Golden Girls - Glow May/June 2006
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Beach Guide – Tanners

By Jill Dunn 

Your sunless tanning options have never been better. Whether you’re trying an at-home version or getting a salon treatment, there’s something for every body and budget – and not a hideous orange streak in sight! 

In 1960, when Coppertone launched its infamous Quick Tan lotion, most tan devotees thought they had it made in the shade. But instead of looking like they had just returned from Ibiza, these guinea pigs turned an unflattering shade of orange. Thanks to improved technology, today’s self tanners are goof-proof and look more natural than the streaky, stinky varieties of the past. Read on to discover your best option. 

Self tanners initiate a chemical reaction on the skin, says Dr. Lisa Kellett, a cosmetic dermatologist in Toronto. “The active ingredient, DHA, is a safe, colourless sugar derivative that reacts with the skin, staining it a bronze colour,” she says. “It has a superficial, short-term effect because it doesn’t penetrate to the lower levels of the skin and doesn’t affect the melanin levels that normally give skin that tanned look.” DHA is also responsible for that less-than-appealing odour. Remember that self tanners don’t have SPF, so you need to always wear sun protection if you’re going to be outside. “I recommend self tanners to my patients as a safe alternative to being outside in the sun, which can cause photo-aging damage and skin cancer,” says Kellett. 

To prep your skin, take a quick shower (don’t soak) and use a scrub on areas where you want to apply self tanner. “You need to exfoliate to avoid getting patchy, streaky results,” says Samantha Martin of Axispa in Toronto. Choose an exfoliator with round beads instead of rough edges, which may be abrasive. Shave before applying self tanner and, if you’re going to wax or use depilatories, do so at least 48 hours prior to application to minimize irritation. 

To get an even tan, make sure you hydrate your skin properly – it will help to prevent streaky results and prolong the life of your tan, says Martin. Apply a thin layer of moisturizer, being more generous on dry areas such as elbows, knees and ankles, and wait until it’s completely absorbed before applying self tanner. 

Lotions, gels and creams have the best variety of fair, medium and dark shades to suit different skin tones. Creams are great for dry skin because they contain humectants, which hold moisture and soften skin, while gels are excellent for oilier skins. If you’re a novice, choose a tinted option to see where you’ve applied it, says Martin. 

Start at the bottom of your legs and work up to the torso and arms. Rub in a circular motion, section by section, to minimize streaks. “Remember to be generous,” says Martin. “If you constantly get streaks, you’re probably not using enough product.” Don’t apply too much on your ankles, hands and feet because it can look unnatural. Wait at least 15 minutes before getting dressed, and allow up to three hours to see results. 

To avoid any mishaps while spraying, stand in the shower and hold the spray at least six inches away from your body to get proper coverage. Sprays make it easier to target hard-to-reach areas, such as the backs of the knees and the middle of the back. Because sprays are lightweight and absorb quickly, they are ideal for those who have oily skin. 

These foolproof self tanners are actually moisturizers infused with low levels of DHA, so your tan will gradually build over several applications. “In the past, DHA was so unstable that we weren’t able to formulate it with moisturizing ingredients, sunscreens or fragrances,” says Lauren Thaman, the global director of R&D for P&G Beauty Science. “Now we understand DHA much better and have been able to stabilize it with many different ingredients.” These products also save time by allowing you to apply moisturizer and self tanner in one easy step and there is no streaking. 

To use, just slather the lotion on after the shower and use for several consecutive days. “Your colour will plateau after about five days, so there’s no fear of getting a really dramatic colour change. You’ll be able to maintain your tan with daily use,” says Thaman. 

When choosing a self tanner for your face, look for non-comedogenic products that won’t clog pores or cause breakouts. Follow the same steps as you would for your body – cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize first. Then, working in circular motions, apply the self tanner from the centre of the face outward, avoiding the eye area. Don’t forget to massage self tanner onto the neck and into the hairline, so it looks natural all over,” says Martin.

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