Even though we know that sunbathing can lead to skin cancer, we want to look tanned.
We admire bronzed, healthy-looking people.
But even without the threat of cancer looming in the future, there are other problems with tanning.
UV radiation causes premature aging.
Just take a look at the skin of people who never bothered with sunscreen.
It’s wrinkled and discolored. The texture looks like crêpe paper.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to look good.
It’s sunless tanning.
Regrettably, one famous person has made the option less attractive. It’s hard to avoid running into his orange-tinted image.
But please don’t let this unfortunate example stop you from looking into self-tanners.
It’s rare that modern formulas will turn the skin orange.
In fact, if you begin with one of the best gradual self-tanning lotions, your color will build naturally.
Each day, you’ll look a little darker as if you spent time in the sun.
Let’s look at what makes the tan happen.
What’s in a self-tanning lotion?
Sunless tanning products usually contain DHA, also known as dihydroxyacetone (1).
This is an active ingredient approved by the FDA for bronzing the skin.
It’s a type of sugar that interacts with amino acids in the top layer or epidermis.
Think of it like slicing an apple and watching the flesh go brown when exposed to the air.
Since it stays on the outside of the body, it’s safe for pretty much everyone to use.
Talk with your doctor first, but even if you’re pregnant, you may be able to use a self-tanner.
Besides DHA, sunless tanners also contain moisturizers.
And some have bronzers, or temporary dyes, to stain the skin. That’s because DHA takes a few hours to develop the color.
How to use a self-tanning product
There are a few things you need to know before you self-tan.
If you follow these simple tips, you’re practically guaranteed to have a good experience.
First, you need to exfoliate thoroughly.
I don’t mean scour your skin raw. But I do mean use a loofah or something similar.
Focus on the parts that get especially dry like kneecaps and elbows.
Also, now’s the time to shave.
Then, be sure to rinse well so that there’s no soap residue on your skin.
When you get out of the bath, you don’t need to apply moisturizer yet. Your body needs to be dry and clean for the product to absorb evenly.
(There is a trick you can try to avoid having your kneecaps or elbows look too dark. The dry skin there tends to soak up the product. Solve the problem by applying a very thin layer of lotion and letting it sink in before the next step.)
Next, apply the tanning product according to the directions.
Most likely, you’ll need to wait a few minutes before you dress.
The advantage of the best tanning lotions is that they take the place of your regular moisturizer.
Otherwise, you might feel a little bit dry after applying the sunless tanning product.
Now, it will take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours for your color to darken.
During that time, don’t shower, sweat too much, or go swimming. It might be better to apply the sunless tanner right before bed and wake up bronzed.
To maintain your new tan, stay moisturized, and don’t exfoliate. The more your skin sheds, the faster your color fades.
The negative things you didn’t know about sunless tanning
In the interest of full disclosure, here are the downsides to self-tanning.
Sometimes, the skin develops a slight odor. It will fade within a few hours, or disappear after you shower the first time.
Luckily, some products mask or neutralize the smell.
What’s more, your new tan won’t protect you against sunburn.
One of the cons of DHA is that it makes skin sensitive to UV radiation. Remember the sunscreen, and you’ll be okay.
Finally, a small number of people end up with itchy skin or other reactions. If you’re sensitive to skincare products, do a patch test first.
Overall, sunless tanning is MUCH safer than tanning outdoors or indoors. It doesn’t hurt like a sunburn, it’s cheap, and it’s easy to maintain a tan.
1. https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/dihydroxyacetone/ by Vanessa Ngan, published 2002, accessed February 13, 2020