So one odd thing about ballroom culture is that you’re expected to tan. For whatever reason, pale skin is not “in,” even in the dead of winter. How this came about originally might have been just the desire to not get washed out by the dance floor lighting, but some, particularly those who dance rhythm and Latin, have taken it to the extreme. Some people tan so much, their skin color practically looks like that of another race!
My personal opinion on tanning is that no, you don’t absolutely have to do it until you reach the higher levels (open amateur, maybe silver or gold if you’re doing pro-am), and even then, it’s not the most important thing when it comes to grooming. Looking pale but having your hair and makeup nicely put together is probably fine. And, if you’re a standard or smooth dancer, you can get away with tanning less (or not at all). If you’re an open Latin/rhythm dancer, it’s much harder to get around it, and coaches may say that you have to do it. (Another way around it is to wear costumes that cover up most of your upper body, wear dark fishnets, and plenty of bronzer). Anyway, it’s a personal decision and ultimately you can decide whether you want to try it out or not. And, if you decide to do it, please do it correctly. I have seen many a tanning disaster, and trust me, people notice and will talk about it. And you don’t want to be that person on the dance floor.
Personally, I tried tanning a couple years ago, and have done it a few times this past year, particularly for bigger competitions. I don’t think it affects my results at all, but it does help me get into ballroom mode. And I do get relatively pale over the winter, though not nearly as much as some Caucasian people are.
Tanning Option 1: Get a real one.
So, this means tanning bed or hanging out outside and sunbathing. Not recommended cause of the whole skin cancer risk thing, but it is always an option if you can get darker naturally and easily. (I would actually prefer to do this because my natural tan color is nice, but again, skin cancer risk thing.)
Tanning Option 2: Spraytan at a salon.
This is a bit pricey, from probably $15-$50 depending on what you get. I haven’t tried it personally, but basically you can get sprayed down in an automatic booth thing (Mystic Tan), or personally airbrushed by a professional. They use the same DHA stuff that is in all fake tan products, but this will probably ensure a nicer tan than you doing it yourself, and even a darker one. Also it’s just more convenient to have someone else do it for you. Some businesses will even come to you to perform their airbrushing services. Try checking Groupon or Living Social for discounts on tanning services.
Tanning Option 3: Fake tan at home.
Probably the most viable option for most people. There’s bazillions of fake tan products on the market that fall under a wide range of prices, but they all work the same way. DHA (dihydroxacetone) is the active ingredient, and it reacts with the dead skin cells in the top layer of your skin to dye your skin brown/orange. The higher the DHA content, the stronger the effect.
Within the at-home products, you have lotions, mousses, and sprays. Lotions are probably the easiest to use for beginners. My current favorite is a spray product, Body Drench Quick Tan, but it’s a bit trickier to get the hang of. If you’re especially flexible you might even be able to spray your own back without the help of someone else.
Step 1: Exfoliate. For a few days before you plan on tanning, make sure to exfoliate really well in the shower, using a body scrub product or a good loofah or exfoliating gloves. If you have dry skin, those spots will absorb more product than others and become darker and you’ll look blotchy/uneven. Dry hands in particular are prone to this, but also elbows, knees, and ankles, so make sure to pay special attention to those spots. Afterwards, moisturize well with a good lotion!
Step 2: Prep. Shave a day before tanning, since shaving afterwards will take off some of your new fake tan and applying tanner immediately after shaving might irritate your skin. Either shower right before tanning (making sure to dry off completely), or shower and moisturize well ahead of time (like in the morning) so that your skin has plenty of time to absorb the moisturizer. It’s best to tan right before bed, so you can leave the stuff on overnight to develop fully.
Step 3: Moisturize dry spots – use a light moisturizer on your elbows, knees, and ankles, which will create a barrier and also dilute the product.
