Trading in your pale, wintery skin doesn’t have to mean slathering yourself with toxic, chemical-laden products. Safe sunless-tanning from a bottle is an easy way to get a sun-kissed glow without sun exposure.
Safe Sunless Tanning
Gone are the days of using baby oil and a silver sun reflecting blanket as I did in the 80s, thank God!
I had a horrible experience with that when on vacation with my friends in Daytona Beach, 1984. Being that it was my first time in Florida, and frankly just being very young and naive, I laid out on a silver blanket with baby oil for 6 hours in the Florida sun, looking at my darkened skin through my sunglasses thinking I’d finally achieved a native tan.
However, after taking my shower, which was extremely painful, I was covered in giant blisters. My face was swollen and my eyes reduced to tiny slits, I was chilled and in so much pain due to 2nd-degree burns. I could not leave my hotel room for the next 3 days and began to molt like a snake for weeks after.
I have learned my lesson the hard way.
You see, sunbathing causes the sun to increase the production of melanin, making you look tan. This “healthy-looking glow” is actually free radical cell damage caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunlight as well as tanning beds.
I know that some of the issues I face today with larger pore sizes and loss of elasticity, age spots, and wrinkles can be attributed to that day in Daytona Beach.
One of the best things you can do for skin that has been damaged by too much sun exposure is to use a daily vitamin C serum. A vitamin C serum instantly brightens skin and helps reduce the appearance of existing dark spots, while amino acids protect against new ones. Defending the skin from the damaging effects of environmental stressors. You can read more about vitamin C here.
So when shopping for a safe, sunless tanner, make sure they are free of parabens (toxic preservatives) 1,4 dioxane (a by-product of manufacturing), and synthetic fragrance. All of these things have been linked to cancer, and there are safer alternatives which I will share with you below.
How Self-Tanners Work
Whether you are using a tanning spray or lotion to achieve a darker skin tone, sunless tanners all contain the active ingredient DHA (dihydroxyacetone). DHA reacts with dead skin cells to simulate a tan and wears off after a few days.
There are also self-tanning pills on the market which you should know are not safe. The pills contain a color additive called canthaxanthin which turns the skin orange or brown. The problem with this pill taken orally is that it can cause hives, impaired vision, and liver damage. Not worth it!
The FDA has approved DHA but cautions us to wear some sort of protective gear like nose plugs and goggles when using a tanning booth because the tanning mist should not be inhaled due to unknown, long-term health risks.
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My Favorite Non-Toxic Self Tanners
I personally feel I look better with a tan. A healthy, non-orangey, fake-tan can ironically make us look more healthy and vibrant. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends Self-Tanning as an alternative to UV rays or indoor tanning beds.
One thing to note is that Self-Tanners do not protect you from the sun’s harmful UVA or UVB rays. You should still wear sunscreen daily even with a fake tan.
Learn more in my post about safe sunscreens for your face right here.
Here are the safe sunless tanners that I personally use and always have in my beauty lab (aka the bathroom).
I’m loving the Vita Liberata Organic Tanning Water! It goes on invisible and dries almost immediately. So if you’re in a hurry and can’t wait the recommended 10-20 minutes of dry-time, this self-tanner will allow you to get dressed right away without fear of staining your clothing. A sunless tan will develop in 3-4 hours. It also comes in a bronze formula, which gives you a tan right away. I recommend using a tanning mitt while applying.
For my face, I have been using Tan-Luxe Selfless Tanning Drops. I simply add 1-2 drops to my facial moisturizer every day. It gives you a gradual, natural-looking tan if used daily or even every other day. Tan-Luxe is made to be used on your face and won’t clog pores.
Dr. Dennis Gross
When traveling I like to bring along Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pads. The packets are easy to travel with and they actually exfoliate, firm skin and give you a beautiful rich glow!
I always have a bottle of Just Nutritive Sunless Tanning Lotion in my cabinet. The lotion not only provides a gradual, natural-looking tan, but aids in diminishing the appearance of stretch marks, cellulite, wrinkles, and other imperfections. What looks better than tanned legs? Tan legs without cellulite of course! (Just don’t think this will produce major miracles in one day, just minor improvements unless used diligently over time)
How To Apply Self-Tanners To Face and Body
Step 1- Exfoliate
Because DHA reacts with dead skin cells, you’ll want to start off with a clean slate. Exfoliate to make sure your skin is not patchy and dry in some areas and smooth in others. This will provide you with the most even coverage. Using a loofah or even a washcloth in the shower will do the trick. Or if you’re like me and like to exfoliate with some sort of a “scrub”, I love the smell and the results of this refreshing Lemongrass Sugar Scrub by Beautycounter.
Step 2- Apply Sunless Tanner
After your skin is completely dried off from your shower, massage the self-tanner into your skin in circular motions. Do one section at a time so you don’t miss a patch of a section. I prefer to use a tanning mitt so that my palms and cuticles don’t start to “tan” on me. You can always just wash your hands after your application, but I find that you never completely get the lotion out of certain crevices completely.
Step 3- Wipe Joint Areas
Because your knees, elbows, and ankles tend to have higher concentrations of protein, your skin will be darker in these areas after using the self-tanner unless you wipe them off with a damp cloth (after applying your self-tanner), or just apply your favorite moisturizer to those parts afterward.
Step 4- Dry
Make sure you allow at least 10-20 minutes of dry time before getting dressed. I also would suggest wearing loose clothing and avoid sweating while you’re waiting for your self-tanner to work its magic. Meaning, don’t put on your spandex and go do hot yoga after this…you’ll look like a spotted cheetah in your LuLu.
Getting some vitamin D from the sun is good for your bones, but too much sun exposure without using sunscreen leads to some health risks like skin cancer. Plus, it speeds up the aging process with free radical damage showing up as age spots, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity. So if you’re feeling like you need to wake up your pale, wintery skin, using a safe, sunless tanner is the way to go!