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We like to think we’ve nailed the art of sunless tanning (see here and here), but if there’s something we’re guilty of, it’s neglecting the ever-crucial—and very fine science of—effective face tanning. Oft-overlooked, a successful face tan will help to make the rest of your tan look more natural and of-the-sun, and will enable you to embrace makeup-free days, eliminating the hassle of trying to match your foundation to your changing body colour (it’ll also prevent you from looking like James Charles’ ill-fated alter-ego, Flashback Mary).
We’ve scoured MECCA HQ, our store teams and the internet for the top tips and tricks to become a face-tanning pro—here’s everything you need to know.
We currently offer four types of tanners designed especially for the face, and finding your perfect match comes down to your personal preference and pre-existing skincare habits. These are your options:
Drops: Probably the easiest, most fuss-free product of them all, customisable drops cocktail into your existing skincare routine to make a big difference. Our picks are the Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Drops, which come in light, medium and dark shades for the full spectrum of personalised colour, and the Mecca Cosmetica Self-Tanning Drops. Simply mix a few drops into your favourite moisturiser to build the colour you want, and use your hands to press it into your skin, as you would your usual moisturiser.
Pads: Famous for his exfoliating peel pads, Dr Dennis Gross serves up super handy, easy-to-use Alpha Beta Glow Pads, a multi-tasking, glow-inducing self-tanner designed for the face. As well as providing deep, customised colour and serious glow, a single swipe of these pre-soaked pads offers exfoliation by means of AHAs and BHAs, nourishment with vitamin D, and a plethora of other skin-loving ingredients.
Mists: Our go-to for touch-ups and added colour, there’s no denying the ease and convenience of a tanning mist. Hydrating and refreshing, a tanning mist offers light, even coverage—as long as you make sure to spray all over, from an equal distance. Mists like the James Read Tan H2O Tan Mist and Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water tend to be quite soothing, making them the perfect option for sensitive skin.
Masks: The ultimate multi-taskers, tanning masks will provide deep, even colour, while giving your skin a nutrient boost—whether that be overnight or in 30 minutes, mask depending. James Read Tan offers two options—the Sleep Mask Tan Face and Express Glow Mask Face—which work like your typical overnight or express self-tans to develop long-lasting colour over a period of time. Both simultaneously soothe, soften and hydrate the skin with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and jojoba seed oil.
READ MORE: We answered the 12 most common questions about self-tanning
Just like it is for your body, pre-tanning exfoliation is key for even, patch-free face tanning. We tend to prefer products that offer chemical exfoliation instead of—or in addition to—gentle physical exfoliators, so be sure to prep your skin the night before you plan to tan. Just a handful of our recommendations include the cult-favourite Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, and the Sand and Sky Australian Pink Clay Flash Perfection Exfoliating Treatment.
A common face-tanning concern is that the pigment will settle into your pores—luckily, combatting this is easy. Like heat or steam works to open pores, icy coolness will help to temporarily tighten the appearance of pores. Make this work for you by gliding an ice cube around your face immediately before tanning, in order to eliminate the risk of pore-settling. Just make sure to quickly pat your face dry after doing so!
Like you would on your body, it’s important to pay close attention to the areas on your face that might be a little drier, and therefore susceptible to picking up excess pigment. These areas include (but may not be limited to) your hairline, nose crevices and brows. Our tip? Before applying your tan, hit these areas with a touch of your favourite moisturiser to help avoid and diffuse any excess product. Also be sure to not apply tan directly to these areas (go for your forehead, cheeks and jaw first), and then simply use any remaining product to add a touch of colour to these zones.
The tell-tale sign of a poor tanning job is a patchy, mismatched neck, so make sure you’re bringing your tan down to your neck and décolletage, blending it in with the rest of your body. The same goes for your ears—they’re so easy to forget but can look rather funny if missed! Like you would for your hairline and nose, bring the remnants of tan onto your ears rather then applying a whole lot more.
To avoid dreaded cheezle-dusted palms, make sure to rinse them free from any tan immediately after application.
READ MORE: Everything you ever wanted to know about self-tanning
Washing your face twice daily—plus the addition of skincare ingredients like glycolic acid, retinol and the like—will result in your face fading faster than your body, and that’s totally normal, if not expected. To maintain an even, tanned complexion, make sure to keep your skin hydrated with moisturisers and hyaluronic-filled serums, and top up your face tan with tanning drops, mists, or Drunk Elephant’s D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops when you’re in need of a boost.
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