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With summer almost here, have you started feeling it? The irresistible desire for sun-kissed skin. Still, sun exposure is now a well-documented health hazard. So the ideal would be a safe, relatively natural-looking artificial tan. But is such a thing possible? Yes, if you choose wisely… Read more


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Safe & Sunless Tanning

Who wouldn’t love to sport a smooth, soft, golden tan each summer? It’s slenderizing for both men and women, not to mention the image of relaxed confidence that it conveys. Still, even moderate sun exposure is dangerous. It contributes to premature aging, worsens existing skin damage and increases your risk of skin cancer.


The National Cancer Institute reports that because traditional tanning booths rely on UV rays to turn you toasty brown, they should also be avoided as well. For one thing, ultraviolet tanning increases the damaging effects of everyday sun exposure, says the Institute. Plus, one study finds that women who have more than one UV salon session per month are 55% more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.


Are there safe and relatively natural options available? Yes, says the American Academy of Dermatology. And the active ingredient in all of them is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a colorless carbohydrate made from cane sugar or sugar beets. When you apply it to your skin, DHA interacts with amino acids in your dead skin cells. That interaction produces a light brown color change.


DHA was first listed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1973 and has been used in cosmetic preparations ever since. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that DHA is unsafe. It’s not absorbed through the skin into your body; and it has no known toxicities. Nevertheless some doctors advise pregnant women to avoid exposure.


Take advantage of DHA at a Spray Tanning Salon. In most cities, for between $50 and $150, you can walk into one of these salons and leave an hour later with a faux tan that looks nearly identical to the real thing.


■ You’ll need to remove your clothes and accessories, cover your hair with a shower cap and apply a neutralizing lotion to the palms of your hands and the spaces between your toes (to prevent undesirable coloration to these areas). Then you’ll step into a shower for a head-to-toe mist of DHA. In some salons, showerheads deliver the spray mist. In others, an actual person applies the self-tanning formula. Either way, the process is painless and takes only minutes.


■ By FDA regulation, DHA should not be inhaled, ingested or applied to areas that are covered by mucous membranes. Basically, that means you’ll need to wear protective eyewear, a nose clip and some lotion to protect your lips. It’s also smart to close your eyes and hold your breath while the spray mist is applied.


■ Some people have reported to the FDA that they experienced rashes, dizziness or even fainting after visiting a spray tanning booth. It’s not clear, however, if these reactions were caused by DHA, allergies, a pre-existing medical condition or other issues completely unrelated to DHA.


■ Even the best DHA tan is only temporary because all those fantastic, bronze-stained skin cells will have been sloughed off in 5-7 days. Additionally, there are some skin conditions that cause uneven tanning. Skin that has been previously sun-damaged, older skin and freckled skin—they’re all prone to leave you with a splotchy look. Scar tissue does not accept the spray mist quite like the rest of your skin, so if facial or body scarring is a real issue for you, sunless tanning probably is not advisable. 


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DHA tans also come in creams, sprays and lotions. FDA-approved, these drugstore cosmetics are made for men and women, and they range in price from $10 to $40. (Check out a great recommendation from Glamour magazine.)


■ For a darker tan, you can re-apply every few hours. It’s easier, though, to just check labels for the DHA concentration in various products. It’s best to start off with a low concentration, especially until you get very good at applying an even coat.


■ Some self-tanners contain moisturizers, which are great for dry skin. Others contain alcohol, which is great if your skin is oily. Regardless of your skin type, look for a product that contains alpha hydroxyl acid because it will promote the shedding of excess dead skin cells—improving the evenness of your sunless tan.


■ Before applying, wipe your skin with a clarifying toner to remove soap or detergent residue that would otherwise interfere with the product’s effectiveness.


■ To avoid uneven tanning, moisturize your skin before each application—especially ankles, heels, knees and elbows. Prevent unsightly peeling by not shaving, bathing or swimming for at least an hour after applying.


If you decide to enjoy the DHA miracle, remember that it affords little or no UV protection. Even if you purchase DHA-with-sunscreen, its UV protection will last only a few hours. So you will still need to apply a sunscreen daily. And reapply as often as indicated on the directions.



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