Skin Deep: Faux-ever

We all know it’s true: natural tanning isn’t a healthy option. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be pleasantly bronzed. Since Coppertone introduced the first sunless “QT” tanning lotion in the 1960s, fake tans have come a long way. Instead of a “one-color-fits-all” approach, faux tanning now offers lighter and darker options and different methods of application.

The basic ingredient in effective faux tans is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. It is a derivative of glycerin that temporarily darkens your skin by reacting with amino acids in dead skin cells. The FDA approved this ingredient in the 1970s. Some formulas are available in drugstores, and others are limited to spray tanning salons. For now, we’ll limit discussion to spray tans.

Spray tanning usually requires that you go to a salon. You can either tan in a booth or – and in my opinion this is the best way – by hand airbrush tan. The first, a spray tan booth, operates by releasing a fine mist of faux tanner solution. When it’s finished (the whole process takes less than a minute), you towel off excess tanner solution and go. Over the next few hours, the DHA in the tanner will react with your skin and create a darker color. An airbrush tan involves a tanning technician personally spraying the tanning solution on you in order to make sure that no spots are missed. You can shower about four hours after the treatment. The benefit of the hand-airbrush method is that the person spraying you can easily do “contouring,” custom-blending the tan with highlighting shimmer to set off your skin.

Before you go for your spray tan, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Since DHA reacts with dead skin cells, patches of dry skin may result in uneven, blotchy coloring. The day before getting a spray tan, exfoliate your body with a loofah or scrub and moisturize well. If the salon offers a pre-exfoliating scrub – take it! I love getting the exfoliating massage; my skin feels amazing and the “tan” stays longer.

If you plan to shave or get a wax, do so before your spray treatment. Both of these hair removal options will also remove dead skin cells, which will make your tan fade more quickly. I personally find waxing to be the preferred choice to keep the tan longer, as you don’t have to shave for a few weeks after waxing.

loose or dark clothing
Many spray tanners also include a bronzer to help you (or the tanning technician) see any missed spots. While the tanner itself won’t stain clothing, the bronzer will. Wear loose or dark clothing to the salon and avoid white clothing or bedding until you’ve showered. If you don’t feel comfortable being unclothed during the process, bring along a dark-colored bathing suit (two-piece is preferable for women). Break out the black maxi-dress and you will be golden – pun intended.

avoid makeup, deodorant and perfume
Some of these products may prevent the tanning solution from reacting with skin properly, and others can even cause skin to turn green. Play it safe and make sure there are no cosmetics on your body before getting a spray tan. The ingredients in most sunless tanning solutions tend to dry out the skin. Hydrate inside and out, by drinking lots of water and moisturizing with a good lotion twice a day. Avoid body scrubs, oils and anything that would be considered an exfoliant. This includes many of your everyday facial moisture products that “shed” age, so look for ingredients such alpha-hydroxy, vitamins C and A and other exfoliates. With this said, Murphy’s law dictates that if you want it to fade and “try” to scrub off a less-than-perfect faux tan (self-applied or otherwise) the tan will remain.

It is a good idea to test out the skill of the tanning technician a month or so before an important date, such as a wedding; no one wants to have an orange look in photos. Like anything else in the beauty industry there’s talent, skill and experience needed to really give you the advantage of stepping out like the bronze goddess (or god) you deserve to be.

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