The Best Self-Tanners For Pale Skin

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Click through to shop four sunless tanners perfect for pale skin.


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Senior Beauty Editor

I’m freezing, naked and stuck in a series of strange poses that feel like a cross between the robot, yoga and Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. “Good—now raise your arms,” says Kristyn Pradas, the New York spray tan expert who’s misting me head to toe with what I fear is a far-too-dark bronzy liquid. We’re in a hotel room across the street from the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, where the Victoria’s Secret fashion show—the annual television spectacular that draws nearly 10 million viewers—is filming the next day. Models percolate through the halls of the hotel’s seventh floor all day, arriving pasty, leaving glowier. Pradas manages to fit me in after Adriana Lima and before Doutzen Kroes.

I don’t like being naked in front of myself, let alone a complete stranger who’s used to looking at nude supermodels. But Pradas is promising to teach me the secret to the perfect glow—the gorgeous, sun-kissed skin color as synonymous with Victoria’s Secret as bouncy, wavy blowouts and push-up bras—that is the polar opposite of my own. I’m porcelain white and all but translucent, blue-purple veins fully visible. It’s the kind of pale that, depending on the day, makes me feel either pretty or invisible.

I don’t tan naturally. I’d tried self-tanner before, only to end up the color of Tang; I’d spent the last few years making a pallid complexion my thing, like a gap tooth or a streak of gray hair.

And yet: The spring shows were rife with warm, glowy skin from Michael Kors to Dolce & Gabbana, and the clothes on pretty much every runway were white, cropped, sheer and short—designs not made with the pales of the world in mind. I started thinking of trying tan again.

Whatever the intense workouts and clean diets leading up to the show cannot do, Pradas insists, a spray tan can: “I sculpt—I follow the body’s contours: I do an extra layer under the biceps, down the center of the stomach, around the obliques and under the butt to give a little lift,” she says.

The difference between a regular spray and a supermodel one, Pradas and the other preeminent spray-tanner on duty, L.A.-based Jimmy Coco, explain, is that the amount of pigment in the tan formula is customized for each model’s skin tone, then applied in light layers like puffs of air to build a subtle glow. Right before the girls walk on stage, makeup artists slather them with tinted shimmer bronzer lotion, also from Victoria’s Secret, for extra gleam.

The next morning, the temporary tint washes down the drain when I take my shower, revealing the tan that has developed underneath. I look like myself, but warmer, happier—not to mention five pounds thinner, with newly pronounced abs and cheekbones. No orange, no streaks, no odor. To my delight, she even threw in the butt lift. The glow lasts close to a week; I touch it up with the brilliant Victoria’s Secret tinted mist.

A few weeks later, I hear about something called Vita Liberata, a Northern Ireland line made with pale people (my people!) in mind. Its newest product, Rapid Tan, creates a light tan in one hour, medium tan in two hours and deep tan in three hours—much quicker than the typical eight-hour tan. I have to try it. The mousse spreads easily; the fact that it’s tinted makes it easy to see spots I’ve missed. I wait only an hour before washing it off, and the tan turns out exactly as I hoped—as in, not exactly a tan but a … glowy warmth.

This quick-developing technology—Vita Liberata, St. Tropez and Xen-Tan are all launching it—is just one of many in tanners this summer. Both Jergens and Victoria’s Secret have now managed to get rid of the telltale DHA scent in all of their tanners.

Tan, I find I don’t need as much makeup. The sheer, bronzy veil on my skin makes my complexion look close to perfect. I go bathing suit shopping and somehow, even tiny bikinis suddenly appeal; I’m truly more comfortable in my own skin. The tan you can’t notice: It’s not a full-on Victoria’s Secret runway look, but for someone pale-skinned like me, it is something.

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