Sunless tanning products

Originally Published: August 20, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 22, 2013
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Alice,

I was wondering if those sunless tanning lotions were good to use? How do they work?

Dear Reader,

While products of the past have been ridiculed for producing more of an orange tint than a golden tan, today's sunless tanners come in a variety of brands and blends offer much more realistic results (if used correctly). Fortunately for those who want to remain tan-looking while avoiding harmful UV rays from the sun and tanning beds, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends self-tanning lotions as a safer choice when compared to time spent in the sun. Professional spray tanning is also available at many spas and salons.

"Bronzers" come in a variety of tones and forms (e.g., powder, cream, lotion), and can provide an immediate and temporary fake tan. These products are essentially a type of make-up that you can wash right off (it might be a good idea to check the weather forecast for possible rain showers before going out after "bronzing").

Self-tanning lotions and sprays that contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) are believed to give the best results. DHA interacts with proteins in the outer layer of skin. As the chemical mingles with dead skin cells, the color change, or "tanning," takes place. This is a more permanent fake tan that usually lasts around five days, depending on the product. For best results (e.g., avoiding a streaky tan), shower and use an exfoliating cleanser or sponge to pre-treat the skin. Before you massage the self-tanner into the skin (sprays require more massaging than lotions), put on disposable latex or plastic gloves to help prevent extremely tanned-looking palms and fingers. Apply the sunless tanner to small areas of the skin at a time to ensure even coverage. If you have covered your entire body, remain nude until the self-tanner dries and wear loose clothing afterwards. If you applied the sunless tanner only to your limbs, for the first few hours wear loose clothing that will not rub away the product.

But even sunless tanning has its drawbacks. Some people may be sensitive or allergic to the ingredients found in the lotions and sprays. Try a test run with a dab on a small section of skin before covering your entire body. If you notice an uncomfortable reaction, discontinue use at once. Also, though it may interfere with your desire to have a tanned face, always keep the lotion or spray away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, as internal use of DHA is not recommended. In addition, avoid contact with other mucous membranes and follow directions that come with the product.

Dermatologists also warn that while some self-tanning products boast a small sun protection factor (SPF), it's too small a dosage to protect against the sun's UVA and UVB rays. Be sure to (re)apply a sunblock with an SPF of at least 15 every time you go outside, especially on cloudy days and in the winter.

And enjoy your natural looking tan!

Alice