How can I rescue a botched fake tan?

11th July, 2009

Dear Economist,
It’s that time of year when hemlines get shorter and legs get browner … I am having difficulty in achieving an even tan, yet everyone else (bar none!) has a perfect pair of tanned pins. I know they’re not natural.

As most men are unfamiliar with the fake tan ritual, let me fill you in. After one has showered, one applies the cream. The substance comes out of its tube as a cream, not the colour of “tan” it will decide to be.

The question is one of when to stop. The tan won’t own up for another four to six hours, so it’s a while before I learn whether the gamble has paid off. When it emerges, it’s patchy and streaky and my knees are two satsumas. Do I reapply blindly in a bid to colour in the gaps, risking more streaky satsumas? Or do I wear trousers?

Dear N.M.

Maybe the whole fake tan business is a game of pure luck, with winners displaying their bronzed legs and unlucky losers resorting to the trouser option. This biased sampling would create the appearance of a world where the ability to apply fake tan is universal.

If this explanation is correct, you must just keep trying and resort to the trousers whenever you fail. But this seems a counsel of despair, and, for reasons that are not purely selfless, I advise against the trousers. You might do better to consult a central banker such as Mervyn King. Extreme monetary policy, such as printing money to buy other assets, is much like applying fake tan. It is all but impossible to know whether you are doing it right at the time, you must wait some time for the results to be apparent, and it is easy to overdo it. I have never seen Mr King’s legs up close, but perhaps he is a dab hand with the fake tan. If he is a master of quantitative easing, he may also have perfected quantitative squeezing.

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