Sunless tanners give you the healthy, radiant color you crave – but without the dangers of UV rays and risk of skin cancer. Deep wrinkles, crow’s feet, brown spots covering arms, decollete creases, leathery legs – these are all signs of sun damage that can be avoided.
Not all sunless tanners include adequate sunscreen protection, so you should use a separate SPF product especially when you plan to be outside for long periods. “Most people apply about a third less sunscreen than they really need to get enough protection. Use a high SPF 30+ to make sure you’re covered. Reapply every two hours or right after swimming or sweating and use extra protection for your lips, tops of your ears, back of the neck and scalp,” said New York City Dermatologist Judith Hellman, M.D. “A wide brimmed hat or visor, long sleeve lightweight tops, and UV protectant sunglasses also offer extra protection.”
The magic bullet behind sunless tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA) that reacts with the outer layer of the skin to temporarily make it darker. The color will fade out as dead skin cells slough away in a few days. Avoid sitting on upholstered furniture or touching delicate fabrics right after you apply tanner to avoid staining.
Start by gently exfoliating with a soft washcloth in the shower or bath. Microparticle scrubs are perfect for this purpose, such as ZO Skin Health Offects® Exfoliating Polish ($60) They get rid of surface dead cells that can interfere with your bronzing protocol. Wait a few hours after shaving before applying tanner to prevent stinging or burning. It’s a good idea to wear the same tight fitting dark colored panties or bikini bottoms every time you apply tanner to create a fake tan line. If you are doing this on your own with no help in sight, reach your back with a sponge with a handle. Wear rubber gloves, use wipes or wash your hands frequently to avoid darkening your palms, fingers, and nails.
Lotion and cream formulas are ideal for the face and body, especially for dry skin. The Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess group offers a bevy of options. We like Sun Indulgence Lotion for Face SPF 30 ($22) because of the included sun protection factor. And for the body, try Clarins Delicious Self Tanning Cream ($42). It actually smells like cocoa and has a tined caramel color, which delivers a natural looking golden glow in just a few hours.
Gels are good for the body. They tend to dry quickly, get absorbed well and are non-greasy. Use gels on hairy areas like arms, the back of the neck, scalp and a guy’s chest, shoulders and back. The brand new Self Tan Gel($35) from St. Tropez is lightweight and minimizes the tell tale odor of self tanners by 70%. The Cure Sheer Touch from ($105) Natura Bisse, the ultra luxe line from Barcelona, is a gel formulation that will give you a natural sun-kissed look gradually. Perfect for year round natural coverage.
Sprays are great when you’re on the go, at the beach and the park. They are easier to apply than lotion, less messy and take less time. Great for kids too. Fake Bake Airbush Self-Tanning Spray ($31.95) boasts a 360° spray angle that can be used to tan those hard to reach areas. Clinique Sun Body Airbrush Spray ($21) develops a tan in one hour, which continues to deepen for the next 24.
Pads are good for travel – the portability factor is a major plus. They also eliminate a lot of muss and fuss. Tan Towel Classic Towelettes (5 pack, $24) is a 3-in-1 self tanner for face and body that exfoliates, tans and moisturizes all in one simple pad. Kate Somerville Somerville360 Body Self Tanning Towelettes ($48) is a quick drying formulation that even features cucumber to soothe and refresh the skin. Nearly goof proof!
What to do if you mess up? You can lighten dark spots on your hands by using a Q-Tip dipped in hydrogen peroxide. Use lotion to blend and to lighten areas that tend to darken too much, such as knees, elbows, belly buttons, between your fingers and toes. Exfoliate with a loofah or pumice stone to lift staining too.
Sunless tanning is an ongoing process, but it can look natural if applied correctly and carefully. Keep your skin moisturized and reapply tanner at regular intervals for maintenance. If it is just too much work for you, check out the airbrush tanning salons and spas in your area. Mystic Tan offers customized solutions that can take you from Glow to Dark.