result. My body is the same color now and my skin looks more tanned and golden, I will definitely wear this again in the summer.”

How to fake a tan, well

While the application process was fairly straightforward for both of us, there are a few ground rules to follow before tanning.

“You have to prep your skin, you can’t have a successful tan without properly exfoliating and hydrating your skin,” says Lartey.

“Avoid putting fake tan on areas of inflamed or broken skin. Don’t wear a fake tan that’s too dark for your natural skin.”

If you’re going to be shaving or waxing, she also recommends completing the epilation at least 24 hours before your tan.

“Enjoy the experience, this is extra time you spend with your body – it’s for your enjoyment,” she says.

As more women of color are using fake tans, Lartey believes tanning brands should start reflecting us in their marketing.

“Tanning tags have made tanning for anyone other than a thin, white woman a secret,” she says. “That’s because it lacks diversity in its marketing, its teams, and its social media. If you can see that there is a new market emerging, you should reflect that.”

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