Suntan vs.
Self-Tanners

by Paula Begoun


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And the winner is... self-tanners! Every season, remind yourself that suntanning should be avoided at all costs. You know the hazards, so there is no reason to belabor the point, other than to remind you of a few basics, such as the fact that hats with brims protect the face from only about 50% of the sun's rays. The other 50% of the sun's rays bounce back up off cement, water, and sand, causing sun damage reflected from the ground up. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside to give the active ingredients a chance to be absorbed. If you've been perspiring or swimming, be sure to reapply sunscreen every one and a half hours. Do not buy expensive sunscreens; they are no more effective than inexpensive ones, and it is essential to generously apply sunscreen when sitting out in the sun. How generous are you going to be applying a $30 SPF 15 versus a $10 SPF 15? And all sunscreens should contain either titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone (Parsol 1789) to protect from UVA (skin cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation).

Having said all that, self-tanners are the only way to get a safe tan. All self-tanners are created equal in that they all use the same ingredient, dihydroxyacetone, to chemically turn the skin brown so opting for the less expensive product is the way to go. Some products do contain a greater concentration of dihydroxyacetone than others, which determines how fast the skin will turn color. The key is the application, which is always tricky. It takes experimentation to figure out how much to use, how dark to go, what areas to go over lightly (like knees and elbows), what areas to avoid (like palms of hands and armpits), and where to start and stop the application (do you stop at your ankles or continue down to your toes?). All of these are questions you need to answer for yourself, depending on your own preferences and blending techniques.

My suggestion is to use a self-tanner that is labeled either "light" or "medium" and not "dark." This way you can build the color slowly, so if you make a mistake or don't like the way it looks, you can alter the course without looking streaked, smudged, or mottled.

Self-Tanning Guidelines

  1. Before getting started, experiment with a small section of skin to see how it responds to the self-tanner and your application technique.

  2. When you're ready (and you have set aside at least an hour for this process), take a quick shower first to make sure the skin is clean. A long shower or bath can make the skin swell and become engorged with water, making application less smooth.

  3. Use a liquid cleanser or shower gel rather than bar soap. This will help keep a soap film from building up on the skin.

  4. While in the shower, exfoliate the skin with a washcloth or loofah, but don't overdo. Too much scrubbing can irritate the skin, and that will hinder smooth application.

  5. Be sure your skin is absolutely dry before you apply the self-tanner.

  6. If you have dry skin, apply a small amount of a lightweight moisturizer (Nutraderm or Lubriderm work just fine) evenly over the entire body. Self-tanners work better if applied over a smooth, even surface. If your skin isn't dry, this step isn't necessary. It is best, especially for your face, to use no other skin-care products before or after the self-tanner. Skin-care products such as AHA, BHA, Retin-A, disinfectants, or sunscreens can affect the self-tanner's action on your skin.

  7. Have a game plan that includes which parts of the body you want to "tan," then proceed systematically. It is important to have a clear idea of where you do and don't want to have color. You have to make decisions about whether you want your ears, tops of feet, toes, hips, abdomen, ankles, eyelids, or the underside of your arms to be tan. As a rule, only apply color to those parts of your body that would normally get tan. Keep in mind that some body parts look odd with color; tan armpits for example.

  8. Starting with your face, apply self-tanner to your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. Then proceed to your neck, chest, shoulders, arms, and so on. Use the smallest amount of product to cover one area at a time.

  9. Cover each section completely and thoroughly before moving on to the next. If you want color on your back, enlist the help of a friend to get hard-to-reach areas.

  10. Self-tanner can collect anywhere there are creases on the body, like the neck, or where there is rough skin, like the knees and elbows, and cause excess pigment to be created. Either go over those areas very lightly or use a paper towel to dab off excess product.

  11. Wait at least 20 or 30 minutes before getting dressed so you don't "tan" your clothing.

  12. To maintain the color, gently exfoliate your skin daily, and reapply self-tanner every three or four days depending on the look you want. Be patient, it will take some effort and attention to achieve a perfectly bronzed look.

  13. I recommend applying self-tanner at night before bedtime. This way you have plenty of time, and if any residue is left it won't affect your clothing (you can wear an old T-shirt to sleep in but you should wait at least 20 or 30 minutes for the product to dry so your sheets aren't discolored). Also, doing it at night (when you don't have to apply makeup or a sunscreen) prevents other cosmetic ingredients from interfering with the self-tanner's effectiveness.


Paula Begoun has been researching and reporting on the beauty industry for over 15 years. She has sold over a million copies of her best-selling beauty guides and she continues to spread the word that "Inner Beauty is Priceless but Outer Beauty Doesn't Have to Be!" Visit www.CosmeticsCop.com or call (800) 831-4088 to find out more about Paula, request a brochure, or sign up for her free Beauty Bulletin. You'll find her money saving book "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me" at all major bookstores.

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