The Best Self-Tanners: A Beautiful Tan Without Skin Damage

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After a snowy winter, the tanning salon is a tempting option for trading in your ghostly skin for a pretty tan, but don’t fake bake for your vitamin D just yet. Instead, invest in a safe sunless self-tanner that will get rid of your washed out complexion and have your friends wondering where you got such a perfect glow without the potential skin damage.

While some people may think that getting a tan is healthy, any darkening of the skin, regardless of whether it’s a burn or a tan, equals skin damage. “Any time the skin darkens, it is doing it in response to an injury,” says Dr. Neal Schultz, a cosmetic and medical dermatologist in New York City. “After your skin has been damaged, it turns darker to prevent more ultraviolet rays from coming in.”

The skin damage comes from two different types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB rays. The UVA rays cause degenerate damage, says Dr. Schultz, which means wrinkling, premature aging, sagging skin, and age spots. While both types of rays are dangerous, the more serious type is the UVB rays, which cause burning and skin cancer. Contrary to popular belief, these UVB rays are most definitely present in sun lamps and, according to a study by Lancet Oncology, the risk of getting skin cancer jumps 75 percent if you start using tanning beds before the age of thirty. Talk about a frightening statistic.

If you want to get a safe and healthy tan, don’t be scared away by the bad rep of streaky self-tanners. “Self-tanners were streaky and orange twenty-five years ago,” says Dr. Schultz. “Today, they are much more sophisticated. All are a good color, and it’s hard to go wrong with a self-tanner.” The easiest way to be sure your self-tanner goes on evenly is to exfoliate two or three days before you apply, says Dr. Schultz. Exfoliating gets rid of uneven skin cells and eliminates the possibility of your tan being darker in some places than others. Make sure to cover every inch of your skin with the tanner so you don’t look blotchy, and apply using a circular motion to make sure it goes on evenly. Apply the tanner sparingly to your knees, elbows, feet, and face, and make sure to wash your hands extremely well after you finish applying. If you happen to be unhappy with the results, Dr. Schultz says exfoliating with help get rid of the tan.

Still unsure about your ability to pick out a good self-tanner? Most brands come in just three shades, light, medium, and dark, so use your best judgment when purchasing the lotion. A good way to choose correctly is by looking at your foundation. If it’s a lighter shade, go with the light self-tanner, and if it’s darker, the dark self-tanner is the way to go.

If you’re worried that self-tanners won’t give you the vitamin D that the sun would, fear not: You can actually get all the vitamin D you need from food sources, like fish, eggs, and milk. If you’re not big on dairy, you can take a vitamin D supplement instead. Still, you may be unknowingly getting all the vitamin D you need from the sun. All it takes is a few minutes of sunlight a day to get the vitamin D, so a walk outside to get the mail could be a supplement in itself.

Still slightly clueless about which tanner to choose? Check out these great options.

Gradual Tanning Lotion: Apply the gradual tanning lotion daily as a typical moisturizer and slowly build up your tan. While it may take a little while to notice some color (you usually reach your peak within five to seven days) streaks are less noticeable and your tan looks more natural.

Instant Self-Tanner: If you don’t have time to waste, the instant self-tanner usually bronzes your skin in under an hour. The only problem with the instant version is the color is much more apparent, so to avoid streaks, even application is a must.

By Nancy Mucciarone for Her Campus


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