Celebrity Skin Finisher Fiona Locke Shares Her Self-Tanner Tips

How to perfect your skin with tanner... even if you hate looking tanned.
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Michelle Villett
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How to perfect your skin with tanner... even if you hate looking tanned.
Fiona Locke in Toronto

So remember how I boldly declared this time last year that I was DONE with tanning? (I'm talking the faux kind, obvs—aside from a couple of beachy escapes from the Canadian climate, I've avoided any sort of real tanning since the mid-'00s.)

Well, maybe I wrong about the ol' tan-in-a-bottle. Ever heard of the job "celebrity skin finisher?" Yeah, only in Hollywood. But these people have a task that's just as important as hair, makeup, nails and wardrobe. They're responsible for the tone and texture of celebrities' skin before big events—so that it doesn't look too pasty-white, blotchy-red or (most importantly) obviously tanned. The days of the too-dark faux tan are over and it's now all about perfecting the skin so that it looks healthy, even, smooth and glowy.

I don't know about you, but I'm in! I met with one of the most sought-after celebrity skin finishers, St. Tropez'sFiona Locke, when she was in Toronto a little while back—and she basically busted all of my preconceived notions about tanning. (That's us up there, with her looking tanned and glowy... and me looking predictably pale and blotchy.) Here's what we chatted about:

What does a celebrity skin finisher do? I work exclusively using the St. Tropez products to not just tan people, but also to give that really fresh, glowy, healthy look to the skin. It's become a lot more about finishing your all-over look—completing the skin and not just stopping at the makeup and the hair. We're incorporating the body into the full look. So that's a big part of what I do out there. I'm always looking to improve and find new stuff that makes sense to have as part of the line.

How did you get your start? I got into it sort of by accident. I had a background in beauty and cosmetology years ago, but I worked as an entertainer, singing, performing and acting. I was hired as a spokesperson for a tanning brand about 11 years ago to do their on-camera training and sort of be their face. I had a knack for it and really fell in love with it—and fell in love with the whole process of taking it from what I call back then the eight-track recorder. Like, the old-school, giant chunky tanning machines and stinky product and bad colour. I started working at developing new and better ways.

Then, a woman who I knew in the industry was working with St. Tropez, and they were looking for someone to do a similar thing—kind of in the celebrity industry and all of that, which I was working in. We met and I totally fell in love. I took every one of my clients and said, "All that stuff I've been using on you for all these years is gone and now we're doing this." Since then, the product just keeps getting better and better. The amazing CEO of the brand, Michelle Feeney, has taken it to this level of perfection. Because the focus is all skin and tanning and skin finishing. We're not trying to be five different things; it's really focused on the skin.

Sienna Miller - Golden Globes 2013

How is self-tanning different today versus a few years ago? It can be very, very subtle without it looking like a tan but just completing the look. For example, at the Golden Globes I worked with Sienna Miller. Now, if you looked at her in her pictures, never in a million years would you say she has self-tan on. At all. But she did. Head to toe, full custom spray and skin illuminators. And it just took the edge off because it takes redness out the skin, it takes blue out of the skin. It sort of balances your skin tone.

So in many cases, and a lot of them are the men I work with too, you would never know. But that's the point. When people call me because they're working with somebody getting them ready for an event, they're not calling to say, "Oh, I've got so-and-so and they want to be really tanned on the red carpet." That's, like, the last thing people want. But knowing the difference of your skin with product and without, it's amazing what little amount of product can make such a huge difference. Even using things like a gradual tanner and then St. Tropez also makes a skin illuminator, so you can just highlight. Last season, we launched the skin illuminators not to tan but to highlight and enhance.

St. Tropez Skin Illuminators

St. Tropez Skin Illuminators, $27.00 each

Is there anyone we see on the red carpet who doesn't do skin finishing? I think there's very few people who aren't at least putting something on their skin, even if it is just an illuminator or a highlighting product. You're not even necessarily darker but adding more rose or adding more gold or a pearlescent, opalescent finish to the skin.

