Fake It, Don't Bake It: Why You Should Reach for the Self-Tanner
The golden glow that exemplifies youth and vigor is irresistible. Despite my personal preference for embracing year-round paleness for the sake of skin health, most cannot be dissuaded and would rather look like Snookie than Emma Stone. Given the skin cancer risks of basking in real or artificial UV rays (tanning beds are in the same carcinogen class as cigarettes), the fake tan is the way to go to get that glow.
The only topical tanning agent with FDA approval is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a carbohydrate molecule that turns an orange-brown color after reacting with the amino acids present in the outermost layer of your skin. This is the same reaction that happens when left-out fruit turns brown. As with all great scientific discoveries, its origin story is ... colorful. Originally tested as a glucose substitute in the treatment of diabetics, it was found to bronze the skin of kids that accidentally spit up the medication. Nothing about that is glamorous, but that's why I love it.
So is it safe? The short answer is yes. There are a few toxicity studies that did not reveal any adverse effects when taken orally for several weeks. When applied to intact skin, there is little to no systemic absorption into the bloodstream (although keep it away from your eyes, lips, or otherwise open skin). As with any aerosolized product, there is a risk of inhalation and potential for damage to your upper respiratory system and lungs, a risk that can be avoided with spreadable foams, gels, and creams. Also, watch out for any allergies to added fragrances and preservatives.
It DOES NOT provide any meaningful protection from the skin-cancer causing and wrinkle-inducing UV rays. So don't use that beautiful bronze color as an excuse for skipping the broad-spectrum, SPF 30 sunscreen when frolicking in the sun.
Here are few good self-tanners to get you started:
- Norvell Self-Tan Gel Creme
- St. Tropez Self-Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
- Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster (great for those with allergies - can mix with your own moisturizer for a spreadable, streak-free glow)
There you have it, the safest way to get that glow is from the bottle. Let me know if you have favorites or any tips or tricks!
*This Time article is an easy read that goes a little more in-depth.
Fu JM, Dusza SW, Halpern AC. Sunless tanning. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 May;50(5):706-13.
Levy SB. Dihydroxyacetone-containing sunless or self-tanning lotions. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1992 Dec;27(6 Pt 1):989-93.
Mette Mogensen and Gregor BE Jemec. The potential carcinogenic risk of tanning beds: clinical guidelines and patient safety advice. Cancer Manag Res. 2010; 2: 277–282.