Many people feel they look their best when they have that “just back from the beach” glow. Unfortunately, the real-deal tan may come with risks of skin damage, premature aging, or even skin cancer. To get some color and stay safe, our self-tanning guide will help you make some informed decisions.
And keep the following in mind when selecting self-tanners:
Self-tanning products do not provide protection against the sun’s burning rays. Only sunscreen products with SPF—sun protection factor—provide sun protection.
If you use a self-tanner, the color of your skin is not an indication that you have a “base-tan.” You will still burn in the sun as if your skin had not been previously exposed.
The key ingredient in all self tanners and sunless tanning products is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which is used alone or combined with other tanning components, such as erythrulose, and reacts with surface skin cells to develop into a tan to light brown color.
The color is only deposited in the outermost layer of skin cells. Most of these skin cells are dead and will be shed within a few days. To make your tan last, exfoliate your skin prior to applying self tanner and moisturize after the tanner dries, to seal in the color.
DHA is the key ingredient in all self-tanners is the same. The difference in cost is due to other product features, such as added skin-soothing ingredients or pleasant fragrances.
Different products give slightly different color tones, so if one product leaves you feeling too “orangey,” try a different product or switch to a product designed to give less color next time around.
To remove too-intense color, gently exfoliate skin with a washcloth or exfoliating brush.
Self-tanning products can stain hands, clothing, sheets, towels, and bathmats, so use with caution. Follow the label instructions carefully.
Before using any new product, do a patch test on a small area to ensure the product agrees with your skin.
Self-Tanners for the Face
What they are: Face self-tanners come as gels, lotions, creams, and towelettes. They deposit DHA, the key “tanning ingredient,” onto the skin. Products for the face often give a more subtle color than those designed for the body. Face self-tanners tend to be of thinner consistency and come in oil-free and non-comedogenic (non-acne-causing) varieties, to minimize the risk of skin breakouts.
Why to buy: Any tan that you achieve naturally, with sun exposure, causes skin damage; a self-tanner is the only “safe tan.” Products are available that develop into a variety of colors, from light to dark tan, so you can customize the color. Many products can be applied for several days in a row, so the color deepens slowly over time, allowing you to control the end result.
Things to consider: Fragrance is one of the most common culprits in causing negative skin reactions to new products. If you have sensitive skin, opt for an unscented product with the fewest ingredients. If you get no sun, you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement to avoid deficiency.
Self-Tanners for the Body
What they are: Body self-tanners come as oils, gels, lotions, creams, and towelettes. They are used to deposit DHA, the key “tanning” ingredient, onto the skin. Products for the body often give more color than those that are designed for the face. Body self-tanner lotions and creams often have a thicker consistency, since body skin tends to be dryer than face skin.
Why to buy: As with the face, the only safe tan on the body is one that comes from a self-tanner. Sun exposure to achieve a tan can increase the risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer. Products come in such a wide variety of forms so that nearly everyone can find a product that works well and gives the desired color result.
Things to consider: Exfoliating and shaving, both of which may remove the outermost layer of skin cells, will speed up how quickly your tan fades. Try exfoliating and shaving your legs before applying self-tanning products to get the longest-lasting result. Moisturizing frequently will prolong the length of your self-applied tan as well.