How do you work with celebrities? Most of the time, I get a text on my cell phone. It's really quite random. I'll get a text from somebody who will say one of those names, like, "Hey it's Jennifer. Going to do GGs. Any chance you can come to the house?" And then I'll have go, really people? You're not the only Jennifer, okay? And it is always at the eleventh hour. So I'll get a lot of those texts or, "So-and-so gave me your number." Or stylists—who are a little bit better at preparing for events. They tend to have their fittings, narrow it down to two to three wardrobe options and then say, "Okay, what actually makes sense? This colour? No way, without a tan, never going to work." It's sort of like that narrowing down process.

Anna Gunn - Writers Guild Awards 2013

I just went over to Anna Gunn; she's on Breaking Bad. That was one of those things where she was heading off to do some press and sent me the text, "Can you come over?" It's pretty consistent. Once you get hooked on how it looks and how pretty it is on camera, you get a lot out of that.

Who is the coolest person you've worked with? I have to say in terms of history, one of the coolest ones that I worked with was Farrah Fawcett when she was alive. That was really neat. I grew up watching Charlie's Angels. Just going over to her place and having a really neat moment of like, "I'm tanning her, she's going to an awards show." She had the jeweller there who showed up with all the diamonds, and she was asking me to try stuff on. It was just kind of like hanging out with your friend or a relative that you love. So that was special for me. But I've been very fortunate to work with a ton of people... I've met all kinds of interesting people.

Do you tan people naked? I work with people all day long, naked bodies, meet clients for the first time, clothes are off. I won't say that there hasn't been some of the men naked because of roles and different things where they're wearing very, very little. I really wish I could tell you who my most recent client was, which was a guy. He was not naked but he wasn't wearing a lot. Very handsome!

Kate Moss St Tropez

How do you feel about Kate Moss representing the brand? It's incredible. She's so ageless and she looks so flawless. Also the fact that she is in the modelling industry, which has been very anti-tan. Models, designers, runway and all of that—people have been not a fan. But she fell in love with the idea based on the skin finishing, and then obviously felt comfortable enough to take it to the next level of colour and go to this, which is so sun-kissed and beautiful. It's pretty incredible. Even when I first saw that shot I was like, "Scandalous!" We are really rocking the skin here.

Do you usually do a trial run with your celebrity clients? In some cases, yeah. Definitely for some people if they've never done it before. It's really smart to meet with them a few weeks in advance and do the full body to see how the skin reacts. Although it will adjust to your own skin tone and to your natural melanin, you don't know how dark you're going to go or how well your skin will receive it. With some people you need less and with some people you need more.

Kelly Osbourne - Grammy Awards 2013

Where should you start at home if you're afraid of self-tanner? The best thing in that case is probably to start with a gradual tanner, which is a really subtle, slow build over two to three days. Especially if you're very, very fair, like a Kelly Osbourne colour. She is really white and now she's a total convert to tanning. She loves the brand so much. When I very first met with her and talked with her about doing tanning, she had that, "No way, I will never tan, I hate it, it's horrible, it's ugly." I was like, okay, well, let's do baby steps. Let's just introduce the idea of gradual and slow. "Okay, I like it. Yup, it made a difference. I looked good in that picture." Okay, let's just go to the next level. She's now, like totally she would go straight to the St. Tropez Dark range.

St. Tropez Dark range

St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing SpraySt. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Mousse and St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Bronzing Lotion, $54.00 each 

But if you're starting out at home, even if it's your own wedding or it's some big event coming up and you don't know how your skin's going to react, start with the Gradual Tan. Having done it for so long and worked with so many different skin types and skin tones, I have to say this works on everyone. From the lightest to the darkest, it always looks great.

St. Tropez Gradual Tan

St. Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Body Moisturizer, $38.00

What's the most popular product? The hero products that most people are familiar with are the Bronzing Mousse and Application Mitt. They're so great and it's what I have on. It's the grab and go. The Mitt has changed self-tanning for people at home because it makes it so incredibly easy and you don't get the staining on your palms and all the tell-tale stuff that people associate with bad tans. That's completely eliminated. You never get the orange, you never get the bad smell, because there's Aromaguard technology in the products and that means it's never going to smell like a self-tan.

