How to Avoid a Self Tanning Disaster

hamiltonSelf 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.

6 thoughts on “How to Avoid a Self Tanning Disaster”

  1. Lucas Ernst says:

    Hi Dr. Benabio,

    In your post, you advise to exfoliate before using a self tanning agent in order to avoid streaking. This made me wonder about the effects of self tanners if combined with microdermabrasion. I know that it is common practice to use certain skin products right after a microdermabrasion session in order to maximize the products effect. Does this same concept hold true for self tanner?

  2. It’s pathetic people go to so much trouble to get a tan. Tanning with DHA isn’t safe either, since the amount of free radicals significantly increases when skin is exposed to sunlight. Pale is pretty. I’m sure they would agree with me back in the old days or in Asia.

  3. The only way I can get them to not streak is to use some moisturizer first, then blend it in that way.

    Still–I’ve wondered why all the self-tanners I’ve seen smell kind of funny. Not like normal lotion, but kind of stinky.

  4. Most self tanners turn your skin an orange hue. Do people actually think it looks good?

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