Sunless Tans

Healthy Skin
By Michelle Kodis

Despite the well-documented dangers of too much sun exposure, many still equate a tanned body with health and vitality. By comparison, it seems the Victorians, with their worship of fair skin, were on to something: Healthy skin is not browned by the sun, but decidedly pale.

The good news is we don’t have to walk around blindingly white all summer. The latest generation of sunless tanners can provide realistic color without turning us into a malodorous Great Pumpkin. In fact, refinements in ingredients and formulations have made the sunless tan safe and virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

All sunless tanners, whether lotion, gel, spray, mousse or liquid, employ the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. The depth of a sunless tan depends on the concentration of DHA in the formulation: The higher it is, the darker the result. Derived from sugar beets or sugar cane, DHA creates color by reacting with the keratin protein in the top layer of the skin. That’s why sunless tanners don’t deliver long-term results: This top layer is continually sloughing off during the normal process of exfoliation and, as that occurs, the “tan” disappears. Thus, regular applications are required to maintain a tan. Keep in mind that everyone will react to a sunless tanner differently. For example, one person might turn a desirable bronzy brown after one application, while another might need several applications to achieve the same effect. Similarly, how long a tan lasts varies by individual.

Application is straightforward but does take patience and practice. The keys are clean and exfoliated skin and taking the time to carefully blend the product evenly over the body, using a light touch on areas where sunless tanners tend to accumulate: knees, knuckles, tops of feet and toes, and creases of arms, ankles and elbows.

Sunless tanners do not offer protection from harmful UV rays. Even though your skin is tanned, it still needs sunscreen. A comprehensive guide to sunless tanners can be found online at