How to Avoid Fake-Tan Fail on the Red Carpet

Claire Danes and Ryan Reynolds -Split-Getty-H 2017
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

A pro weighs in on awards-season tanning disasters and how porcelain stars like Sophie Turner master the art of a subtle glow.

At the Golden Globes on Sunday, Ryan Reynolds caught Twitter flack for a sun-kissed look that read a little too orange, on camera at least. Then there’s another Ryan — Seacrest — who is the king of the faux tan. And people are still talking about Claire Danes at last fall’s Emmys, when she blinded fans and her fellow actors with her too-bronzed skin. Lesson learned? If there’s one thing that’s a surefire red-carpet fail, it’s a complexion inspired by an Oompa Loompa.

In Danes’ case, says St. Tropez tanning expert Sophie Evans, “it was likely accidental. I imagine they were trying to give her a darker bronze glow, but the tone and reflective detailing of her gold dress caused it to look more orange, and the lighting definitely could have made it even worse.” She advises everyone, even red-carpet regulars, to do a trial run of their look to consider how their skin and ensemble play off each other.

For Reynolds, she says, “He may have had a natural tan from the sun underneath the spray tan, which made his face look a bit too dark.” There is also the possibility of too much product buildup if he hadn’t properly exfoliated. Her solution: St. Tropez's Gradual Tan Classic Everyday Face Cream ($25), which builds color slowly over time and helps one maintain a bronze complexion that doesn’t just come out of nowhere. For Evans, perfectly bronzed winners included Mandy Moore, Heidi Klum and Reese Witherspoon, whose skin was the perfect shade for her yellow gown.

The biggest faux-tanning surprise of the Golden Globes may have been the fact that Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner had one. The porcelain-skinned actresses, who is a redhead on the cult show, stepped out with blond locks and a perfectly milky complexion that was far from “tan” by normal standards. But, says Evans, “She’s a prime example of skin-finishing. It wasn’t about making her look tan because that is not her look. It’s about making her look clean and perfected; the St. Tropez One Night Only ($16) gave her a hint of color and made her absolutely flawless.” Better yet, it’s a temporary product that requires no commitment.

This focus on skin-finishing, as Evans calls it, seems to be the future of fake 'n' bake. (The president-elect, whose skin tone has been compared to Cheetos, may want to take note, too.) “The best spray tans are the ones you can’t identify — the client looks like they are glowing from within,” says Evans. Additionally, the product can not only add color, but hide imperfection, even the skin tone, give muscle definition, sculpt and flatter curves. “They act like instant Photoshop,” she says of St. Tropez’s formulas, which work with a person’s pH and melanin to achieve natural-looking color. Thanks to a reformulation last year and fragrance house Givaudan, the brand even removed the telltale DHA smell and replaced it with fresh floral notes.

Considering Evans has worked with fair-skinned women including Kate Moss, Anna Gunn and Zooey Deschanel, she’s very aware of subtlety (a makeup artist has even used St. Tropez on Tilda Swinton pre-red carpet). “I never want to take a celebrity extremely dark — a spray tan or self-tan application is only successful if no one knows that’s what you had done.” Better yet, especially for those who are on the paler side, it cancels out red undertones and hides visible veins. But the pro stresses that it depends on the outfit, too. “It’s about finding the right color for you and the dress,” she says. Or in the case of a man, his tuxedo. “If the dress is gold or a flesh tone, make sure you’re not going to match the tone, whereas if you’re wearing white, you can go a bit darker.”