Is it worth it? Fake and fabulous

If your attempts at DIY tanning leave you streaky and frustrated, don't despair. Your friendly beautician is here to do it for you. That'll be pounds 74 thanks

EVERY CLOUD has a silver lining, and this summer it's lining the pockets of grateful beauticians up and down the country. For, in the current damp climate, the usual salon favourites of assorted embarrassing waxings and lymphatic drainage massages are now being joined by their simple cousin, the fake tan.

It's common knowledge, of course, that we ladies have been faking it for years (ha ha); and some better than others. If you are one of the chosen few who can DIY from the bottle and make it look like you've just spent two carefree weeks strolling in Provence, more power to you. If, on the other hand, the mere whiff of the self-tanning bottle sends you streaking like a day-glo Erica Roe, then paying for professional treatment may be the smart option.

Unfortunately, like most of life's little pleasures, the drawback with going to a salon is that it doesn't come cheap. At L'Avenue Decleor, pounds 74 buys you the dubious initial pleasure of stripping down to a pair of floral paper knickers in front of the Decleor lady. At the end of this humiliation (I mean, did they have to be floral?), you end up with a tan which, just like self-application lotions, lasts only a couple of days before a reapplication is necessary.

So while it's well worth the money if you have pale, sensitive skin and are worried about frazzling to a crisp in the Med, there has to be more on offer than a few extra days colour to justify the price at home.

Luckily for Decleor, there is. This treatment is actually a bit of a treat. If you think that your average massage these days costs pounds 40 plus, pounds 74 for four hours of careful pampering (vigorous brillo-padding, power shower, assorted lotions, careful tan applications) is bargain basement. Enthusiastically buffed and buffeted like some sort of liced orphan, you emerge - if not quite Helena Christiensen-like - at least feeling tanned and refreshed.

Still, if you think the money could be better spent, there.are cheaper options to tempt you. St Tropez offers a treatment which costs considerably less (pounds 45) and even boasts its own tanning helpline. Our willing tester (pale with auburn hair, burns easily), was extremely happy with the results, although the process was apparently less than elegant, with the administered goo looking rather disturbingly like Marmite.

Another "tester" (dark hair, olive skin) tried out the pounds 40 Pier Auge treatment at Chelsea's Martyn Maxey salon, which took about an hour, with an exfoliation treatment included. It was "really relaxing" but didn't produce any significant results on her skin. She was, however, invited back for another (free) treatment which proved more successful.

Of course, you might feel that this whole lotion business is a waste of precious time. In which case, you could legitimately position yourself as a member of the "old skool" (very a la mode) and go back to Seventie's sci fi on the sunbed. This is, after all, still the quickest and most affordable option if you're planning an extended family of wrinkles to keep you company in middle age.

But our guess is that all you're looking for this summer is a smooth, safe tan. In which case, you can tell your local beautician to stick that Decleor fake tan where the sun don't shine.

That is, all over.