St. Tropez Bronzing Mousse and Mitt

St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse, $51.50, and St. Tropez Applicator Mitt, $7.50

Because this is such a great product and everybody loved it so much, we had to shrink it into the Mini Mitt and Mini Mousse. Travel size. Put it in your purse, your car or wherever, your gym bag, so that you always have it ready to grab. You don't have to check it at the airport, which is really great. The Mini Mitts in particular are terrific for applying the product to your face. You can get two fingers and get right in there and really ensure that you're covering evenly.

So it's okay to use the same product on your face and body? The product's beautiful on the face. A lot of people are a little scared of using self-tanners on their face, but I do it all the time to clients who've never self-tanned who are going on the red carpet or in front of a camera or something major, and it has to be great every time. So that's how much I trust it that it's really pretty on the face.

However, the newest launch is designed specifically for the face and it's a really nice, light formula. It's almost like a gel, the way it comes out. It's got a tiny bit of a tint and it slowly over four to six hours will tan your face without it being as extreme as going straight to a self-tanner. Because it's so nice and light, you can wear it underneath your makeup—but frankly, when you put it on, you feel less of a need for makeup. You feel more like, "Oh, put a little bronzing powder over this, put my rouge on," and you're out the door. It's a really nice, light formula. The face tends to fade the quickest, so there was a big demand for something that you could use every two to three days, keep the colour, and have your face always maintain that nice, fresh tone.

St. Tropez Bronzing Lotion Face

St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Lotion Face, $38.00

Another new launch is Perfect Legs Spray, which is an instant self-tan spray with a cosmetic finish that also gives coverage. So, similar to I guess the Sally Hansen spray where you're covering up things but you're getting the self-tan aspect as well. It says Perfect Legs but people throw it in their bag and use it on everything, on your arms and your face and wherever, because it's so quick and easy and gives you that instant colour with the coverage. A lot of makeup artists really love it; they're big fans of it in their kist because it's a good go-to, quick touch-up thing.

St. Tropez Perfect Legs Spray

St. Tropez Self Tan Perfect Legs Spray, $22.50

How long will self-tan last? Generally, you get at least a week of colour with your tanning products. It depends a little bit on lifestyle—if you exercise a lot, if you swim a lot, if you sauna, any of those sorts of things will shorten the lifespan. For the most part, you get about a week of colour. Because the Bronzing Mousse was so successful and people fell in love with it so much and became obsessed, there was a need for the next launch, which was to take it to the next level of colour and do a dark line. The Dark Bronzing Mousse is already a favourite in Allure with the editors and people are really loving the dark colour. There's also a spray and a lotion. These are just three different application methods of basically the same product. It's deeper, darker, richer colour.

Can anyone use a dark self-tanner? It's for anyone but I do suggest that you have some experience with applying self-tan before you go straight to it. Once you've used the Bronzing Mousse and you know, "Okay, I really like this, I like how this looks on my legs. Now I'm going on vacation." Or "I'm doing something that I actually want to be a little darker and a bit more dramatic look." It definitely will work on your skin but it's good if you have some experience with your application.

How should you prep your skin for self-tanner? You want to make sure there's nothing on the skin before you put the product on. The new and improved Body Polish is great to exfoliate with beforehand, as it leaves the skin free of any oils. Then you put a little bit of lotion on the dry areas of the body, around the hands, feet, knees, elbows—anywhere that's excessively dry. Then you apply the product, whether it be the dark or the classic.

Can you put moisturizer on your face first? Anything underneath it is going to act as a barrier. So you want to have your skin completely free of everything and then you can put your lotions and things over it. Now, because there's no SPF in any of these, it is important to make sure you put your sunscreen on. So you can apply your tanners and let it settle into your skin about four to six hours to develop and then it's okay to put anything over it.

Can you use self-tanner if you have a skin condition like sensitivity or acne? I always err on the side of caution if someone has particularly sensitive skin. A lot of people who do have troubled skin or acne will find that it helps to kind of blend and even things out a bit. In that case, I again probably revert back to the Bronzing Mousse just because I find it's really light. But I also say, if you're worried and think, "Oh, what if it makes me break out more?" then do a test area on your skin just to see how it reacts. The last thing we ever want to do is make something worse that you're actually trying to fix.

