Beauty and the bike: The cyclist’s tan

When it’s time to reach for the self tan. By Adele Mitchell.

You can spot a cyclist on a beach a mile off. It’s not just your well-defined muscles or the fact that you’ve chosen Bradley Wiggins’ biography as a holiday read. It’s the tan lines: mid thigh, two thirds of the way up your arms and half way up your fingers. Meanwhile your body appears to be wearing a cycling kit in a colour that can be best described as ‘milk bottle’.

Cycle tan lines – badge of honour or fashion faux pas? Copyright Jenn (from Flickr)

Many of us wear our bike tan with pride. It’s a badge of honour that testifies to hours spent in the saddle. However, with the approach of summer, and its associated garden parties, picnics and weddings,  it can rapidly become the cyclist’s summertime nightmare.

Planning on wearing that strappy top? Cut off denim shorts? Posh frock for your friends big day? That ghostly shorts and jersey combo may not fit in with the stylish or sophisticated look you were going for. In fact any garment that is cut smaller than a cycling kit can rapidly become a fashion faux pas.

Being sensible, we slap on a good layer of sunblock every time we ride. This helps keep us the same shade we were born with, whatever the weather. It wards off wrinkles and protects us from UV damage. Hurrah.

But even with the most diligent of sunscreen applications, over time those tan lines begin to appear.

Also, some of us like to look tanned. Maybe its because it makes us look like we’ve just got back from a Spanish training camp and so must be a bit hardcore, maybe its because tanned legs just seem to look longer and more lithe, maybe its because a lot of summer clothing seems to look better on tanned skin.

So what to do? Whether you are looking for an even all-over glow, or aiming to shade in the white bits, it might be time to reach for the fake tan.

In days of yore fake tan turned you orange and smelt of stale biscuits. New improved formulas have largely done away with all that but finding the right shade for your skin tone is still slightly trial and error. If you’re new to it then opt for a lighter shade (most ranges come in light, medium or dark) to see if you like the result.

Note: Trying to match your white bits to your tanned bits will be tricky.

Fake tan isn’t really designed to patch up the gaps in a natural tan: it will be a different colour and may look a bit odd. However, it can be useful in toning down the milk-white jersey effect.

Also, no matter how brown it makes you look, fake tan doesn’t offer protection in the sun so you’ll still need to wear spf.

The ghostly jersey effect. Copyright Vxla from Flickr.

Spray tan

This gives the deepest colour and the most even result, especially on skin that has been exfoliated and well moisturised the day before your treatment. You can get a treatment at almost any beauty salon.

Having removed all your clothes you don a pair of paper knickers (possibly the most unflattering garment in the world) before stepping into a tanning tent. You then adopt a series of bizarre positions (to ensure even cover) while the therapist sprays your whole body – including your face – with liquid tan. This takes around fifteen minutes.

You’re left with a guide colour (which can rub off so wear dark, loose fitting clothes!) that needs to be showered off a few hours later once the longer lasting colour beneath has developed.

All in all it’s a bit of a faff. However the resulting, even, all-over golden glow will look like the best tan you’ve ever had. It lasts for around a week, or longer if you moisturise a lot. Try not to fall off your bike because scratched up legs and arms will RUIN it. Mountain bikers take note!

Treatments cost from around £20 and I’ve got the best results with Xen-Tan.

Self tan

Usually this comes in a tube, is less faff and, because you apply it at home, works out a lot cheaper. For an even result you need to apply it to skin that is exfoliated and well moisturised. Dry skin intensifies the result so that it looks patchy. Applying it with a mitt also helps, as does taking extra care around ‘tell-tale’ areas such as ankles and hands.

Again, you need to allow the tan up to eight hours to develop and the longer you leave it the better the result so its best to apply before bed, sleep on old sheets (although stains do wash out) and wake up like a sun kissed goddess. The result won’t be as intense or long lasting as a spray tan but you can build it over a few days.

Which ones to try? I’m a fan of Xen-Tan Deep Bronze Luxe (£28.99) for its natural looking olive shade. James Read Liquid Tan (£24.50) also gets rave reviews – and there are some great how-to videos on the site.

Gradual self-tan

If you’d rather not take the plunge and commit to a full-on fake tan, then a gradual self-tanning product might be for you. The results are more subtle, and you can build a self-tan gradually over several days, topping up as and when you need. You can even get ones just for the face.

Johnson’s Holiday Skin (£5.10 250ml) or No7 Naturally Sun Kissed Gradual Face Tan with spf15 (£9.95 100ml)

Headline image copyright Jenn, from Flickr


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