The days of basking in baby oil are long gone! The effects of harmful UV rays have been the center of attention in the skin care industry over the last decade and for a good reason: skin cancer is no laughing matter. Protect your skin while you are young, using moisturizer and SPF lotions so you can avoid wrinkles and health complications in the future.
Even though tanning is not particularly healthy, there is still a way to get a nice "tan" without the health risks associated with the sun and tanning booths. Sunless tanning has come a long way over the past few years and has become significantly better in terms of color and ease of application. It now comes in a variety of textures, shades and developing speeds. That means you can find the perfect sunless tanner for your skin type so that you can achieve a natural looking sun-free tan without streaks, spots or an unsightly orange glow.
Choosing a Sunless Tanner
- Match the tanner level (light, medium or dark) to your skin. If you burn easily or have pink undertones in your skin, it is probably "light". If you don't burn often but it takes some time to tan, your skin is most likely "medium". You may have olive or tan undertones in your skin. If you tan easily or have dark skin, your skin is considered "dark".
- Select an application type. There are creams, sprays, foams and towelettes. Each one has its pros and cons. Make sure though that whichever type you choose, you select special tanners formulated for the face when needed since some tanners for the body are not non-comedogenic, thus they may clog pores and cause breakouts on sensitive facial skin.
- Budget accordingly. If you can spend $30 on tanner and don't mind, go for it. If you are a limited budget, don't worry. The active ingredient in self tanner, called DHA or dihydroxyacetone, is the same no matter how expensive the formula. The only thing to keep in mind is whether the inactive ingredients in the tanner will make application easier and/or more natural looking.
Sunless Tanner Types
Are tanning pills safe? First of all, it is illegal to sell them in the US, but they are available on-line. Tanning pills work to change the shade of your skin by ingesting "pigment-altering chemicals." We do not recommend using tanning pills because they are dangerous to your health.
Tanning pills come in two types: (1) those made up of a chemical called caretonoid, and (2) those made of tyrosine. Caretonoid is the chemical active in carrots to make their color orange, and the pill acts similarly when ingested by humans. It is not considered a "true" tan, "as it does not alter the body's melanin level." It will not offer you any sun protection. Instead, you will see your skin color change to that notorious "orange glow," and it will stay that way as long as you keep taking the pill. Tanning pills containing canthaxanthin, the most used form of caretonoids, are known to be associated with health issues, most notably the eye disorder called canthaxanthin retinopathy.
The second type, tyrosine-based tanning pills, accelerate and trigger your skin to tan, but they require you to spend time under those cancerous UV-rays. Ultimately, tyrosine pills will still require exposure to the sun and might aggravate your health risks--a waste of time and money at the expense of your health.
- Always exfoliate first. Shaving and/or exfoliating should always be done prior to applying tanner to improve absorption and to get an even application. Use a toner before applying tanner to the face.
- Building is better. You can always add color, but once it's there, you're kind of stuck with it. If you are a beginner, go light to start and build up gradually to avoid a catastrophe.
- Do not apply tanner over moisturizer. Wait for the moisturizer to completely absorb into the skin before applying a coat of sunless tanner. The skin should be completely dry and cool for the best result. Also note that products with alpha hydroxy acids help smooth the skin before applying the tanner, but if they mix with the tanner itself, it will actually diminish the power of the tanner.
- Avoid dry skin areas, such as knees, ankles and elbows. Because those areas lack moisture, they will absorb the tanner into the skin's creases causing a dark lined effect.
- Apply at night. It gives the tanner time to develop completely and should there be any mistakes, you can easily correct them in the morning.
- Use gloves to apply tanner. Plastic gloves (like those you use to dye your hair at home) are a great investment if you frequently apply self tanner since they will keep the hands from turning orange.
- Try a makeup sponge. Foam makeup sponges are great for applying tanner to the face or tricky areas such as the hands or feet.
- Get rid of streaks. Use a swipe of lemon to remove a streak or 2% BHA liquid (betahydroxy acid) such as salicylic acid.
The Truths About Tanners
- Tanners don't ward off UV rays unless they contain an SPF. The SPF must include one of the following to be considered protective against UV rays: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone. See the guide on Sun Protection for more information on keeping skin safe from UVA and UVB rays.
- Sunless tanners naturally fade over time after shaving, showering or swimming. Exfoliating and shaving after applying tanner will partially remove or fade the tan.
- Tanners stain skin and also clothes. Choose fast drying formulas and always let the tanner dry before dressing. Usually 10 to 15 minutes is enough time to be certain that you won't stain anything.