The end of the Bronze Age
Remember the era of tangerine-coloured Irish women? Sales of fake tan are falling, as women embrace pale and interesting. Not before time, writes our reporter
There were two Bronze Ages in Ireland. The first one lasted from around 2500BC to 700BC. The second one was considerably shorter, lasting from about 1999 to 2012.
While the first Bronze Age introduced the art of metallurgy, the second heralded a revolution in tanning. There were many new inventions during this epoch: St Tropez, Johnson's Holiday Skin and a ritualistic ceremony known as a 'spray tan'.
Women of the second Bronze Age often had orange-hued faces, mottled necks and black knuckles and knees. Bathrooms looked like crime scenes; bedsheets looked like Rorschach tests. Suffice to say, it was an era of collective insanity.
Women in Ireland have since taken a more judicious approach to tanning. Last year, a report by Euromonitor International on the future of the beauty and personal-care market in Ireland predicted: "Growth in sun care is set to be inhibited by the unpredictability of the Irish weather."
The report also observed a slowing demand for self-tanning products in the Irish market.
Sales of self-tanning products have dropped from €5.8m to €5.7m in the last year, with sales predicted to tumble to €5.3m by 2020.
Research across the water also underlines the fact that our love affair with self-tanning products is fading. A report published by market insight firm Mintel found that the number of British people using self-tanning products had dropped from 17pc to 13pc in a year.
"The popularity of self-tanning products has declined substantially over the past year, suggesting that the fashion for artificial tans is waning as people instead embrace a more natural look," says Jack Duckett, consumer lifestyles analyst at Mintel. "This trend was highlighted at London Fashion Week SS16, where a number of shows featured models wearing more natural base make-up with a dewy sheen on natural-looking faces, accompanied with mascara-free eye lashes."
It's a trend that beauty writer Triona McCarthy has watched unfold. She remembers judging the Miss Ireland competition along with her friend, the renowned hair stylist James Brown, in 2012.
"We were both appalled by the amount of fake tan the lovely girls were wearing," she recalls. "The following year, Aoife Walsh, a natural red-head with beautiful, porcelain skin, won - and both James and I like to think it was our influence!"
But not everyone agrees. Courtney O'Hara, co-owner of Assets Model Agency, says the fake-tan market is still buoyant in Ireland.
"There are so many new tans made in Ireland, like The Tan, Cocoa Brown, etc, and they all seem to be doing very well," she says. "I think maybe the more expensive ranges have suffered due to good new tans being sold at very affordable prices."
Her clients' requirements are changing, though. "What a client is looking for has definitely changed, especially in Ireland," she says. "When I started in Assets 13 years ago, the press-call culture was huge and all press models were tanned, big-haired and glam; whereas now the work has changed and press-calls have definitely taken a back-seat to fashion bookings."
O'Hara advises her models not to wear fake tan unless a client has requested them to do so. "Tan, if not applied properly, can mark or permanently stain clothes," she explains.
David Tracey, the owner of tanning salon TanZone, thinks of the Bronze Age as a "kind of social blindness".
"If everyone was orange, then it seemed normal," he says. "I think fake-tan sales peaked a few years ago as it was a fairly new phenomenon. Spray-tanning has definitely declined dramatically, in my opinion due to the streakiness when it starts to wear off plus the slightly orange appearance.
"As far as I understand, the bottled spray tans are still very popular."
Blogger Rachel Martin of The Insider Daily agrees. She thinks the industry is simply going in a different direction. "I think we've moved into a phase of highlighting rather than tanning. Newer brands like Cocoa Brown and Vita Liberata now offer oils. It's more about the sheen.
"I think it has a lot to do with how the celebrities are looking," she adds. "(During that era) it was all about Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, but then they started to go for a more natural look."
Nowadays, there is no shortage of 'pale and interesting' role models. Anne Hathaway, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Taylor Swift, Krysten Ritter, Christina Hendricks.
These are the complexions that McCarthy admires. While she occasionally wears a little leg make-up to even out her skin tone, she prefers her skin to be pale.
"I adore pale skin," she says. "It's far more chic. I've actually never seen a stylish, sophisticated woman wearing fake tan. Generally, fake tan-wearing women do everything to the extreme, so they'll have the tightest body-con dress, the highest stripper heels, permanent-marker eyebrows and teeth so white you can see them from outer space!"
Martin, now 22, says she used to go overboard when she applied fake tan during her schooldays.
"When I was 15 or 16, I used to lash it on. My hands and elbows would be bright orange and I used to think I looked great.
"I used to wear Sally Hansen to school all the time," she adds, "and my mam and my grandparents and my aunt were always saying 'Stop using so much tan!'."
Martin still wears fake tan. However, through trial and error, she has worked out how to make it look more natural.
These days, she scrubs her body twice before applying two light layers, two evenings in a row, rather than one heavy one. "It's a little more effort but it looks better."
O'Hara is also wearing less fake tan than before. "I used to use tan all year round... or use sunbeds. Unfortunately, I'm blessed with the pasty-pale complexion and a slight colour gives me a healthier appearance," she laughs.
She says her lighter touch with fake tan is largely down to a lifestyle change and a more relaxed approach to fashion. "Gone are the bandage dresses..."
Other women gave up fake tan long before it became a trend. Food writer Susan Jane White hasn't worn it for 20 years. "Like Ugg boots and Peter Andre, fake tan is not interesting anymore," she says. "Pale skin is fabulous, so long as you look after it. A decent unprocessed diet and some jazzy exercise will have you looking like you just spent hours in the bedroom with George Clooney."
The Mintel study also noted that fake tan usage falls dramatically with age. Just over a fifth (21pc) of the 16 to 34-year-olds they interviewed had used self-tanning products, compared to 11pc of 35 to 44-year-olds.
O'Hara agrees that fake tan is more popular with a particular age demographic.
"Women of my age maybe wear it less and go more for a gradual tinted moisturiser as opposed to a full-on spray tan."
Others have started getting their tan from UV light, although TanZone's Tracey hasn't noticed an increase in demand. "I think sunbeds have always had a niche following and tend to be mostly seasonal," he says. "I don't see a dramatic increase in sunbed use over the last five years. Steady, would be how I would put it."
Tracey says a large percentage of customers use sunbeds for medical complaints such as psoriasis, severe acne and eczema. However, he adds that he is "prohibited by law to make any claims pertaining to health benefits".
Personal trainer and bikini-fitness champion Jessi Kavanagh uses sunbeds and fake tan, although her approach has changed considerably since what she calls the "sublime bronze days".
"My feet were bright orange with white lines around my toes where it didn't go in properly," she laughs.
These days, Kavanagh is required to have a 'show tan' when she performs in bodybuilding competitions.
"You have to get special body-builder tan," she explains. "It's mahogany it's so dark. When you're used to being that dark, you feel crazy-white when it comes off.
"I stopped using tan because it was getting patchy and all my clothes were wrecked," she says. "After that, I went on a bit of a crazy one and did loads of sunbeds.
"But then I saw this article about this girl who got skin cancer on her nose and I thought 'oh my God!', so I stopped. That was three weeks ago - I'm back on fake tan now."
Would she ever consider the pale look? "Someone like Rose McGowan has a beautiful shade of white skin - it's porcelain - but [Irish people] don't have that," she says. "We're bluey-purple! Besides, I prefer to be a little browner - shows off the muscle."
The Bronze Age may have peaked and petered out, but it looks like it will be another epoch before Irish women embrace their natural skin tone.