JANIGA MDs

Plastic Surgery & Cosmetic Center

Self-Tanner 101: How to get a Summer Tan Without Damaging Your Skin

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Self-Tanner 101: How to get a Summer Tan Without Damaging Your Skin

Springtime is here and summer is just around the corner. It’s the time for sundresses, tank tops, shorts, and bathing suits. If you’re like me, you like the look and feel of that sun-kissed glow you get when sunbathing, but how can that be achieved without damaging your skin?

The UV radiation from the sun while tanning can cause damaging effects such as skin cancer, age spots, wrinkles and uneven skin tone. Fortunately, there is a great alternative.  We call it self-tanning, also known as sunless tanning, spray tanning, airbrush tanning, fake tanning and UV-free tanning.

I know, you may be saying “but self-tanning is so hard to get right!” The good news is self-tanning products have improved in recent years and there are now a number of available products that are both easy to apply and provide a natural appearing tan.

How do self-tanners work?

Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is the active ingredient in self-tanners. It is a simple colorless sugar that interacts with the amino acids found in the outermost layer of the skin creating the brown and golden compounds that give the appearance of a glowing suntan.

This is the same type of interaction and change in color one sees when fruits turn brown over time as the sugar in the fruit is exposed to the air. Sunless tanning products do fade with time, usually in about a week, as the normal result of our millions of dead skin cells being sloughed from the skin surface taking the self-tanned cells with them.

Do self-tanners make you orange and smell funny?

Self-tanners were introduced to the market in the 1970’s along with their odor problems and streaky, orangey appearance. The technology has advanced significantly and the old orange color has been replaced with beautiful shades of tan and golden brown.

Today’s high quality self-tanning products are a result of improved manufacturing processes, purer DHA, recognition of the need for a lower pH in the recipe, superior complimentary ingredients, and lower concentrations of DHA. Most of the higher end products have no odor.

Are self-tanners safe?

According to the scientific community, including the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Medical Foundation and the Skin Cancer Foundation, DHA is the most reliable and safe self-tanner, with no reports of adverse health effects from its use.

In what forms do self-tanners come?

Self-tanners intended for home use and self-application come in lotion, spray, foam and cream form. Some salons offer a spray tan service, which uses a mobile air-brushing device or professional spray bottle to apply the tanner to your skin.

Top recommended self-tanning products

Based on my personal evaluation and several comparison trials with a variety of self-tanning products, I would recommend the following products based on ease of use, pleasant odor, natural appearance and cost:

  • Clarins Intense Bronze Self Tanning Cream – Retail price: $35
  • Aqua Tan Self Tanning Body Milk – Retail price: $42
  • Kiehl’s Sun Free Self Tanning Formula – Retail price: $22.50
  • Fake Bake Self Tanning Mousse – Retail price: $28.95
  • Sunlaboratories Dark Sunsation Self Tanning Lotion – Retail price: $49.95
  • Aveeno Continuous Radiance Moisturizer Lotion – Retail price: $15
  • L’Occitane Sunshine Lotion – Retail price: $25
  • Jergen’s Natural Glow Express – Retail price: $8
  • Neutrogena Sunfresh Sunless Foam – Retail price: $10

As I mentioned earlier, I do prefer the gradual tanners, especially for novice users. Here is a list of top-rated gradual tanner products:

  • Olay Complete Touch of Sun Daily – Retail price: $20
  • Lancome Glow Sensuelle Daily Luminous Body Butter – Retail price: $50
  • Nivea Sun Kissed Firming Moisturizer – Retail price: $7

Stay tuned for my next post about the best way to apply self-tanner for a streak-free glow.

Happy Tanning!