In the case of putting it on your face, if you're covering up things like acne or scars, what I generally suggest is to put your concealer on those areas first and then do your tanner. Because what you don't want to do is darken a spot or darken a mark that you're trying to hide. Put a little bit of concealer and then put your product on all over that.

Fiona Locke in Toronto

How many days before a big event should you apply your tanner? It depends on the overall desired end result. If someone's looking for it to be a little more subtle and faded and not as obvious, we'll do two, three, four days in advance. Some people want it as fresh as they can get it. They'll say, "Can you come over at 11pm the night before the event?" And then they'll sleep with it on, get up, take a shower, get dressed and go. So it sort of depends on what they're ultimately looking to achieve.

What's your most challenging type of skin for you work with? A very hairy man. But you work around it. Maybe there's a little bit more buffing involved or you use the aerosol spray. In terms of skin types, if somebody's got a really bad burn or a bad tan line, that just takes a bit more time and detail where you can blend and help to cover things like that up. I just had a woman last week who had played golf in this shirt with a racer back. She's pretty religious about her skin and not getting burned and all that kind of stuff, but she just forgot her shoulders. Like, she did everything else, she just didn't do that part right there. Her tan line was so bad. And she had an event to go to in a strapless dress, of course. She was almost on the verge of changing the outfit completely, but it was like a whole gown thing, it had been designed, it was a pretty big thing. What we ended up doing was I did the custom spray all over of the classic colour, which would be the equivalent of the Bronzing Mousse, and then I went back in with the Dark formula and filled in the lighter part to kind of blend. Thankfully, it worked. If you were right up on her and studying, then yes, you could still see a tiny bit. But it's very close. It makes a big difference for that. So I've had emergency bride phone calls and things like that where they're like, "Oh my God, I didn't realize, I've got this V and my dress is this...." So you can kind of fix things.

What's your biggest tanning pet peeve? It's really shocking when I see people and they're overly tanned. It's so ridiculous-looking. All people can do is look at them and go, "That's horrible." There's such a fine line between just over-the-top and going a little darker than you normally would. I won't name names but anyone who has recently watched any awards shows, there's been a few people where I just look at them and go, "Who let them walk out the door with that?" I am shocked because the options are so great now, there's no excuse. I'll be the one on the soap box waving my mitt and mousse. People bring up bad tanning references and I can thankfully say not one of them are mine.

Amy Poehler - Golden Globe Awards 2013

I recently worked with Amy Poehler when she hosted the Golden Globes. I saw her the day before and she was really wonderful and was open to definitely having colour. We talked about her wardrobe, but I didn't see it until I actually saw her hosting. I was like, "This is good for you." I mean, she was showing way more skin, and cleavage and leg and arm and stuff where not having the extra layer of confidence makes a big difference. So that was a great moment of someone who was very fair, who was willing to go into the medium-to-dark range of colour and have it look so fantastic and everybody just saying "Wow!" But they weren't all saying, "Wow, she's really tanned." It was like, "Wow, she looks great." So there's a very fine line.

Another pet peeve is when people tan with self-tanners without using the Mitt. There's no excuse for it. I never use the hands. The hands grab product and stain. If somebody just puts the tanning product on there, the immediate next step is to get the St. Tropez Tan Remover and wash your hands right away. It will take it off if you use the tan remover within four hours of a mistake, but if you let that sit on your hands, it's there.

St. Tropez Tan Optimiser Tan Remover

St. Tropez Tan Optimiser Tan Remover, $25.00

Is there anything else you can do to remove tan marks? You can soak in a bathtub with some baby oil and it softens the skin enough to exfoliate and eliminate any bad areas. Lemon juice is another little trick that helps to cut any staining. So those are two little side things you can do if you have a major problem that you can go back and kind of eliminate.

Guys, tell me you've got a whole new opinion on self-tanning now... right? Let's talk about this!

Did you have any idea that even pale-skinned celebs use self-tanner for the red carpet?
Do you use self-tanner—and if yes, what's your favourite product?
Will you be paying more attention to "skin finishing" the next time you reveal lotsa skin?