Slather on the Sun

Safe and Effective Sunless Tanners

By Linda Knittel

Originally published in Skin Deep, June/July 2005.

Thanks to the perpetual bronze glow of celebrities like Paris Hilton, the desire for a year-round tan is as popular as ever. Sure a little sun exposure is healthy, and frankly it’s necessary for producing bone-building vitamin D. But sun tanning is simply not an option if your clients want to ward off premature aging and skin cancer. That’s where tanning products come in. Sunless tanners can provide your clients with that sun-kissed look any time of year. Whether you choose to offer tanner application as one of your services, or simply want to carry high-quality tanning products for purchase, knowing which tanners are safe and effective will help you better serve your clientele.

The magic of sunless tanners is attributed to the sugar dihydroxyacetone (DHA), an ingredient approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that reacts with amino acids on the skin’s surface to turn it brown in anywhere from one to six hours, depending on the formulation. This darkening process does not involve the melatonin or color-producing cells of the skin, which is one of the reasons why a sunscreen is necessary even when sporting a deep, sunless glow (see “Sunscreen Savvy,” sidebar).

Although the FDA has declared DHA safe for external use, it has issued a caution against inhaling the solution or getting it on your lips or in your eyes or nose, because it may cause respiratory problems. In addition, DHA may irritate the skin of some people, as can other tanner additives such as fragrances. Therefore, it is best to choose a product that has the fewest synthetic ingredients on its label.

Just like other skin care products, each sunless tanner has its own benefits. For example, there are now tanners on the market containing antiaging botanicals, built-in bronzers to ensure even coverage, moisturizers such as aloe and vitamin E, as well as additional coloring agents like walnut extract and mahakanni, an organic ingredient traditionally used in China and India to darken hair.

Tanners come in an array of sprays, oils, and lotions. There are noncomedogenic versions that are great for the delicate skin of the face, sweet vanilla-scented varieties that help mask that distinctive “tanner” smell, and many that now have built-in sunscreen. The best way to choose the product right for you and your clients is to read the ingredients and then give a few a try. Although the days of tanning products delivering an orange tinge are in the past — thanks to better formulations — some do deliver a more natural tan than others.

To maintain an even color, self-tanner should be applied twice a week to clean skin. In a salon setting, a tanning application is best when preceded by an exfoliation treatment that evens out the skin’s surface. “I offer a package that includes a salt body scrub and tanner application,” says Laura Mapes, an esthetician in Portland, Ore. If you are sending clients home with tanner, Mapes suggests they apply it after they have bathed and used a loofah to remove dead skin cells. She also suggests passing on the following tips to your clients for achieving a flawless glow:

--Always apply tanner to dry skin.

--Don’t shave or wax for 24 hours prior to self-tanning or the result may be spotty.

--Steer clear of hair and brows, as tanner may temporarily color these areas.

--Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards to prevent dark palms.

--Wear dark colored underwear and clothing for at least three hours after application. Any stained clothing will usually come clean in the wash.

--Wait at least four hours before bathing or exercising
to prevent the color from being washed off by water
or sweat.

Remember, your clients want glowing, beautiful skin, and one of the best ways to keep their complexions looking young and vibrant is to make sure they stay out of the sun. However, since everyone feels better with a healthy glow, sunless tanners can be a great option for your clients and an added moneymaker for you.