I first turned to sunless tanning when I played softball in high school. My uniform left me with golden brown arms and knees, but my sleeveless top, long shorts, and knee socks covered everything else. Don’t hurt yourself imaging those tan lines.
For most of my proms (prom occurred during softball season, of course), I wanted to wear strapless cocktail dresses (i.e. knee-length gowns that didn’t exactly match my softball tan lines.) I knew laying out was a no-no—and I wasn’t interested in melting in North Carolina humidity, either. Enter my first self-tanning lotion!
It was a “gradual” tanner that you were supposed to apply every day for a week—or until you reached your desired tan…and it gradually turned my skin orange. But I wasn’t deterred. I experimented with a variety of formulas until I found a few that worked for me.
Although I have a light complexion, there’s a hint of olive in my skin, and, as my fiancé says, I tan “just by looking out the window.” I learned that more “tannable” skin tones do better with darker, gel formulas while truly fair skin does better with lotion tanners, possibly mixed with non-tanning lotion.
Since I switched to more natural cosmetics, however I’ve stopped self-tanning regularly—maybe once a year. For one, I hate the smell of DHA (dihydroxtacetone), the self-tanning agent in virtually all self-tanners. Even “low-odor” formulas smell like DHA once the fragrance wears off! Second, I never have to wear that softball uniform again. Crazy tans lines aren’t my reality these days. Finally, one must be careful with DHA (see below)—but with a few precautions, it’s probably okay to use in moderation.*
With that said, here’s what you need to know about DHA: A simple carbohydrate, DHA reacts with skin’s amino acids to create melanoidins, a pigment that looks like a real tan. On its own, DHA is non-toxic, but be warned: For about 24 hours after application, DHA leaves skin much more prone to free radical damage when exposed to the sun. Stay out of the sun as much as possible for one day after applying self-tanner. Fake tanning, then, may require some advanced planning, especially if you’re doing it to get ready for a big event.
1. Choose the right formula. Do you want a gradual tan or a sultry bronze in one fell swoop? DHA is colorless before it dries and reacts with the skin, but a self-tanner with bronzer gives skin an instant glow and may help you avoid missing areas of your body and leaving embarrassing streaks. Be sure to read the ingredients, however. With added bronzer, you may be getting added chemicals.
Formulas for the body may be darker than those for your face. You may want to select a separate self-tanner for your face or dilute your body tanner with a water-based face lotion. Just remember the 24 hour rule! (Use lots of sunscreen and consider a wide-brimmed hat.)
I use MyChelle Dermaceutical Del Sol Sunless Tanner. It’s vegan, cruelty-free, and free of parabens and synthetic fragrance.
2. Exfoliate everywhere and shave. Self-tanner will adhere more evenly to well-exfoliated skin and therefore appear more natural. I suggest dry brushing before hopping in the shower or using a DIY Lavender Coconut Scrub.
3. Moisturize. A light, water-based lotion may help your self-tanner glide on skin more evenly, reducing the chance of streaks. Also, dry skin may over absorb the tanner. When applying self-tanner, save dry areas until the end (like elbows, knees, etc.). Skim over them with what’s left over on your palms.
4. Wash hands and wait. Wash your hands! Do not forget! Allow self tanner to absorb for at leave five minutes before putting on your clothes. You may want to wear old, dark clothes, just in case a bit rubs off. It may take a few hours for your sunless tan to miraculously appear.
5. Moisturize again. Apply an organic body oil to ensure your newly tanned limbs are soft as they are glowing. Try a DIY Coconut Massage Oil or even simply avocado oil, like supermodel Christy Turlington.
*A note on spray tanning: The FDA doesn’t know whether or not inhaling spray tanner is safe, so it may be wise to skip this option.
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Photos: Mary Hood