Blame it on Coco Chanel. The legendary style maker kicked off the modern tanning craze back in 1923 when she stepped off a cruise ship in Cannes with a deep, dark tan. Unfortunately, tanning then was no safer than it is today 87 years later.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes 90% of the most common skin cancers, namely basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And astoundingly, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime, and that includes the potentially deadly melanoma, the most common form of cancer for young adults 25 to 29 years old.
Yet, despite its dire consequences, the majority of women and men still idolize the bronzed look, according to an American Academy of Dermatology survey released this month. Another survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, found only one in five people wear sunscreen on a daily basis, even though a full 94% of Americans know that prolonged sun exposure can cause skin cancer.
The sad and sunless truth is: the only safe tan is a fake tan…and that does not include tanning beds. What do plutonium, certain types of radium and tanning beds have in common? They all appear on the list of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation compiled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a working group of the World Health Organization.
Indoor tanning equipment produces radiation similar to the sun, and in some cases even stronger. And like sun exposure, tanning salons remain popular–more than 1 million people tan in salons on an average day in the U.S. The resulting risk led the FDA to convene an advisory panel in March, which recommended that minors be barred from indoor tanning as part of an effort to monitor the use of tanning beds by salons. No FDA action has yet occurred but last June, Texas enacted a law prohibiting minors under the age of 16 ½ from indoor tanning, propelling other states to initiate similar pending legislation.
So, what’s a glow loving gal (or guy) to do? Well here’s the fun part. Self-tanning options, both professional and at-home varieties, just keep getting better and better.
A friend of mine, a cute and saucy NYC publicist, always looks like she just returned from St. Barts without spending a second in the sun. Her secret is the spray tan artistry of Anna Stankewicz at the Rita Hazan Salon in New York. Anna specializes in complexion matching and can perfect a glow for the very fair to the tawny.
My personal at-home treatment favorite comes from French beauty giant Lancôme. I particularly love Flash Bronzer Tinted Self-Tanning Leg Gel with Pure Vitamin E ($31.50). Easy to apply, you get an immediate effect while the more long-lasting color develops within 30 minutes. I like to tan right after my morning shower, and eat breakfast in my panties to make sure the color sets.
Mystic Tan, the company that pioneered the UV-free spray tanning booth now offers at-home tanning products. The brand’s patented streak-free formulation is available in two forms – Sunless Tanning Spray ($38) or Sunless Tanning Lotion ($38), which is packaged with an applicator mitt to avoid those messy palms. Mystic Tan self-tanning kits for the body ($54) and the face ($54) include conditioning complexes and moisturizers to perfect the experience.
For a perfect imitation of a French Riviera glow, check out the St. Tropez line of self tanners. It’s Self-Tan Bronzing Lotion ($30) is a bestseller at Sephora and features Aromaguard fragrance technology to diminish the tell tale self-tanning aroma. Also available in spray and mousse formulations.
To bring on a tan in a natural gradual manner, turn to the Jergens Natural Glow collection of face and body moisturizers. The Natural Glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer ($8.49) won an Allure magazine Best of Beauty Award for its long-lasting glow.
Radiance-Plus Self-Tanning Cream-Gel ($52.50) by Clarins receives fan raves for its natural-looking fake facial tan. Plus, as it’s from the nature-meets-science experts at Clarins, the moisturizing formulation contains pro-vitamin B5 and vitamin E to balance the skin and fight free radicals.
Guerlain’s Terracotta bronzing collection takes on a new life with Terracotta Spray SPF 10 ($59), which uses professional airbrush technology to deliver a temporary sunny glow on the face. For a total body tan-look, Terracotta Sunless Luxurious Self Tanning Balm ($50) is commended for its streak-proof effect.
The tan of your dreams is easy to achieve, but for a streamlined experience here are a few tips: get a mani/pedi if you are due before you self-tan or get a professional spray treatment (nail polish and remover could damage the color); shave and exfoliate to get a more even look; wait eight hours at least to shower to allow color to set; and wear dark clothes in case there’s a rub off (though self tanning products generally wash out easily). And finally, revel in your safe and sunless glow!