There’s no need to hit the beach or hop in a tanning bed to get a sun-kissed glow. If you abhor direct sunlight or it’s the middle of winter, there are several sunless products that provide that golden effect without hazardous UVA or UVB rays.
One of the first self-tanning products to hit shelves was Coppertone’s QT, or Quick Tanning Lotion, in 1960. Unfortunately, the result was a less-than-flattering orange. As formulas improved, the look became more natural and today’s products are far more convincing.
For a look that suggests you just returned from a luxurious beach vacation, there are two options: bronzers and self-tanners.
Available in powders, creams, gels, mousse or lotion, bronzers are a tan without the commitment. Plus, you get the effect instantly. They are easy to apply and wash off with just soap and water to restore skin to its natural hue. A bronzer is a good option if you want to have gleaming skin for a special event or night out.
Start with a little and build up for darker color to avoid looking orange or metallic and be sure to use a clean sponge or brush. On the face, apply bronzer to the top of your forehead, cheekbones and the bridge of your nose. On the body, apply to the tops of your shoulders, along the collarbone and down the center of the front of your legs. Because bronzers are a type of makeup, they can rub off, so make sure not to put bronzer on underneath clothing, or on areas that may come in contact with fabric (i.e. your inner arm).
For a tan that lasts beyond a shower, a self-tanner is the way to go. Self-tanning products include lotions and sprays with dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as their active ingredient. DHA is a colorless sugar that reacts with the dead skin cells on the upper half of the epidermis, causing them to change color.
The most gradual option is a moisturizer with a tanning component. You will see a slight difference in color after the first use, deepening with repeated use.
Stronger formulas are also available in lotion, gel or mousse form that provide instantly darker skin, but with a greater risk of streaking. Apply as evenly as possible, using less on feet, hands, knees and elbows for more even color.
No matter which home product you choose, follow the recommended drying instructions to avoid transferring the product onto clothing or other fabric. Wash hands immediately after application to avoid staining. For best results, most brands recommend exfoliating the skin prior to application for richer color that lasts longer.
Many self-tanners now come with the added bonus of SPF to protect your skin from ultraviolet rays. Some ingredients to look for are titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone.
Don't want to do it yourself? You can also go the professional route. Many spas, salons and gyms offer sunless tanning using handheld spray gun or booths. The booth looks like an enclosed shower stall which allows the tanning solution to be quickly sprayed over the whole body. Wear a plastic shower cap to protect your hair. To prevent ingesting the solution, wear goggles, a nose plug and close your mouth.
Some self-tanners take up to 45 minutes before their effects can be seen on the skin. Once you use a self-tanner, expect your new tan to last from five to seven days. The upper layer of your skin completely regenerates every 30 to 45 days, so any color, whether natural or unnatural, will fade. Reapply any product as recommended to maintain your color.