Self or sunless tanners are lotions that create a fake tan. Most use dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which reacts with protein in your skin, turning it brown (it’s the same chemical reaction that turns bread brown when it’s toasted!) The higher the concentration of the DHA, the darker your skin. Color from DHA develops in hours.
Some self tanners use erythrulose to create color. It’s similar to DHA, but works more slowly, taking up to two days to develop. Erythrulose creates a lighter color than DHA, but when combined with DHA, it gives a redder tan.
Unfortunately, many variables affect sunless tanners and you can just as easily develop an I’ve-got-hepatitis-glow as a sexy Salma Hayek shimmer. Ask at the cosmetic counter which product matches your skin and apply sparingly — you can always apply more later.
Any irregularities in your skin’s dryness will lead to a streaky tan, so exfoliate before applying. Areas where your skin is thick will darken more than areas that are thin, so apply less in the thick spots like elbows and knees. Put Vaseline on your fingernails before using your self tanner, otherwise your nails will turn brown giving that not-so-attractive fake smokers-nail look.
Many people prefer tanning wipes to lotions because the wipes apply evenly and you can adjust the color easily by increasing or decreasing the number of applications.
Remember, self tanners do not protect you — they actually oxidize your skin when exposed to sun or UV light (that’s why they’re called ‘fake’ tans, they are not a real tan, remember?). Avoid sun and tanning booths once you have self tanned. Avoid people if your self tan turns you bright orange.