Pale, pasty men: it’s time to get yourselves a ‘man tan’

Timothy Barber
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ROSS from Friends. Those are the words that seem to spring to people’s lips when you moot the idea of fake tan for men, in reference to the character’s unfortunate run-in with an automatic spray booth in an episode called “the one with Ross’s tan”. Or one thinks of David Dickinson, the telly antiques man who looks as though he bathes in Ronseal wood coating. While women are broadly happy to lather on lotions and unctions designed to give them the glow of a beach goddess, most chaps I know still reckon they’ll leave turning a gaudy shade of orange to the Ronaldos of this world.

Such are our preconceptions, but they’re behind the curve in our grooming-friendly age. Sunbeds and their dodgy UV rays have fallen out of favour, and taken with them the idea that tanning is about looking as though you’ve been tango’d, then cooked. Instead it’s about adding a bit of healthy gleam, blowing away tired lines with a subtle glow, and even toning up a bit before hitting the beach. After a winter like we’ve just had, that can be no bad thing.

That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway, as I stand in nowt but a pair of paper pants as a cold jet of fake tan is sprayed over me. I’m at The Refinery, the male grooming sanctuary in Mayfair, where chaps can get a tan in around half an hour, and unlike Ross’s dodgy machine, it’s applied by a trained therapist with what resembles a paint gun.

Deborah Gayle, director of The Refinery, says tanning has shown a growth in popularity among customers, although it’s still not something most would want to shout about – the majority of appointments are for Friday nights or Saturday mornings, so that blokes won’t amaze colleagues with midweek colour changes. In fact, a fake tan can be rather subtler than that.

“Guys who haven’t done it before are terrified of looking orange, but it can be very gentle so that it’s really just giving your skin a lift,” she says. “The therapist will be very careful in controlling how tanned you go.”

Before you get a fake tan you should exfoliate fully, and take care to moisturize those bits like the knees, elbows and heels where dry skin can make the tan come out darker. I was worried about body hair and my beard becoming dyed, but the tan only sticks to skin, the aerosol ensuring it penetrates to under hairy areas. It dries pretty much immediately, meaning there’s no need to wave one’s limbs around waiting for it to take.

Afterwards, you need to leave it eight hours or so before showering while the top layer of the skin absorbs the tan. The colour will normally last around five days.

As well as the professional tan, there are the myriad self-tanning products of different modes and shades that you can buy off the shelf, with an increasing number aimed at a unisex audience. James Read, a tanning expert who has sprayed Lady Gaga and countless celebrities of both sexes at his practice in the Sanderson Hotel’s Agua Spa, recommends doing a patch test to find tones that suit you. As a rule of thumb, lotions tend be darker, while mousses and sprays are good for the lighter-to-medium tones.

“Self tans don’t look fake anymore. They give your skin a lift and make you look healthy, particularly if you’re tired or overworked. People might ask the question: ‘have you done something different’ without knowing what it is – and that’s the trick.”

The Refinery’s tanning treatment takes between 30-45 minutes and costs £40.

For details of James Read’s tanning activities visit