Step 4: Apply tanner. Best to do this naked in the bathroom, or in your underwear. I’d start from the bottom up, so get your legs, then torso, then arms. Get a friend to help you with your back, or resort to awkwardly bending around yourself. Whatever works! If you use a lotion, really rub it in evenly, more than you’d would with a typical lotion. Circular motions may help avoid streaks. They also sell tanning mitts that protect your hands and help the product go on evenly. With a spray tan, make sure to keep the nozzle 8-10 inches away from you, or else you’ll get dark stripes of color, and keep the spray going back and forth, not staying in one place for too long. Also, if you go the spray route, do it in the bathtub or else spray residue will get everywhere. Generally you do not rub the product in with sprays, unless you get a weird blotch or runniness. In that case, blot lightly with a tissue or you can try rubbing it in lightly.
Step 5: Cleaning up – wash your hands. Repeatedly. Or else you’ll get the orange-palm effect, which is not pretty. (Wearing disposable glove is another option.) Hang out while everything dries, and go over any uneven spots with more tanner, with caution. Once everything is done, put a bit of tanner on the back of your hands and rub them together, making sure not to forget your fingers.
Step 6: Put on some dark, loose-fitting clothes, and go to sleep. If you have light sheets, you may want to lay down a towel. I personally haven’t had trouble with tanner rubbing off on my bedding, but it’s a potential issue.
Step 7: Wake up, take a shower. Don’t worry if it looks like all of the tanner is going down the drain – if it worked, your skin should be a couple of shades darker than it was yesterday. Just avoid scrubbing too hard. Out of the shower, keep your skin well-moisturized to prolong the tan.
You can tan your face or not. You might want to go with a lighter coat, since you can always darken with makeup, but you can’t really go lighter. Don’t forget your neck and ears. I don’t think my face reacts well to tanner, so I prefer to just tan my body and make my face match with darker foundation + bronzer. Another option is to mix tanner with a face lotion to dilute it, and apply that. Don’t forget to go all the way to your hairline! Also remember your neck and ears.
Tanner has a very distinctive smell that occurs with the chemical process. I used to think it was super gross, but have gotten more used to it. Beware!
If you want to get darker, you can do multiple coats the same night (let dry in between!), or put on another coat the following night. Some products are also designed to get you darker (those advertised as a dark shade rather than a medium shade), but that carries more risk of streaking/unevenness if you haven’t done this much before.
If you use lotion, wearing plastic/latex gloves are a good option to protect your hands from getting dark. Another option is to use a tanning mitt.
Body Drench Quick Tan Mist – smells like vanilla or chocolate or something, which helps a lot with the icky fake tanner smell. I think you can just spray it on the competition day too, if you wanted a boost, since it has a nice dark instant color. It’s relatively rub-resistant once it’s fully dry, but I don’t know how sweat-resistant it is. I’ve gotten good results from it each time, so long as I am careful about applying it evenly.
L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Lotion – available in most drugstores and very popular with my team. Easy to use, smells alright (sort of fake lemon-y). One weird thing about it is that it is super glittery, so it’s not advisable for application day of, particularly for men.
I haven’t tried the following products personally, but have heard/read good things about them.
Jergens Natural Glow – another good option for first timers, this is a gradual self-tanner that you apply like a regular lotion over multiple days. It’s much more subtle and buildable. Might not be enough for a competition, though.
St. Tropez Mousse –It’s supposed to be a very good product, and even has some kind of odor-neutralizer. Disadvantage – much pricier.
Protan – super intense liquid that you use to paint yourself, with a sponge brush. This stuff will get you super dark, so I’ve heard, and is favored by pro ballroom dancers and bodybuilders. I think it also can be pretty drying, however.
Sex Symbol Aerotan – instant tint (does not dye your skin) that is good as a last-minute boost to whatever you already have. It is also shimmery.
Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs – another instant tint available in drugstores, that is kind of a paint that you can use all over, either in addition to or instead of self-tanner.
AeryJo – super shimmery makeup that will get you instantly dark. Favored by a lot of Latin dancers. It’s pretty pricey, though.