Fun in the Sunless? Exploring the World of Sunless Tanners

We’ve all heard the dangers of suntans and of tanning beds – so how are so many beautiful, healthy girls getting that bronze glow? These smart women rely on sunless tanning products that include lotions, spray tans, and bronzers. If you’re looking for a way to get a great tan this summer without harming your skin, we’ve got all the inside tips and products for you to look your best! 

The sun’s rays and tanning beds contain UVA and UVB rays, which can cause melanoma and even skin cancer after prolonged exposure. As dermatologist Dr. Peggy Fuller said in an email, “A tan indicates injury and damage to the skin. There is no such thing as a safe tan. The current school of thought is that skin cancers and abnormal moles are the result of sun injury which may occur during the very young years of life, before age 12.” Fortunately, there are many safe and UV-free options to give your skin a healthy glow. 

Before you head to the store, decide how dark you’d like your tan to be. Want a light, sun-kissed glow? Try a pressed bronzer compact on your forehead, cheeks, and shoulders. Not sure how drastic a color change you want? Try a gradual-change lotion. Are you ready to go full-out tan? A spray tan is the best route. If you’re unsure which shade you want, ask for help (that’s what the Sephora staff is for!), or start with a lighter shade.

Bronzer – Ideal for Pale Girls!
This is ideal for girls who aren’t sure about tanning or are naturally pale-skinned. Though the choice to tan is completely up to you (there are plenty of beautiful pale women, like Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga!), a little (safe) color never hurt anyone. Bronzer gives pale girls the sun-inspired look without going overboard. There are different shades depending on the level of tan you’re looking for, and the best part is that it washes off at the end of the day.

Mila Kunis looks flawless with the natural glow from her bronzer!

For light skin, try MAC’s Surf, Baby! Pressed Powder ($28) – it comes in two shades and is easy to apply. If you want a deeper bronzer, try Sephora Collection’s Bronzer ($15) – it’s a darker tint, but the pigments are a special silk formula that blends with your skin tone.

When applying bronzer, use a fluffy brush, and don’t just highlight your cheeks the way you would with blush – your skin will look sallow! Instead, rim the outside of your face for an allover glow. 

Gradual-Tan Lotions: Control Your Color - Great for a Medium Glow! 

Whatever brand of lotion you choose, make sure you pick one that’s odorless and doesn’t have carrot juice. The smell will become overwhelming after a few hours, and carrot juice is more likely to turn your skin orange, the dreaded result of tanning. Valerie Zefiretto, a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, recalls using one store product that made her sweat orange! 
Valerie recommends using Banana Boat products, like the Sunless Summer Color Tinted Lotion in Light to Medium ($6.69 in drugstores). Banana Boat products have fewer odors than other lotions and look more natural.

I’ve personally used gradual-tan lotion from Bath and Body Works and been quite pleased with the results – you’ll see a difference after a few days, and you control how dark you get. Since it’s made by Bath and Body Works, you don’t have to worry about the odor, because everything there has a fragrance. Try True Blue Spa’s Glow and Steady Moisturizing Gradual Tanner Lotion with SPF 15 ($15). 
Some lotions will appear streaky if you apply them yourself, so test the product on a small area of your skin before applying to your whole body. (This will also help ensure the color you choose works with your skin tone.) And don’t rub it in with your hands – it will stick to your body’s driest areas, especially your palms. If you get color on your hands, use peroxide or bleach to remove the pigment.  
Lotions are also a good choice if you’re trying to even out tan lines, particularly bikini bottom tans – you’ll have more control over where the product lands. 

Spray Tans - Perfect for Deep, Dark Color 

Spray tans are the easiest and most effective option for achieving a healthy, sunless tan – the application provides full, even coverage, and the color won’t stain your hands. However, you have a lot less control over the application than you do with a lotion, and you’ll be pressed to find a gradual-tan spray. If you opt for spray tan, ask a professional for advice on the right shade.

Margarite Spagnuolo, co-owner of Tantastic Parties, a traveling spray tan company in New York City, gave us the basics you can expect with a spray tan:

  • Wear what you’re comfortable with. Some people choose to go completely nude, but others wear bathing suits. You can get as little or as much tan as you want. It’s best, though, to wear something that leaves your shoulders, arms, and legs exposed.
  • It doesn’t last as long as you think. A spray tan won’t normally last more than a week, so this is something to consider before you choose a salon. Are you willing to go back that often? To keep your spray tan lasting as long as possible, Spagnuolo recommends moisturizing your skin daily.
  • It looks real – if you pick the right color. Many salons will give you a free color consultation, so you can find a shade that works for you. Turning orange is the result of picking too dark a color, so make sure you start lighter and work your way into a deep tan.

With bronzers, lotions, and spray tans, you should always exfoliate your face and skin before application. Spagnuolo says the pigment won’t set in as well if your skin has any barriers that would block the color, including makeup or moisturizer.

If you choose to use a self-tanning lotion or spray tan, the color will take four to six hours to set in. If you’ve applied too much pigment, jump in the shower – most of it will wash off. Dr. Schulz also suggests exfoliating to remove some of the pigment – it won’t be absorbed into your skin yet. Conversely, if you feel you should add more tanner, wait the six hours – the color will turn darker as your skin absorbs it. If it’s been six hours and you still feel you need more color, you can apply another dose of color, but you’ll have to wait another six hours before showering if you want the color to stay. Avoiding water includes avoiding exercise – no one wants sweat streaks in their tan! If you absolutely can’t wait that long and have already applied tanning product, try using a blow-dryer to speed up the absorption process.

What are your favorite self-tanning products? Have any tips to share?

InStyle’sUltimate Beauty Secrets.
Dr. Peggy Fuller, Dermatologist
Margarite Spagnuolo, Co-Owner, Tantastic Parties [].
Valerie Zefiretto, graduate, UNC Chapel Hill.