The good news is that with the right protection you can safely spend time in the sun and then get a “tan” from a bottle.
“If you want to spend time outside, protect your skin,” says Downie. “That means wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapplying it at least every 2 hours.” Hats, clothing that protects from the sun, and umbrellas can also help.
Self-tanning products are safe and generally do not cause skin irritation. The main ingredient in self-tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It reacts with the skin cells in the upper layer of the skin to create a temporarily darker color. As those skin cells are shed over the course of a few days, the color will gradually fade. “Very few of my patients have complained of a skin reaction to self-tanner,” says Downie. “Unless you are allergic to DHA, you shouldn’t have a problem.”
When it comes to looking like you’re golden, self-tanning has come a long way since the days when it left you defaced like an orange zebra fooling no one. “People of all skin tones can definitely get a near-real tan if they use the right product for their skin,” says Anna Stankiewicz, spray tanning specialist with Louise O’Connor Salon in New York City.
To make the “tanned” look as natural as possible, Stankiewicz suggests selecting a product that is not too dark. “Look for one that comes close to your natural skin color,” she says. (Many products are labeled “white” or “light”, “medium” and “dark”).
Lotions designed to gradually darken the skin are basically self-tanners diluted with moisturizer. “So when you choose them, it’s about how fast you want to see color,” says Stankiewicz. “A lighter one will take a few days to appear, while a darker formula will give noticeable color in just one day.” Follow her other tips for a foolproof fake tan:
• If you plan to shave or wax, do so before applying bronzer.
• Always exfoliate with a non-greasy scrub before applying bronzer. “Oil-based products leave residue, and that barrier means your tan can stain and not last as long,” says Stankiewicz.
• The skin in areas such as the feet, ankles, elbows, knees, and hands is drier and absorbs more color. Use lotion on those spots first for a more even application of the self-tanner, and use a lighter touch when applying bronzer to those areas. People with darker skin tones can even skip the application to those areas to avoid creating areas that are too dark, says Stankiewicz.
• Start with a small amount and add more if needed, gradually increasing the color.
• Always wash your hands with soap after you finish applying self tanner or your palms will turn very dark.
• If you spot a bug (such as streaks or blemishes) within 3 hours of application, you can try exfoliating it. “Use lemon juice and baking soda on a wet towel and rub it in circular motions,” says Stankiewicz. If you’re left with a noticeably lighter area after exfoliating, reapply a light coat of self-tanner, being careful to blend it well with the surrounding skin.