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Self-Tanner & Spray Tans - Are You Doing it Right?

If you somehow still think that laying out in the blistering sun for hours is the only way to get tan - I've got good news for you - it's not! There are great sunless tanning options available these days that don't increase your risk of getting skin cancer and won't contribute to you aging horribly.

By now, it really should be common knowledge that tanning booths and baking in the sun are bad for your skin. In fact, there really is no amount of “sun tan” that is healthy for us. Any sign of reddening or browning of our skin via sun exposure is causing skin damage.

What's the big deal? You may ask. Sunbathing as well as tanning under a lamp exposes our skin cells to damaging amounts of ultraviolet radiation. The sun is primarily composed of two types of rays – UVB and UVA rays. UVB is responsible for causing skin cancer and melanoma and UVA rays are primarily responsible for premature aging.

In short - UVA and UVB rays are bad and should be avoided whenever possible.

While exposing our skin to short bouts of sunlight - especially early morning and evening light, can be a way of helping our bodies produce enough vitamin D and melanin - if your goal is to get a “healthy-looking” summer tan, that will unfortunately lead to premature wrinkles, brown spots and a much higher risk of skin cancer.

So what should you do if, like me, you look like a vampire after many month of dry winter weather? Read on...

Spray Tans and Self-Tanner

The general consensus is that topical sunless tanning products are safe and a much better option than sun bathing. However, the key is to follow the recommended safety protocols to insure that sunless tanning products are not inhaled or applied to areas covered by mucous membranes, including the lips, nose or areas around the eyes because the risks of doing so are unknown. If you're using a sunless tanning product at home, follow the directions on the label carefully and don't get the product in your eyes, nose or mouth. If you're going to a sunless tanning booth, ask how your eyes, mouth, nose and ears will be protected and how you will be protected from inhaling the tanning spray.

What is the active ingredient in sunless tanning products?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DHA (dihydroxyacetone), the active ingredient in sunless tanning products, over 40 years ago as a cosmetic additive. DHA work by combining with amino acids in the skin causing browning, but unlike the reaction caused by UV rays, it involves only the outermost, dead cell layer of the skin (also the reason why it fades after a week or so).

DHA, is derived from plant sources but not all DHA is create equal so look for labels that have “100% natural DHA” as an ingredient. Skinerals Self Tanner comes highly recommended for people with sensitive skin, who are looking for the least abrasive and natural form of sunless tanning. I personally have tried and really like Tan Towel "Look Good Naked" self tanner as well.

Are Sunless Tanning Products Really Safe for Regular Use?

As mentioned earlier, the FDA warns that it may not be safe for DHA to come into contact with the eyes, nose, mouth and any mucous membranes. Unfortunately, despite this restriction, if you've even been to a tanning salon, you most likely did not have access to goggles, nose plugs or special instructions to hold your breath as long as possible while the spray tan is being applied. In short, exposure to DHA is not considered hazardous as long as these precautions are strictly followed. Unfortunately, investigations conducted by the media suggest that most salons do not do not adhere to the recommended safety guidelines for using products with DHA so make sure to bring the proper protective gear!

What's the best way to apply a sunless tanning lotion?

For best results, follow the package directions. In general:

  • Exfoliate first. Use a washcloth or exfoliating product (I love to use my dry brush) to remove excess dead skin cells. Focus on areas with thick skin, such as your knees, elbows and ankles. Wait for skin to dry.

  • Apply in sections. Massage the product into your skin in a circular motion. Apply the tanner to your body in sections, such as your arms, then legs and torso. If you aren't waring protective gloves, wash your hands with soap after each section to avoid discoloring your palms. Using a moisturizing lotion, lightly extend the product from your ankles to your feet and from your wrists to your hands.

  • Wipe joint areas. Dry areas like our knees, elbows and ankles tend to absorb more of sunless tanning products. Avoid the obvious self-tanner amateur move by gently rubbing these areas with a damp towel or applying a little lotion on top of the self-tanner.

Take time to dry. Wait at least 10 minutes before getting dressed. Wear loose, dark clothing and try to avoid sweating.

Sun Protection Regimen

I wrote a blog all about how to choose the best sunscreen so be sure to read it! I feel silly having to say this, but sunless tanner does not protect you from the damaging effect of the sun! You still need to wear sunscreen (I recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher - again, read my blog for details).

Wear a hat and clothing that has sun protection in the fabric itself (there are great items for kids especially). Make sure to reapply sunscreen as instructed on the label and try not to be exposed to too much sun even if you are wearing sunscreen. Shade is our friend!

The moral of the story is - you can have a beautiful tan without damaging your skin, so this story has a happy ending after all :)

I hope this blog was informative. Comment below with your favorite self tanning products!

Until next time,

Dr. Alexes Hazen



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