Grooming, Lifestyle

Spray Tan VS Sunbed: We Tried Out Both So You Don’t Have To

Maybe it’s all Love Island’s fault. Perhaps it has something to do with the perma-tanned, air-brushed celebrities that creep into our consciousness at night and nest in the part of our brain that deals with self image and common sense. Either way, tanning is massively on the increase amongst men, and we want to know the best way to do it.

However, as Topman Brand Editor, there’s absolutely no way that I was going to volunteer to test out different tanning methods. What I really needed was a couple of guinea pigs. A couple of pale, eager guinea pigs…who contractually aren’t allowed to refuse my requests. Step forward Jamie Carson (Digital Editor) and Jacob Corner (Junior Digital Editor), who gamely stepped into the spraying booth and the sun salon to answer the question: spray tan or sun bed?

The Spray Tan – Jamie Carson

With the last nail in the coffin of the sickly looking indie boy trend and vampire craze, pale skin has well and truly lost its hype. Which for me, a ghostly ginger tinted lad into heavy metal from the Lake District, is bad news. Now it’s all house music and being absolutely ripped and looking like your dad’s David Dickinson from Bargain Hunt. It’s going to take a while to get muscles, and I’d rather listen to nails running down a rusty blackboard than any variation of house, but at least I could fix one of them instantly – getting tanned.

I showed up to London’s W Hotel for my very first spray tan quite clueless. Like most brilliant writers, I did little to no research about preparing for a spray tan, as I preferred to be surprised on the day for the purposes of hilarious content. But luckily all you had to was wash away the deo from under your armpits (which can turn green during a spray tan), not shave your chest like some people told me to.

The guy spray tanning me was James Harknett, who has tanned David Gandy and Oliver Cheshire before. I like fried chicken way too much to look as good as they do, but if someone could get my skin looking like a tanned Adonis’s, it was this man. So I quizzed him on how it all works:

So do many guys come and get spray tans?

The Man Tan has risen by almost 50% over the past 2 years. I’m currently spraying around 30 guys a week. Men have become more conscious about the dangers of sun beds but are constantly searching for a perfect tan.

What are most men’s pre-conceptions of getting a spray tan?

Men have a pre-conceived idea in their head that they will look orange and fake. They cringe at the thought of a TOWIE look and have looked at it as a more feminine treatment.

My spray tanning technique that I have developed over 15 years ensures that I will match the tan to their skin tone and will develop into a very natural colour.

Back from #barcelona and I need this as I’m a little pink! @fakebakeunited #airbrush #tanlegend #taninacan #spraytan #fakebake #rooftop #spain #gayspain #love #mylife #mantan #summer #mensbody #menshealth #saveyourskin #poolside #selftan #instagood #instagay #skin #grooming #body #healthylifestyle

A post shared by James Harknett (@jamesharknettofficial) on

So what are you spraying me with?

I use the latest spray tan technology from Fake Bake. The product is dispersed through the finest Airbrush which glides through facial and body hair. There is no need to shave or trim body hair at all. I also have a unique body drying system where the client will feel dry to touch minutes after the treatment. I also use a beard comb to gently ensure no staining to lighter beards.

How long do spray tans last for?

Most spray tans last a good 5/7 days but all skin tones are different, and if you are prone to tanning well naturally then it can last longer. The trick is to keep the skin hydrated at all times. I recommend moisturising the body twice a day and keeping the skin out of hot water. So cool showers are key! If you work out a lot then sprinkle a little talc under the arm and across the chest and areas where you build up perspiration.

There are also some great products to top up with too. Tan can fade on the face and hands in a few days so I always recommend the Fake Bake Airbrush in a can to gents. Just 3 short blasts down the face can restore the glow.

The Results

Not going to lie. I really enjoyed it. It was like getting blasted with a fresh dose of summer without having to go through passport control or have a toddler kick the back of your chair for 10 hours. And no, it didn’t stain. It didn’t smell. It didn’t go streaky. It settled well and I could still see the effects of it after 7 days. But most importantly I am genuinely happy with the way I look. But if you’d have told me 5 years ago I’d be getting spray tans I’d have slapped that lie out your mouth.

So if your lad’s holiday to Ibiza was ruined by cloudy skies and hangovers that lasted from dawn till dusk, this is the solution for you. Just put your fragile out-dated masculinity aside and get in the booth.

The Sun Bed – Jacob Corner

There’s a proven link between tanning beds and skin cancer. However, as I’m a more junior member of staff, that’s a risk my editor was willing to take.

Like threading and shaving my chest, sunbeds are one of those ‘a step too far’ grooming treatments I’m uncomfortable with, as if my masculinity, fragile as spun sugar, will shatter as soon as I consider them. It’s not that I judge guys who do get it. Actually, I do judge guys that get it. If you want to be tanned all the time move somewhere sunny. But it’s an increasingly popular ritual for men, who have contributed to an 80% boom in business for UK tanning salons over the past few years that shows no signs of slowing down. As I’ve already said it’s not for me but I’m an adventurous men’s lifestyle commentator who surfs the on the wave of the zeitgeist, who navigates the craggy peaks of contemporary masculinity, who is willing to go and get blasted by cancerous rays to help himself get into the mindset of the modern man. Plus I had my appraisal coming up so I couldn’t really say no.

Much like Jamie I too am a brilliant writer so I did even less research than he did. In fact, I did so little research that it wasn’t until I went to the salon that I found out that we didn’t have enough time to do this properly and that there aren’t really any shortcuts. The guy who worked behind the counter, who had the skin tone of a Stavros but the accent of a Steve, recommended doing a session every other day for two weeks to get a similar tone to the one Jamie got from his spray tan. Each session would be a minute or so longer than the last, building up my resistance to the UV rays and sending me progressively darker. Easy, right?

It was not. It turns out that there are parts of my body that haven’t seen direct sunlight since the late 90s and, even though we just went for an entry-level 5 minute blast, those semi-translucent patches of pale skin weren’t ready for even a passing association with UV rays. By the evening I was comically red. By the next day my chest looked embarrassed. I had to take a trip to the disabled loos to apply an aftersun that was recommended by a concerned co-worker. All in all it was a disaster, although I will say my face went a nice colour.

I was relieved when a few uncomfortable days later I did actually start to go brown. My skin tone and tan lines mean I look like I’m wearing a china white bromper when I’m naked so having a bit of colour on my chest and thighs was an unexpected pleasure. I can absolutely see why guys go for this, especially if they want to feel a bit more comfortable when they’re in the buff – it’s hardly the sexiest thing in the world when you lie down on the bed sheets and blend into them like you’re wearing active camouflage.

But here’s the thing: even if I’d gone brown as a nut straight away, even if I had instantly become irresistible, I can’t in good conscience recommend something that gives you cancer. It would be like writing an article about how great cigarettes are. Studies have shown that those who use a sunbed before the age of 35 have the highest risk of developing melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer, so you should really just get a spray tan instead. Or, you know, wait for summer like a normal person.

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