Rather than roast in the sun, and in all likelihood bring on sun damage, sun spots and other hot weather woes, self-tanner has become a reliable solution for faking a bronzed glow. The formulas have been improved so much — less streaky! less orange! — that, with some practice, you can use them to contour.
Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury has plenty of personal experience with the product.
“Being one of the whitest girls in the world, and with my red hair, I was obsessed with how to get the best self-tan,” she said. Sometimes she starts with a self-tan base and then enhances her color during the day with a light dusting of bronzer or layers on a sheer tint to add depth.
All in all, the goal is to “cheat,” she said, adding, “It’s to look leaner and longer and also more youthful and glowing.”
Here, Tilbury walks us through the self-tanner application process, adding a few tips and tricks for carving out cheekbones and elongating limbs.
Streamline Your Limbs
Step 1: To ensure an even application, you should prep the skin with a body exfoliator to remove dead skin. This way, the self-tan won’t grab onto any dead skin cells, said Tilbury, who prefers Tatcha Indigo Smoothing Black Sugar Body Gommage ($74). She rubs the scrub up and down and then in circular motions for a thorough finish.
Step 2: Blot the skin completely dry.
Step 3: Add self-tanner to an applicator mitt. Tilbury likes Loving Tan bronzing mousse ($34.95), which she discovered from beauty bloggers Desi Perkins and Katy DeGroot, aka Lustrelux, for its believable color. Then apply in circular motions on arms, legs and other desired areas before pulling the product upward.
“You do the circular motions so you won’t be left with any marks, and the upward motion helps elongate,” Tilbury said.
For tricky areas like the elbows and ankles, where self-tanner may be prone to stick, she adds some of her Magic Cream moisturizer ($100) after the self-tanner to help the product spread more easily.
Step 4: Use the self-tanner base about two or three days in a row. “Once you have a base, you can start contouring your body and cheating to make yourself look longer and leaner,” Tilbury said. With the mitt or a big round brush, apply self-tanner down only the sides of the legs, while using small circular motions so you won’t be left with an obvious streak. Repeat these steps on the outer sides of the arms.
Define Your Cheekbones
Step 1: Exfoliate the day of the application, or even a day before. Tilbury likes the Enzyme Peeling Mask by Georgia Louise ($120).
Step 2: Overnight self-tanners have come into vogue in recent years. Tilbury created her own, the Overnight Bronze and Glow Mask ($55), to moisturize and calm the skin as well as deliver a wash of color. Whatever product you choose, she said, it is important that it has “moisturizing agents, so it doesn’t attach to freckles, and that the color is very, very subtle.”
Apply all over, as you would a moisturizer, she said, and then “make sure you go up into the hairline, under and down the neck, and into the decolletage.”
“And when you’re doing your cheeks,” she continued, “don’t forget to drag up to your ears.”
Step 3: To add depth (or if you’re iffy about self-tanner), there’s a newish breed of sheer bronzing tints that wash off. Tilbury’s version is called Healthy Glow ($40) and is meant to be unisex. Apply in the same way as you would self-tanner.
Step 4: Once you’re familiar with your self-tanning product, you can try creating definition. After using the self-tanner over your entire face for two or three days in a row, use a large brush to apply self-tanner to just your cheekbones and jawline. Suck in your cheeks and follow the hollows with circular motions up to the temple. Then, using the same brush, sweep self-tanner along the jawline. Be sure to blend, using the same concise circular motions.
Step 5: But leave the more complicated contouring to makeup, Tilbury advised. “It’s tough to shape your chin or nose with self-tanner,” she said. “It can easily get dodgy.” Using her Filmstar Bronze and Glow duo ($68), she applies the contour color to further deepen the cheek hollows and jawline. Then she dusts the highlighter color on top of the cheekbones, down the nose and on the bow of the mouth.
“This can give you amazing facial architecture,” Tilbury said.