Ban the Sun's Tan
Still want that golden glow? Stay out of the sun and away from tanning beds, and try these safer alternatives.
Blame it on JFK. Before John F. Kennedy emerged on the national political scene in 1960 sporting a “healthy” tan, the majority of mainstream Americans shunned the sun. While some in the wealthy classes prized tanned skin as evidence of their lives of leisure, sun worshiping really hadn’t caught on with the general public. Men, in particular, inadvertently shielded their faces from the sun’s damaging rays by regularly wearing brimmed hats—yet another tradition lost, due in no small part to JFK’s chapeau-eschewing ways.
The bronzed Kennedy stood in stark contrast to his opponent for the presidency that year, the pale and perspiring Richard Nixon, and people began to associate tanned skin with youth and vitality (never mind that researchers soon discovered that tans equal premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer). That positive perception began the frenzied quest for the perfect golden glow that continues today.
So how can you achieve that sun-kissed look without exposing yourself to the harmful UV rays of the sun or indoor tanning beds? The first option to try is bronzers—the cosmetic powders, lotions or creams that can give you a (very) temporary tanned look. These topical treatments wash off in the shower, so they’re best for adding color right before a day or evening out. The biggest benefit of a bronzer is that there’s no commitment—if you overdo an application and end up looking like Snookie from Jersey Shore, a little soap and water will rinse it away.
Prices for bronzers vary from under $10 for brands found at discount drugstores up to many times that amount for chi-chi department store and boutique brands.
For a “tan” that lasts a bit longer, use a sunless tanner. They have come a long way from those early incarnations that were almost impossible to apply evenly and left your palms orange. Most of today’s sunless tanners contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which chemically reacts to the dead cells on the skin’s surface eight to 24 hours after application, creating a tanned appearance. The color gradually fades after a few days as those skin cells slough off in the shower.
Sunless tanners, often called self-tanners, come in a variety of creams, gels, sprays and lotions that you can apply at home, but the most even all-over tans come from the “air-brush” spray applicators wielded by professionals. At-home and professional spray tans are generally considered safe, but the health effects of ingesting or inhaling DHA-containing sprays are unknown, according to the Mayo Clinic’s online site, mayoclinic.com. With an abundance of caution, avoid inhaling spray fumes and keep your mouth tightly closed during the spraying process.
Whether you choose an over-the-counter tanner or go to a salon, prepare your skin by exfoliating in the shower with a body scrub. Afterward, use a moisturizer regularly to extend the life of the tan. And remember this when using a bronzer or sunless tanning product: Most don’t contain sunscreen, so don’t forget to continue using sun protection.
Like the cost of bronzers, self-tanner prices vary widely; salon spray tans can start under $20 per session and go up from there.
One tanning method to avoid at all costs is the “tan-in-a-pill,” regarded as unsafe by the Mayo Clinic and the subject of warnings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The active ingredient in most of these pills is canthaxanthin, which can cause hives and turn your skin an unpleasant orange shade if taken in great quantities. It can also cause liver damage and lead to canthaxanthin retinopathy, which is the formation of crystals in the eye.
You may also see ingredients such as tyrosine and carotenoid (this is a broader term that covers many organic pigments, including canthaxanthin) listed on the label of tanning pills, which may boost skin pigmentation but are also linked to nausea, diarrhea and anemia. Any one of these side effects should be enough to keep you away from tanning pills of any kind.
Shun the Sun
As long as our culture equates health and beauty with golden skin, the quest for the perfect tan will continue. So wear sunblock, cross tanning beds off your list (the new 10 percent tax on the use of them, thanks to the health care bill, should provide additional incentive) and choose a safer method to achieve that tanned look.
Elizabeth Dehn, a Minneapolis-based beauty writer and blogger (beautybets.com) is a big fan of Flash Bronzer, Lancome’s line of sunless tanning products. Each combines a tinted bronzer and self-tanner, and the anti-aging face lotion includes a sun protection factor of 15. $30-$36 at Lancome counters throughout Central Florida.
Developed by California dermatologist-to-the-stars Vicki Rapaport, Safe Tan by SKN of Beverly Hills promises a golden touch of color that won’t turn too dark or orangey. It’s unscented, hypoallergenic and available for $24 at loveyourskn.com.
The Kymaro Sunless Tanning System includes an exfoliator, self-tanner and a small spray-and-go self-tanner for travel. It also includes a “sunless light wand,” essentially a black light that allows you to check your application for streaks or uneven spots. $39.90 at ubuyez.com.