How Safe Is Your Sunless Tan?
Ask any woman on the street and she’ll likely say that self-tanning is safe and smart, while getting bronzed in the sun is a no-no. While baking in damaging UV rays is to be avoided at all costs, the case for self tanning is not as straightforward as you might think. See, most sunless tanning lotions also include harmful ingredients, giving you more than the bronze you bargained for. The positive news is that there are a growing number of natural self tanners poised to surpass their conventional counterparts in both safety and performance. Read on for the story behind sunless tanning and the best options to give you the most glow with the least risk.
Did you ever wonder about the ingredient in sunless tanner that develops color in your skin? It’s called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, and you’ll find it in just about every tan-producing product, from the drugstore shelf to the department store counter. DHA in your sunless tanner reacts with amino acids in your skin’s keratin, producing the pigment that we call tan. Natural sunless tanners set themselves apart by using DHA derived from natural sources like sugar beets, corn and sugar cane.
While DHA appears to be a safe ingredient, it does increase the amount of free-radical damage caused by sunlight, according to a 2007 study by Berlin’s Gematria Test Lab. Given this increased susceptibility to damage, it makes sense to avoid the sun directly after applying sunless tanner and to wear sunscreen at all times for UV protection. Many natural self tanning lotions include a dose of antioxidants that provide additional free-radical protection. Conventional formulas, however, can add fuel to the sun-damaging fire with harmful parabens, perfumes and skin-tinting synthetic dyes.
For the safest route to a summer glow, check out these natural sunless tanners:
• The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan ($60, 3.3 oz)
This luxurious gel-like formula (DHA from sugar beets) smoothes over skin quickly and easily, leaving a scent akin to sugary pastries. Aloe, shea butter, jojoba and coconut oil make it extra-moisturizing.
• Lavera Self Tanning Lotion ($39.90, 5 oz) and Spray ($30, 6.6 oz)
This self-tanning duo, infused with organic jojoba and organic aloe vera, makes the use of skin softening/moisturizing lotion obsolete. Your skin achieves a deeper, soft finish and the hint of shimmer left on your skin after application helps create a whimsical and energized glow.
• Nature’s Gate Sunless Tanner ($9, 4 oz)
This light lotion (DHA from sugar cane) contains antioxidant green tea and raspberry to protect from free-radical damage. The lightly-tinted formula makes it easy to locate spots you may have missed.
• Caribbean Solutions Natural Beauty Colours Self Tanner ( $12, 6 oz)
The natural cucumber melon scent of this quick-developing formula (DHA from corn) overpowers that signature self tanner odor.
• Chocolate Sun Cocoa Glow Sunless Tanning Cream ($40, 8 oz)
This cream smells delicious—so delicious in fact that you won’t be able to resist sniffing it at off moments during your day. Chocolate Sun’s formula (DHA from sugar beets) ranges in shades from Lite to Absolute.
For those who can’t see slathering on cream and waiting for it to dry, there are a few in-salon natural tanning options worth the splurge. NYC’s organic beauty haven, Joanna Vargas Salon, offers a Golden Glow Sunless Tan, which includes a diamond peel, hot towel cleanse and organic sunless tan ($175). And California natural tan lovers can experience a professional Chocolate Sun treatment in the company’s West Hollywood or Santa Monica locations.
Tips:Self tan on a stress-free day. Giving your lotion less than the optimal time to dry or sweating during the time that your color develops can lessen the tanning effect.
Don’t swim or exercise for three hours after applying your sunless tanner.
Be sure to wash your hands and nails thoroughly after applying sunless tanner to prevent staining.
Sunless tanner isn’t a substitute for sunscreen. Always wear broad spectrum SPF during periods of sun exposure.