Safer tanning generally means darkening or pigmentation of the skin (aka getting the healthy summer "glow") without the use of skin-harming ultraviolet rays found in the sun and traditional tanning beds. It is important to note that none of these options protect you from harmful ultraviolet (UVA or UVB) rays, so be sure to still apply sunscreen before heading out to the sun.
Methods of Safer Tanning
Sunless tanning lotion
Sunless tanning lotions, also known as self-tanners or extenders, are usually sold in the form of lotions, creams, or foam, and are meant to be applied directly onto the skin. They usually contain the FDA-approved additive dihydroxyacetone, commonly known as DHA, which interacts with the surface of the skin to produce darker colors. The results are usually not immediate, but are meant to be built over a period of several days to achieve the desired color tone. If the usage is discontinued, the user may experience discoloration or fading of the tan as the skin sheds itself naturally.
Sunless spray tanning has become widely adopted across salons that used to use traditional tanning beds as a safer alternative. Also called airbrush tanning, spray tanning is mostly done by professionals with spray guns or in an enclosed spray machine booth. Specialty stores also sell canisters and the equipment needed for individuals who wish to spray tan at home. The tanning solution is usually a mix of bronzers and DHA to give immediate results that can last up to a week or two with proper maintenance and care. Be sure to consult a professional on the best way to maintain your spray tan.
Bronzers are probably the foolproof way to get a nice summer glow, as the colors are easily customizable and can easily be washed off with soap and water. A type of tinted cosmetic, bronzers can come in liquid, powder, gel, lotion or powder forms. Usually used as a "one-day" tan, they are often used as a complement to other DHA-based sunless tanners as the DHA-based tan develops slower and more gradually. Since bronzers are a type of cosmetic makeup, they can easily be rubbed off onto clothing and should be applied and worn with care to avoid undesired color transfer.
Dangers of Traditional Tanning
The biggest danger of traditional tanning, whether from the good old sun or from the tanning bed, is the exposure to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays. Split into UVA and UVB rays, the health dangers they can cause include:
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Dark patches or skin discoloration
- Premature aging of the skin (such as wrinkling and damage)
- Sunburn and painful peeling of the skin
- Skin cancer
Unfortunately, tanning of the skin by traditional tanning beds or the sun are indicators that the skin has already been damaged. Therefore, be sure to always opt for sunless tanning options, use plenty of sunscreen, and wear protective clothing when heading outside.
How to Safely Maintain Self-Tanning
Exfoliate before sunless tanning
Since self-tanning options generally require topical application of solution directly to skin, it is best to prep the skin by exfoliation prior to tanning. Not only can exfoliation get rid of unsightly, dead, flaky skin, it also ensures uniform application of the tanning solution to avoid uneven tanning, streaking or splotching. Body scrubs, gentle shaving or the bath loofah are great tools for exfoliation.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!
Other than well-protected skin, be sure to also keep your skin moisturized, as hydrated skin holds on to color pigments better than dry, ashy skin. It can also lengthen the life of your "faux" tan by increasing the time gap between skin turnover and undesired flaking. Be sure to also drink plenty of water and eat fruits high in water content for an extra boost of skin-soothing antioxidants.
Since healthy skin tend to generate a smoother, more uniformed, self-tan, be sure to apply ample sunscreen to shield your skin from damaging rays. According to the American Cancer Association, at least one ounce of sunscreen should be used to protect the arms, legs, face and neck of an average adult, and more should be used to cover the torso generously. Be sure to reapply the sunscreen every two hours, and wear protective clothing such as a hat, sunglasses and a long sleeve shirt when heading outside, even with a sunless tan; having a tan does not equate to protection from the sun.
Say No to Supplements
So far, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved any form of ingestible tanning supplements or pills, so it would be safer to use one of the self-tanning options above to achieve a healthy glow. Beware of products on the market, as they may make claims that are not approved by the FDA and may cause undesired side effects or be harmful to your health.