6 Sunless Tanning Secrets

Want to enjoy that sun-kissed look without the risks of tanning? Whether you just want to touch up some tan lines or need all over bronzing, the latest generation of self-tanners will have you glowing in a matter of minutes.

The active ingredient in most self-tanners is DHA, a simple sugar that turns golden brown when exposed to certain proteins. When applied to your skin, which contains amino acids (proteins), an interaction takes place—the same type of reaction that turns beer brown during production, for example—that temporarily changes the color of your skin.

DHA in self-tanners is present in concentrations ranging from 2% to 5%. In general, products with higher concentrations are used to tan the body, while the lower concentrations are used in facial products. The higher the concentration of DHA, the darker the results.

Say goodbye to the unnatural orange tones of yesteryear! Today’s self-tanning products look more natural than ever. But before you start, here are a few things you need to know to ensure your faux tan turns out perfectly.

It may seem like common sense, but you should carefully read and follow the product's instructions (and warnings). That little label says a lot, and if you read conflicting advice elsewhere, be sure to stick with the instructions on your product. That being said, the rest of these tricks will help your self-tanning experience go smoothly!

1. Try before you apply. If you've ever dyed your hair without testing the shade first (and hated the results), then you know how important it is to do a patch test first! To test your self-tanner, apply it to an inconspicuous part of your body (such as your belly) and wait a complete day or two to see how it looks. A single application of self-tanner will last for a few days, applying the wrong shade everywhere could leave you hiding under long sleeves and pants in the summer heat.

2. Plan ahead. Self-tanners work the best on smooth, well-moisturized skin. They often look too dark and artificial on dry skin (especially knees and elbows), so those areas must be softened and smoothed before you start. Prepare your skin to go faux by moisturizing several times a day, especially after bathing or showering. Exfoliate with a gentle scrub all over your body, a few days prior and immediately before applying the self-tanner. Waiting at least 20 minutes after bathing or showing to allow your skin to dry completely. Applying self-tanner on damp or wet skin can result in unevenly-colored areas.

3. Protect your hands. Self-tanners work quickly and if you’re covering your entire body, your palms may get colored in the process. Wear a pair of disposable gloves while applying the self-tanner to your body, applying the tanner to the tops of your hands last. If you don’t have gloves, wash your hands several times and use some soap and a nail brush to scrub away any residue from your nails and cuticles.

4. Apply quickly and evenly. Whether you select a spray, cream or gel self-tanner, you must work quickly and apply the tanner evenly over a complete area. One way to ensure that you don’t miss any spots is to use a brand with a hint of color — that way you will immediately see a bare spot before it’s too late. Use enough tanner to cover a whole area of your body at once (such as your entire arm) using long, smooth, downward strokes for even coverage. Apply self-tanner sparingly on the knees, ankles and elbows, as these areas are typically dry and may turn out splotchy.

5. Wait it out. While you may be tempted to get dressed immediately, wait 30 minutes (or longer) to be on the safe side. Sitting on any light-colored fabrics (including sheets, furniture or towels) during this time can cause color transfer (and stains). Your self-tanner needs time to work its magic, so it has dried, wait at least three hours before bathing, showering or swimming. Afterwards, if you find some areas are darker than you’d like, exfoliate a few times over the next week and the color will fade as your skin cells come off.

6. Make it last. When applied properly, most artificial tans last between three and five days, depending on how fast your skin naturally exfoliates. When you first begin to notice that your color is fading, do another color test and see if you like the shade. If so, go ahead and reapply your self-tanner. Always apply the product in layers, a little at a time, to ensure the most natural looking tone.

Even though you'll be looking sun-kissed, don't forgo the sunscreen. Just as a "base tan" doesn't protect you from the sun, a faux tan doesn't offer any sun protection either. Even though you're sporting golden skin tones, you still need protection against the sun’s harmful rays. Always wear a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher and cover up to prevent sunburn when you're outdoors.
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Member Comments

Great Report
Good article. Report
thank you Report
I love my Mary Kay sunless tanning lotion but in a pinch, I have even applied foundation to my legs and it looked very natural! Report
I wouldn't want a lot of chemicals on my skin, but that is just me. Report
Thanks for an interesting article! :) Report
I am VERY disappointed in the heading of this article. AVOID THE CANCER RISK??? it is well proven that MODERATE exposure to the sun is healthy for our bodies.
It is the only natural way for us to produce vitamin d, which is a self produced steroid hormone. It is essential to many health related issues.
I am surprised that SP would encourage its users to put on a product that contains DHA. and many other man made CHEMICALS. rub them into your skin. and most of them no one can ever pronounce.
Well, I am no expert, but I will continue to take my chances, as you suggest, with the NATURAL sunlight.
Moderate exposure at the right time of day can help your body to produce the vitamin d needed to help with everything from digestion and weight issues, to helping with aches and pains, depression, and many other issues.
I am not suggesting anyone go out and get burned to a crisp.
But getting a moderate amount of sunlight is healthier, in my opinion than any chemical made in a lab that dyes our skin. Report
As an older woman with many "age spots", I cannot use sunless tanning products since they also darken the age spots. Boo Hoo Report
My favorite self tanner to use is Fake Bake it doesn't turn that ugly orange color it actually looks like a nice brown tan. Another good thing is that the smell is so nice its a sweet not to strong kind of smell. The price isn't that bad either. When I purchased mine I bought a pack that had two bottles because it was cheaper and I figured if I liked it enough I wouldn't have to wait for another order to come to my house. Report
I've always had the worse luck with sunless tanning. I tried it before vacation. Had a girl come to my house to spray me, and it came out very blotchy and uneven. I had to wear pants my entire vacation in the summer!! My friend had me try her self tanner and told me its not orange, it comes out so even, it smells good. I was like yeah b.s. but I tried it since it was winter and I wouldn't be showing to much skin anyway. Well it turns out it was amazing!! It came out so even and natural looking. It's a foam so it goes on really smooth. It doesn't even smell which I thought was the best thing. Its made by the same doctors who made Proactiv so they obviously knew what they were doing when they made it. I loved it soo much that I signed up as a consultant for it just so I can get the discount since I was ordering it soo often lol. I just put it on before bed, then I wake up and have this great tan. No one at work could believe it was a self tanner. They were complimenting me on how I look tan and where did I go and I told them it was a sunless tanner. They were like "what?!". Here is the link you can get it from. Just click on products then click on essentials and the sunless tanner is right there for you to buy. If anyone gets it please contact me after and let me know how it worked for you!! Www.fountainofyou
f.com Report
Best "tan" of all is to eat lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables: which give a naturally warm colour to the skin that is healthy and natural and less "ashen" than tanning products. Report
Sounds like too much of a bother for me! Report
There are many spray only tanning salons now! Not as expensive as you might think either, very well worth it and natural looking! Report
I've embraced my senescent Victorian pallor. Beats sweatin'. Report
I've embraced my senescent Victorian pallor. Beats sweatin'. Report


About The Author

Leanne Beattie
Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.