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A Quick Guide to Sunless Tanning

August 18, 2017


Your Quick Guide


Sunless Tanning



      Whether you're in denial about the nearing end of summer, or simply not quite ready to give up that summer glow, you have probably considered one of the many available options on the market for sunless tanning. And while we do encourage everyone to embrace their natural skin tone, we understand the draws of artificial tanning, and the importance of knowing which methods are most effective and safe. And because there are certainly no shortage of choices, we thought we would round up the basics and let you decide the rest.



Tanning beds, sun-lamps, & tanning pills


Before diving into sunless tanners (as in UVA/UVB free), a brief moment to address the bottom line of many contradictory arguments surrounding tanning beds and sun lamps.  With the ability to potentially emit even higher amounts of radiation than the sun, tanning beds are even more dangerous than several hours at the beach. This fact, along with dozens of studies that prove increased odds for melanoma with use of tanning beds or sun lamps, should be more than enough reason for anyone to be open to finding a new method to maintain sun-kissed skin.


One alternative to the above is what are marketed as sunless tanning pills, which have been deemed hazardous by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What makes these pills deposit pigment, resulting in a tan appearance is a large dosage of a color additive called canthaxanthin, which, according to the American Cancer Society, "can turn your skin orange or brown and cause hives, liver damage and impaired vision". Because this method of tanning is ingested, there is no control over where specifically in the body the pigment will be distributed, and lends itself to often appear via the yellowing of eyes (yikes!).


Sunless tanners


Sunless tanners are FDA-approved to be safe and can be applied either by a professional or at home. DHA, short for dihydroxyacetone, is the main tanning ingredient in a majority of tanning lotions, creams, mousses, as well as airbrush sprays. This ingredient interacts with amino acids found in the top layer of skin to act as a browning agent, darkening over the course of 2-6 hours. Because it is not absorbed by the skin, merely interacting with the surface layer, it is considered safe for use. 



Though the FDA has found these products to be safe when applied topically, it is still important to consider correct application procedures, not only for optimal results, but also per health guidelines. The FDA warns that inhalation of DHA is unsafe, and therefore when visiting a professional, be sure to confirm that the facility offers a well-ventilated area for application. Additionally, check that protective eyewear and other accessories are provided to prevent contact between the product and exposed mucous membranes such as mouth, lips, nose, and the orbital area surrounding eyes.



For those who would prefer to save some money, or perhaps touch-up their glow more frequently, there are numerous pharmacy and beauty store creations to choose from for application at home. Adhering to the same general guidelines expected from a professional facility, we've compiled a brief guide for additional steps for success in doing it yourself: 


Before you begin, always be sure to thoroughly exfoliate skin, followed by a moisturizer. Once skin has dried, it is sufficiently prepped to begin.

The best way to apply self-tanner without the help of a professional is to do so in sections, namely the torso, arms, and legs, as well as the face if desired.


Areas that are more prone to build up of dead skin cells, like elbows, knees, & ankles, should be met with careful application (and less product!) to achieve natural looking results. For these regions, have a damp cloth or towel nearby. Distribute a small amount of product carefully across the area, paying mind to any bumps and dips, then gently pat the area down with your damp cloth to dilute the product from creating an unnaturally dark result.


For the rest of the arms, apply a modest amount in small, sweeping motions, starting on the area of skin that would naturally receive more sunlight (top of forearm and outside upper arm), and fanning out onto the under-side and back of hand. The same technique applies to the legs, separating the regions above and below the knee, and fanning out any excess residue onto the tops of feet. 



The use of any form of a pad, cloth, or towel you don't mind getting ruined is highly recommended. You may also opt to purchase a foam applicator mitt, specifically designed for applying self-tanner.



The benefit of a tanning mitt, or some other barrier between your hand and your tanning product, is that it not only creates an easier mechanism for even coverage and less streaks, but also prevents any unwanted staining on palms, which bears the potential to accidentally transmit residue from hands or fingertips to lips, nostrils, or the area surround the eyes, where migration of substances is more likely to occur.


For coverage of the face, you might want to swap out the mitt for a clean makeup sponge, brush, cotton ball, or simply by applying with your fingertips while wearing disposable gloves. This will help you to achieve a more realistic end result, while adding more precision to help avoid exposure of sensitive areas to DHA.


It is essential to note that while DHA interacts with the surface layer of dead skin cells to produce a tan or bronzed appearance, this does not make it a shield--meaning it's important to remember to continue to use a mineral-based sunscreen on a daily basis, ideally in conjunction with an antioxidant to fight free radical damage to skin, and protect yourself from UVA/UVB rays for healthy, radiant skin. 


Some items we recommend are the bestselling SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense sunscreen with spf 50, also available in a matte formula, as well as sheer. These sunscreens follow FDA suggestions for main active ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. To help prevent further UVA damage, we also suggest doubling up with an antioxidant, such as the popular C E Ferulic or Phloretin CF.








American Cancer Society - Accessed August 16, 2017.


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition -


Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology Volume 29, Number 2, Part 1

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology , Volume 52 , Issue 3 , P165

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2004, issue 5, pages 706-713

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology , Volume 58 , Issue 5 , 894








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