If you’ve ever used a self-tanner, chances are, you’ve experienced a horror story involving streaking or orange palms. While easy to use once you get the hang of them, these summer must-haves are also simple to misapply if you haven’t mastered the right technique. The reason? All self-tanners contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which temporarily stains (within about an hour) the uppermost layer of your skin, called the stratum corneum. So if you don’t apply the product right to begin with, it’s hard to stop this process once it starts–why we asked experts for tips on how to get a healthy glow in no time.
Cosmetic bronzers produce immediate effects that can be easily removed with soap and water. Bronzers are available as powders, creams, and lotions. These products are essentially a form of make-up, since the tint only lasts until it is washed off.
Tanning Lotions and Sprays
Perhaps the most effective sunless tanning products are lotions and sprays containing dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the active ingredient. DHA is a colorless sugar that interacts with the dead cells located in the upper layer of the epidermis. As the sugar interacts with the dead skin cells, a color change occurs. This change usually lasts about five to seven days from the initial application.
Tanning pills typically contain the pigment canthaxanthin. Although the FDA has approved the use of canthaxanthin as a color additive in food, it has not approved its use as a tanning agent. Much larger quantities of canthaxanthin than the amount used as a food coloring must be ingested to change skin color. After canthaxanthin is consumed, it is deposited throughout the body, including in the skin, which turns an orange-brown color, and also the internal organs (liver, brain, etc.). Canthaxanthin-based tanning pills have been linked to dangerous side effects, including hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and canthaxanthin retinopathy (formation of yellow deposits in the retina of the eye).
Most tanning accelerators are lotions or pills that contain the amino acid tyrosine. Makers of these products believe that the tyrosine stimulates and increases melanin formation, thereby accelerating the natural tanning process. However, more scientific data is needed to determine the validity of these claims and to assess the safety of using large amounts of tyrosine. Sunless tanning lotions now come in light, medium, and dark tones. People with dry skin can buy brands with emollients or humectants added for softness and moisture, while people with oily skin may find that gel or alcohol-based products work better. And recently, ingredients such as vitamins, herbal extracts, antioxidants, and alpha-hydroxy acids are being added to some products in an effort to expand their benefits.