Mirror, Mirror: Women of all colors turn to tanning for leg-baring looks

Ursula Augustine spray-tans Chi-Chi Enigwe's legs. Augustine says Golden Stockings, a sugar-based airbrush system, gives legs a sheer panty-hose sparkle.
Ursula Augustine spray-tans Chi-Chi Enigwe's legs. Augustine says Golden Stockings, a sugar-based airbrush system, gives legs a sheer panty-hose sparkle. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: August 16, 2012

Just because you're a woman of color doesn't mean you're blessed with perfect, miniskirt-worthy skin.

That's the basis behind Rittenhouse Square makeup artist Ursula Augustine's latest offering - Golden Stockings, a sugar-based airbrush tanning system that gives legs a sheer panty-hose sparkle.

Augustine uses the tanning spray on women of all ethnicities, but, she says, her more frequent customers are brown-skinned ladies in search of beautiful, bronze limbs.

"My legs had such a nice, even tone," said Chi-Chi Enigwe, a 5-foot-10-inch Mount Airy publicist the color of dark chocolate who tans so she can rock white hot pants with pride. "They were flawless. In my mind, I'm in Hollywood."

Speaking of LaLa Land, the recent yearning by women of color for glowing and radiant legs can be traced to Beyoncé, whose trademark leg-baring ensembles are as much a part of her persona as her wondrous voice. But other African American celebrities, such as actresses Gabrielle Union, Nia Long, and Kerry Washington, often are hailed for looking phenomenal in miniskirts and short-shorts.

"My clients are coming in telling me they want to look like these women," said Augustine, who has given the Golden Stocking treatment to about 10 women a week since the beginning of June. That's a significant number, Augustine said, considering that black women aren't known for tanning.

Historically, black women have been encouraged to stay out of the sun for fear of becoming "too dark," instead using bleaching methods to achieve what was celebrated as the beauty ideal. Now women of color are embracing their darker skin tone, so much so that tanning has become a regular part of their beauty regimen.

Other salons are noticing the trend, too, as black women realize that tanning can camouflage tiny imperfections.

"Three black women came in for full-body tans just this week, with an emphasis on their legs," said Becca Morris, a makeup artist at b2 Salon in Washington Township, Gloucester County.

This season's fashions are influencing the tanning trend, too. For every maxi-dress I see flowing through Center City, there is a pair of hot pants. And this summer, women are liking the high-low hemline, usually an above-the-knee skirt that tapers into below-the-calf in back. It's a look that, like the warm weather, doesn't show any sign of leaving, so the tanning trend likely will have staying power into the fall.

Not to mention that we still haven't concluded the debate about whether wearing panty hose these days is OK (even though Princess Kate recently wore bone L.K. Bennett shoes and sheer Philippe Matignon hose), which women regularly have used to conceal blemishes.

"If my legs aren't tanned, I usually wear panty hose," said 31-year-old Vernisha Benitez, a Latina with cafe-au-lait skin. Augustine spray-tanned Benitez's legs last weekend for a wedding. "I feel freer with my tanned legs. My tone is much more balanced."

Although pale-skinned women must deal with blue veins and freckles, women of color are sometimes self-conscious about their legs' uneven skin tone, explained local dermatologist Susan Taylor.

Skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, as well as scars, can leave dark marks - especially on knees. Stretch marks also cause discoloration, Taylor added.

For years, black women have used makeup to even out their skin tone. Think Diana Ross, Tina Turner. But sometimes that makeup gives women an orange undertone, not to mention staining clothes and furniture.

These days women are buying self-tanning products by Sally Hansen and Lancome for do-it-yourself applications.

Augustine's Golden Stockings treatment causes a chemical reaction that results in what could be considered a black woman's tan: even-toned, glowing skin.

It costs $40 for the leg application - $120 for the full body - and goes on smooth, not sticky. It takes 24 hours to set, is made from sugar, aloe vera, and white tea extracts, and lasts two weeks, even with showers, workouts and saunas.

"I'm a model, so I need my legs to look perfect all of the time," said the mahogany-hued Charisse Adams, who gets the Golden Stockings treatment once or twice a month before shoots. "My legs have a perfect gloss. I love it."


Ursula's About PHace is at 1700 Sanson St., 215-854-1562.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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