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Death of the Red Carpet Spray Tan

Lena Dunham at the 2014 Emmy Awards.
Lena Dunham at the 2014 Emmy Awards.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

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Celebrities, they’re just like us. Except, like, super rich. What I love about celebrities is that though they have access to the most cutting edge fashion and beauty, they’re just as guilty of following trends as closely as the rest of us. There is no better place to see this in action than red carpet. Some beauty trends that have come and gone include ombré hair, lobs, and, nail art (RIP the mani cam, you live on in our hearts.)

Every red carpet is different. You go to the Oscars to show your most elegant gown. You go to the Golden Globes to show your most timeless dress. You go to the VMAs to show your nipples. However, the one accessory that we’ve seen on every red carpet in the past 10 years has been the spray tan.


Zooey Deschanel at the 2014 Emmy Awards. Image: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

The spray tan is the great equalizer. Man, woman, or otherwise, young, old, or ageless (looking at you, Jennifer Lopez) — everyone has cashed in on the benefits of a last minute, healthy glow. It’s a way of life for some, like First Lady Kim Kardashian, who has one done once a week. Others, like the fair-skinned Julianne Moore, get them done a day or two before the big event, so flashbulbs don’t wash her out. Stars use them to even skin tone, contour the body, slim the face, and help them appear more active and healthier all around.

But, like all good love affairs, our fixation on the spray tan must come to an end. More and more, we’ve seen our favorite celebrities step out sporting their natural, untouched skin. In the same way that a bronze body can manipulate your features, so can going spray free. A skin tone free from a golden sheen can make the silhouette of a dress more dramatic, draw more attention to a hairstyle, or make accessories pop.

Lena Dunham, Zooey Deschanel, Christina Hendricks, and Natasha Lyonne have all hit the carpet looking noticeably un-bronzed, and it showed that, as much as much as a good spray can accentuate some choice features, so can your own blank canvas. These girls prove that skin doesn’t have to be touched up before stepping in front of the cameras. No one’s calling them ghastly, everyone’s still calling them gorgeous.

We’re seeing a trend of the relateability of performers becoming more and more of a commodity in Hollywood. Whether or not we can see ourselves in a performer has become just as important as how well they portray a character.

Natasha Lyonne at the 2014 Emmy Awards. Image: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Jennifer Lawrence is a prime example, consistently seeming a little out of place on the red carpet, like she’d prefer a rowdy happy hour to an Oscar party. How they choose to appear on the red carpet is critical to how the public perceives them. How approachable do they want to appear? How attainable do they want their lifestyle to be? It’s hard to see yourself in a sun kissed actress when you’ve been trapped in a cubicle for 60 hours a week, so when a celebrity shows up without a fake tan, it can make you feel like your lifestyles really aren’t that different after all.

Showing up with skin that hasn’t been sprayed has a way of making it seem like you’re a little less concerned about showing up on another "best dressed" list. Like, just maybe, there are more important things than being perceived as anyone else’s definition of pretty. Besides, getting a spray tan just because everyone else is going to have a spray tan sort of defeats the purpose of doing it at all, no?

It’s worth noting that going without a spray tan doesn’t automatically equal pale. People of varying ethnicities and skin tones all choose to get spray tans for number of reasons, of which darkening the skin a shade or two is only one. Many opt for sprays that, to the naked eye, are imperceptible, simply to even tone and enhance their natural coloring in front of a thousand flash bulbs, the same way someone may cake on concealer and foundation before a photoshoot to look natural.

good spray tan isn’t always easy to achieve, and a bad one can lead to unintended press. Even when application is flawless, the drying and setting can be temperamental, and most of us, even celebrities, just don’t have the time to wait around and follow all of the rules to make sure our spray tan turn out evenly. We’ve all seen stars show up to events with streaky tans, uneven color, or hands that just happened to be a different color than the rest of their bodies. The process that they went through to make them red carpet ready was the very thing that landed them in every magazine the following day, just for the wrong reason. Nothing is worse than beauty that backfires.


Christina Hendricks at the 2014 Emmy Awards. Image: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Even when they get it right, that doesn’t mean that it always looks… right. We’ve all seen tans that were applied and taken care of perfectly, only to dry and look so, so wrong. Spray tans have come a long way in the past few years, and getting sprayed doesn’t have to mean that you’ll look like the newest cast member of the Jersey Shore. In the early days of sprays, it was easy to point out who had been artificially tanned because there was a certain artificial, orange glow to them. The horror stories of a spray tan turning out orange are still very real, and though it’s easier to avoid today, with most formulas leaning more brown than bronze, you still run the risk of looking like a Birkin bag.

Will we ever be fully rid of spray tans? Doubtful. When you look around a red carpet and see that many exposed backless dresses, high slits, and bare shoulders, you can pretty much guarantee that all of these women and men (shout out Matthew McConaughey) have been done something to even out their skin.

But, gone are the days of entertainers who spend their days filming, working on screenplays, directing and producing, and inking distribution deals expecting us to believe that they somehow had the time to jet off to Ibiza just before their big night. A fresh fake tan is no longer a red carpet necessity because it feels like we’re all beginning to prioritize our standards a bit differently.