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You Should Be Self-Tanning Based on Your Hair Color

This may be the most genius trick we never considered.

You Should Be Self-Tanning Based on Your Hair Color
Meagan Wilson
Any seasoned self-tanner has experienced a colossal disaster (or ten!) in her time. Whether it’s blotchy legs, orange fingers, turning way too dark to suit you, or, if you’re really lucky, all of the above at once, self-tanner is something we swear requires a Harvard-level degree to execute perfectly. But whatever our previous hangups with a bottle of bronze, it’s the easiest and safest way to get an all-over golden glow. And what we’ve recently learned is it’s just as important to match your tan to your hair as it is to your skin tone. To help us avoid a disaster, James Harknett, tanning expert and Global Creative Consultant for Fake Bake, teaches us how to self-tan based on your hair color.



So you might freckle and burn in the sun, but that doesn’t mean a tan won’t suit you. A light bronze can brighten your eyes and flush your body with a healthy glow.

How to Apply:

“First, to prevent tanner from tinting your light hair, wear a shower cap and cover your eyebrows in Vaseline to stop any color sticking,” explains Harknett. “Secondly, dilute your tanner, even if it’s just a gradual tan, by mixing it with extra moisturizer. This stops the tan grabbing to dry patches like elbows and ankles, but also gives a lighter color that’s more natural. Your face is the big giveaway, so always go even lighter than your body if you’re fair or red-haired, as the color sits directly next to the hairline,” continues Harknett. As a final tip, the softer your skin, the lighter the color as fewer dead skin cells mean self-tan has less to stick to, so always exfoliate first.

Brands to Try:

“For paler skins, it’s better to use a tan with a red base. This counteracts an orange, manufactured look you sometimes get with a spray tan,” explains Harknett. James Read has mastered products that give a light, healthy glow, but if you want to start with a gradual tanner, try Vita Liberata Fabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion or Jergens Natural Glow Moisturizer. For your face, Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster allows you to measure how many tanning drops you put into your moisturizer so you can keep the color super light.


Whether you have naturally brown hair, or dyed, self-tan really suits you. Even if you have naturally pale skin, having dark hair and brows means you can carry a deeper color.

How to Apply:

Unlike fair-haired girls, you want to give your tanner something to grip to, so exfoliate the night before rather than the day of. “This gives skin time to renew and for proteins and amino acids to settle so tan will grab and go a little darker,” explains Harknett. Don’t, however, try to layer product all at once to get a deeper color—it doesn’t really work like that. “Just use a darker product,” advises Harknett. “Don’t mix it with moisturizer first, and apply it straight to your body. If you have remnants from a previous tan, steam or hot-towel it off and start again; otherwise it will look really uneven and artificial.” For your face, always moisturize skin first. “Tanning agents can be drying, and you don’t want any flakiness, as this will make the finish uneven,” Harknett advices. “Also, don’t put too much on ears, as they can really grab on the earlobes.”

Brands to Try:

“For olive and darker skin tones, use something with a green base to counteract an orange tinge,” advices Harknett. Fake Bake gives a beautiful deep finish, as does St Tropez, but if you find darker tanners dry out your skin, try the Tarte Brazilliance Plus+ Self Tanner, as added vitamin E leaves skin noticeably smoother.


Changing your hair color can totally change how tan looks on your skin, none more so than if you’ve jumped on the rainbow hair trend.

How to Apply:

“As with fair-haired girls, cover your hair in a band or shower cap to stop tan from dying your hair. If you have wisps around your hairline, cover them in moisturizer,” advices Harknett. “Most girls with colored hair have a white or blonde base to it, so you don’t want to go too dark.” That said, the warmth of pink and peach tones means a golden glow really complements, but go for a lighter tan if you have cooler hair tones like blues or purples.

Brands to Try:

You may want to test the color first with a wash-off like Lorac Tantalizer Body Bronzing Luminizer. It’s super creamy, making it easy to evenly apply, and lightly dusts skin into a healthy bronze. If you’re ready to give it a go, we also love Josie Maran self-tanning body butter and oil, which feature plenty of argan oil.


1. Always tan in a well-lit bathroom to avoid going too dark.

2. Make sure your skin is cool. When skin is warm, tan separates, and beads of perspiration can cause streaks.

3. Start with legs and feet, then work your way up. This is because you lean down to these areas, so if you’d tanned your torso first, it can smudge while you’re doing your feet.

Photo: Shot on site at 6 Columbus, a Sixty Hotel. On Solveig: Dress, Jonathan Simkhai; Hair, Angela Soto; Makeup, Andriani.

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