Why I hate fake tan
"My biggest hatred of spray tans comes from the fact they just seem like a made-up beauty routine." Photo: Getty Images
Confession: I looove make-up. I love putting on a bunch of lipstick or eyeliner or scads of blush then looking in the mirror to see a completely different person. I think the ability to transform yourself is one of the little joys of femininity that is overlooked when guys sympathetically say “It must be really hard being a woman...” as if all we do is walk around menstruating and getting catcalled and bumping our foreheads on the glass ceiling (that is only 80 per cent of the time).
But despite my overflowing cosmetics case there is one beauty product that has always puzzled me – spray tan. On the surface I would appear the ideal candidate as I’m the possessor of the sort of luminous English rose complexion that inspires strangers to enquire “Are you albino?” No, you fool, if I was albino do you think I’d spend this much money getting blonde highlights? I am merely pale (or if you prefer to use its mocking synonym that I’m trying to reclaim – pasty.)
Spray tanning is a relatively recent phenomenon and while self tanning products first appeared on shelves in the ‘60s they didn’t take off as a permanent part of many women’s beauty arsenal until relatively recently in the late ‘90s along with the increasing awareness of the skin damage and potentially fatal threat of skin cancer that tanning can cause. Now this is where the genius bit of marketing came in – by aligning fake tan as an alternative to something so obviously negative as cancer, fake tan came off smelling like roses (which it doesn’t) and getting all sorts of undeserved positive connotation of being the healthy, responsible choice. It’s basically like fruit juice – it seems like a good option compared to soft drinks, but compared to fresh fruit it’s really not that great. So what is fresh fruit in this rather tortured analogy? Simply liking your skin in whatever shade it naturally happens to be.
I think the reason I have no qualms about using other make-up is because putting on lipstick isn’t about saying my lips are ugly unadorned, it’s about playing around with visual identity. But using fake tan would feel to me like saying there’s something unattractive or unhealthy looking about pale skin (there’s something very ugly about the idea that there’s only one ideal skin tone – always spoken of in glowing terms like golden and bronzed – that we should all aspire to be.) Last year fellow pasty, Kelly Osbourne, ignited controversy when as the face of cult tan brand St Tropez she discussed the “improvement” to her self esteem as a result of self tanning saying "I looked, like, 10lb skinnier and it started to make me look at my body in a different way." Rather sensibly the brand was picketed by lobby groups who didn’t believe that self tanner should equal self esteem and that this was a potentially dangerous marketing message to be sending young women.
I have a bunch of friends who swear by professional spray tans as the best way to look amazing for a special occasion but from their explanations I just don’t get the allure. I’m kind of a prude and the idea of wearing any sort of paper underwear in front of another person is filed right up near plunging my hand into a bowlful of cockroaches on my personal list of terrifying situations. But my biggest hatred of spray tans comes from the fact they just seem like a made-up beauty routine as if some evil genius was scheming “No-one’s buying lip liner anymore - what’s another product category we can invent to get the ladies to spend more money?” Doesn’t it seem a little strange that the exact same global beauty brands that tout “sun-kissed” skin to Western women also spruik skin lightening creams to women in Indian and Asian countries? It’s almost as if they don’t really care about us wanting to look pretty but instead are focused on making us feel insecure with whatever we most naturally look like. But no, I refuse to believe that! Corporations would never lie to me in the interest of profit!
Anyway if you’re a fake tan lover of course I salute your right to slather whatever you want on your skin (especially if you’re doing it because you genuinely see it as an outward expression of your true authentic self, not because you’ve been suckered into believing that pale skin looks “unhealthy”). But to anyone else who is proudly bearing their natural shade, whatever that may be, I give a super special high five for staying strong against the spray tan onslaught (but seriously can we go stand over there in the shade to do it – I think I’m starting to burn ...)