The Good Glow
By: Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD
While we personally believe “pale is the new tan,” we do realize that many people feel better in their bathing suits when they have a little glow, so we asked Dr. Robinson to explain the miracle that is sunless tanner. Thankfully “tan in a can” has come a long way from the first products to the market years ago, which left many early adopters looking more orange than golden!
What are Sunless Tanners?
Sunless tanners are a category of topical products either applied by hand, or by a “spray tan” technician to temporarily give skin a tan appearance without the risks associated with sun (or worse, tanning bed) exposure.
How do they work?
The active ingredient in most sunless tanning products is the color additive, dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA reacts with dead cells in the skin's surface to temporarily darken the skin for up to 1 week. Because the product reacts to dead skin cells, this is why you’re told to exfoliate ahead of time and apply to clean skin (no lotions, fragrances or oils).
Is DHA safe?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved dihydroxyacetone for external application to the skin. That said, it should not be inhaled or applied to mucous membranes (lips, nose and areas around the eyes) because the risks are unknown. I will say it’s still much safer than the sun itself, so just follow instructions on the label carefully and avoid these areas of the face. If you’re getting sprayed at a salon, wear goggles, nose plugs and apply Aquaphor on your lips to provide a barrier.
What products do you like?
Some of my favorites are:
Supergoop Sunless Tan + SPF 40. Apply directly before you hit the beach and you’ll have instant color and SPF 40 (reapplication with SPF every hour is still necessary).
St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse is easy to apply and the light-weight, fast absorbing mousse creates streak-free color.
Or for a temporary bit of color, I love mixing ISDIN Skin Drops in my regular face and body lotion – it’s easy to control the amount of coverage.
Anything else we should know?
Please don’t get a spray tan/apply sunless tanner right before your skin cancer screening – it can interferewith our ability to see skin lesions in their true color and border, which are key factors in evaluating skin cancers. And if you have sensitive skin it’s always a good idea to do a test patch on your skin before going head-to-toe.