How To Fake-Bake Like A Supermodel
Self-tanner has had a bad rap since the earliest incarnations of dihydroxyacetone (DHA)-rich lotions first hit stores in the early sixties. A half-century later, and those orange-tinged, fake-baked connotations still stand. But not with Nichola Joss’ clientele. St. Tropez’ resident skin finishing expert has perfected the craft of sunless tanning and become sought after by A-listers like Hugh Jackman and Charlize Theron and supermodels like Kate Moss and Elle Macpherson in the process. “It’s cold and gray here, and we don’t want to look gray while we’re looking at gray,” the Scottish-born blonde jokes of her vast experience, which benefits from a childhood spent enduring long U.K. winters, not to mention a biology and cosmetology degree. We’re most familiar with Joss’ backstage résumé, though. “I did tanning at Julien Macdonald’s show 12 years ago when no one was doing it. I had to mix something and it wouldn’t wash off; it was really difficult,” the self-proclaimed “beauty therapist” recalls. A decade later and Joss has made a habit of giving limbs a natural warmth at shows like Erdem, Roksanda Ilincic, House of Holland, and David Koma—in a custom-built booth that lets her spray down models on site, no less. “You’ve got to really love it and you’ve got to understand how the body works and how your muscles work,” she says of the secret to creating the perfect faux glow. Here, as short-shorts season looms ever closer, Joss talks self-tanner innovation and imparts some of her application wisdom, free of charge.—Celia Ellenberg
What would you say is the most common mistake people make when they try to apply self-tanner at home?
It’s about being aware. With a very dark tan, you look one-dimensional, and the reason that happens is because you are applying [the lotion] all over your body—but you don’t tan naturally all over your body. So, when you apply all over your body, it flattens you, it makes you one-dimensional. It is really about understanding skin. I’m constantly thinking about how we can develop something new or fresh.
Are you part of the product development team at St. Tropez as well?
That’s why I was so keen to be involved! It is really hard to shut me up once I start talking about product. I was constantly saying to them, “Listen, it would be great if we do this” or “What about thinking about a wash-off product?” five years ago. I am passionate about skin and skincare, so I am really lucky to be able to influence it slightly.
So you’re the brains behind the new One Night Only wash-off product. Can you speak to that a little bit?
It’s an amazing product for me because it means I can tan [my clients], then they can go to their event, and then they can wash it off if they’re going to be in movies or for something that doesn’t warrant it. For backstage, editorial, and advertising campaigns, I can’t do without it. I used to have to mix stage products before. It is exactly the same color as the self-tan mousse except you have no commitment with it. You can play with it and make a mess and then wash it off. There are two different levels, a dark and a medium.
When you’re with a client or backstage at a show, how do you convince girls to go against their negative associations with self-tanners?
It is about pushing and making them understand that orange is not where we are going. I’m a beauty therapist so I’m quite forward in saying, “Do you want a facial?” or “Do you want to try some tanning?” And because I’ve got passion for it and I really enjoy it and I am really good at what I do, it is easy for me to implement that transition.
And how does the idea typically go over with designers? Was it a hard sell at first, to include skin finishing, that is?
Fashion week is hugely influential, right down to skincare and beauty. [Tanning] completes the whole collection. It also complements the work of the makeup artist and the hair. Because often you look at the finished image and the collection is so great and the makeup is so strong and when you look at the skin, nine times out of ten it is quite dull and flat. When you start working with the skin and then you start showing designers, that’s when they get excited. And when you put an illuminating cream onto tan skin, or even a pale skin, when [models are] walking down the runway it really shows up. Again, you’re just getting a really complete, finished item, finished girl, finished article. And the girls feel great with it on. It’s about making people understand that it doesn’t matter if you have very white skin or very black skin. A tanning product will enhance your skin. It will even out your tone.
Aside from St. Tropez’ new One Night Only, what are some of your sunless staples?
My go-to product is the self-tan mousse and the mitt for application. The main reason is because it absorbs, it’s light, and it dries quickly. You cannot go wrong with it if you use the mitt to apply the product.
Do you have any advice for avoiding a self-tan that looks too dark and unnatural?
There are two things you could do: Go for the lighter product every time and layer it, so you apply one layer, and if you want it darker, you apply another layer. If you buy a dark product, you get dark immediately. So always go for the lighter option—even if you’re going into a salon to have it done. Also, I would put moisturizer on your body first.
Really? Because that’s the one thing they usually tell you not to do.
It should be fine if you do it two to three hours before you go in, and you really massage it into your skin. The tan will still take; it is designed to work with it. For every brand it is the same thing—as long as it is not an oil or a milk. The oil will stop it from taking completely. Another tip is if it is too dark and you want to take it down immediately, shower, then massage an oil into your skin.
What about the face? That tends to be when at-home applications go south.
The face is really tricky. If you use the mitt all over your body and you have enough product left saturated in there, you really just lightly brush the face, as if the sun was hitting you. If you’re super-scared and don’t even want to do that, then I would use our Gradual Tan for the face and apply one layer, then another layer the next day. It is a little bit smoother to work with, but it is a really moisturizing medium. You massage it in, and it very slowly develops a color. If you’re applying a tanner on your body, nine times out of ten you’re applying a gradual bronzer on your face.
Photo: Courtesy of St. Tropez