Face tan: choose carefully to avoid the orangutan look

Beauty: Going from lily white to a very dark tan won’t look right

False tanning can be a minefield, but it is always preferable to the real thing. The change in our skin’s pigment after sun exposure, even when we find that change aesthetically pleasing, is the skin’s response to damage, and that is how we should think about it.

However, a glance at Instagram provides ample evidence that shades of false tan so deep they veer into a sort of russet orange inconsistent with any sort of human skin are still very much in fashion. Sadly, there is social currency in resembling the mighty, noble bristle of an orangutan.

Not all tans that work for body will work for the face – some will break the face out, or simply appear unnaturally dark, or settle more on the skin of the face. You can opt to tan the body alone, but this leaves a sort of “startled face inside a body sock” or “floating head” look and requires wearing make-up so that you don’t look like a lost performance artist.


There are several delivery methods to achieve a nice tan, but I recommend an overnight mask or a customisable tan that you can add to your own moisturiser or oil. Invest more (if you can) in tanning products than other body unguents, to ensure that issues like transfer, undertone and development time have all been carefully considered. Of course, there are expensive tans which just aren’t good too, so do your research carefully, opt for a shade that your skin would naturally exhibit after some time in the sun and, of course, match face to body. Don’t go from lily white to a very dark tan; it won’t look right.


Charlotte Tilbury Overnight Bronze and Glow Mask (€48) is a beautiful unisex overnight option that doesn't dry out the skin or veer orange. It is an easy option that is difficult to get wrong provided you massage it into the skin evenly and well (don't forget to take it down the neck a little).

James Read Overnight Tan Sleep Mask for Face (€30 at cloud10beauty.com) is a similar product with a gel consistency which applies really nicely when buffed vigorously into the skin with a fluffy brush. Just be sure to wash your brush afterwards. Apply less at the hairline, blending carefully, and don't forget your ears.

If you prefer a little more control, try a customisable tan that you can add to your own moisturiser.

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops for Face and Body (€24.99 at Boots.ie) are excellent as you can use them everywhere, and they come in a light shade for a natural looking golden hue that just blasts the blue off an Irish complexion. Clarins Radiance Plus Golden Glow Booster for Face (€28 at Debenhams) is another good option, and goes a very long way, but it can be used only on the face.

Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self-Tan Drops (€39.25 at beautybay.com) are similar, but provide a really expensive-looking glowy finish that won’t look like you have faked it.