How To Fake Tan At The Airport

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The Marriott at Newark International Airport is actually pretty nice. The room is big, the bed is comfortable, and it has a great view of the air traffic control tower. My stay here is uniquely short, about 4 hours, and before I check out I have to do the following: shower, shave, apply a full body tan, and take a three hour nap before my 6AM flight. This list is chronological, not in order of importance—the tanning portion is top priority. Why, you might ask, am I slathering on fake tanner at 1AM at an airport hotel? Well first off, I love spray tans; if I was rich and/or famous, the first thing I’d do is invest in weekly airbrush tanning in the comfort of my own dream townhouse. And secondly, I’m heading to a wedding tomorrow at which I hope to look exceptionally good after coming off the heels of an international work trip with virtually zero time to spare.


When I got the last-minute chance to travel to Europe for work, I jumped on the opportunity without much hesitation. I’d take the red eye, then the Eurostar, fly back after about 30 hours, crash at Newark, and hit the ground running at the wedding I’d already committed to attending in North Carolina that weekend. The one superficial but significant caveat? My spray tan.

I’d planned on going the Thursday before the wedding at my go-to spot, Gotham Glow in Flatiron. They’re the best. My tan always looks totally natural and they never go overboard. It fades perfectly, too. Basically, it’s the real thing.

With new travel plans, the appointment wasn’t going to work anymore. I thought about about pushing it up to earlier in the week and flying with the tan, but Emily Ferber was quick to warn me that the international flight in economy would make me “sweat more than I ever imagined” and cause a true tanning nightmare.

The only option then was to do it myself. I asked around the office for advice and put together an intensive tanning itinerary that was reliable, travel-friendly, and had real payoff.

In the days leading up to my first flight, I applied the La Mer The Face and Body Gradual Tan. This stuff is not cheap, but the results live up to the price; the glow is subtle enough that it doesn’t streak but powerful enough that you see a difference after just one use. It also smells great (for a tanning product) and is one of the few “face and body” multi-use items that I actually feel comfortable using both places (where there is Miracle Broth, there is my face). By the time I left for the airport the first time, I had a solid base tan and a Muji travel sized container full of product to apply while I was away.

Then during the trip (i.e. the flight there and my one night sleeping in Europe) I added a few drops of Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self-Tan Drops into my daily moisturizer to bring a bit more color to my face. I’m a big fan of this format because it’s easy to apply, travel with, and incorporate into an existing routine. Another favorite of mine is Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Booster.

Cut back to my current situation at the airport hotel. I’ve showered (to rinse off the biblical sweat Ferber warned me about), shaved (which doubles as exfoliating), and am applying a full body Tan Towel Self-Tan Towelette. In the interest of time, I’m throwing all caution to the wind and applying the tan as fast as I possibly can, probably in under a minute, with my eyes closed. Imagine a kid who has been forced to reapply sunscreen before he can go back to play in the pool with his friends on a hot summer's day. That’s me, but with these Tan Towels and the pool is my cushy hotel bed. In a shocking twist, there are zero mishaps when I wake up and the results are quick. In just a few hours I’ve gotten a new wash of serious color that gets me closer to where I usually like to be with a professional spray tan.

Given the first-time success, I do another round of Tan Towels when I arrive in North Carolina a few hours before the wedding. Then, after I get dressed, I apply Tan-Luxe The Gloss Illuminating Face and Body Highlighter to the spots exposed by my dress. This is a fun product—it’s like a giant crayon for your body. I color in the my chest and neck area and rub it in with my hands. It’s easy to blend, doesn’t stink, and miraculously doesn’t rub off on my dress.

I’m not sure if it’s the tan that fuels me, or the fact that my trip was too short for jet lag, but I dance the entire night and get a lot of compliments my overall glow. My response? “I’ve been traveling.”

—Bela Yousif

Photographed by Tom Newton.

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