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After a snowy winter, the tanning salon is a tempting option for trading in your ghostly skin for a pretty tan, but don’t fake bake for your vitamin D just yet. Instead, invest in a safe sunless self-tanner that will get rid of your washed out complexion and have your friends wondering where you got such a perfect glow without the potential skin damage.

While some people may think that getting a tan is healthy, any darkening of the skin, regardless of whether it’s a burn or a tan, equals skin damage. “Any time the skin darkens, it is doing it in response to an injury,” says Dr. Neal Schultz, a cosmetic and medical dermatologist in New York City. “After your skin has been damaged, it turns darker to prevent more ultraviolet rays from coming in.” The skin damage comes from two different types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB rays. The UVA rays cause degenerate damage, says Dr. Schultz, which means wrinkling, premature aging, sagging skin, and age spots. While both types of rays are dangerous, the more serious type is the UVB rays, which cause burning and skin cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, these UVB rays are most definitely present in sun lamps and, according to a study by Lancet Oncology, the risk of getting skin cancer jumps 75 percent if you start using tanning beds before the age of 30. Talk about a frightening statistic.

[Dermtv] If you want to get a safe and healthy tan, don’t be scared away by the bad rep of streaky self-tanners. “Self-tanners were streaky and orange 25 years ago,” says Dr. Schultz. “Today, they are much more sophisticated. All are a good color, and it’s hard to go wrong with a self-tanner.” The easiest way to be sure your self-tanner goes on evenly is to exfoliate two or three days before you apply, says Dr. Schultz. Exfoliating gets rid of uneven skin cells and eliminates the possibility of your tan being darker in some places than others. [Dermtv]

Make sure to cover every inch of your skin with the tanner so you don’t look blotchy, and apply using a circular motion to make sure it goes on evenly. Apply the tanner sparingly to your knees, elbows, feet, and face, and make sure to wash your hands extremely well after you finish applying. If you happen to be unhappy with the results, Dr. Schultz says exfoliating will help get rid of the tan.

Still unsure about your ability to pick out a good self-tanner? Most brands come in just three shades, light, medium, and dark, so use your best judgment when purchasing the lotion. A good way to choose correctly is by looking at your foundation. If it’s a lighter shade, go with the light self-tanner, and if it’s darker, the dark self-tanner is the way to go. If you’re worried that self-tanners won’t give you the vitamin D that the sun would, fear not: You can actually get all the vitamin D you need from food sources, like fish, eggs, and milk. If you’re not big on dairy, you can take a vitamin D supplement instead. Still, you may be unknowingly getting all the vitamin D you need from the sun. All it takes is a few minutes of sunlight a day to get the vitamin D, so a walk outside to get the mail could be a supplement in itself. Still slightly clueless about which tanner to choose? Check out these great options.

Gradual Tanning Lotion:

Apply the gradual tanning lotion daily as a typical moisturizer and slowly build up your tan. While it may take a little while to notice some color (you usually reach your peak within five to seven days) streaks are less noticeable and your tan looks more natural. Steal: Jergen’s Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer $8.48 at Walmart

Vaseline Healthy Body Glow Daily Replenishing Moisturizer $6.79 at Amazon.com

Splurge: Mystic Tan Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer Body $29.00 at Sephora

St. Tropez Everyday Gradual Tan Mousse $30.00 from St. Tropez Tan

Instant Self-Tanner:

If you don’t have time to waste, the instant self-tanner usually bronzes your skin in under an hour. The only problem with the instant version is the color is much more apparent, so to avoid streaks, even application is a must.

Steal: Neutrogena Instant Bronze $8.99 at Wal-Mart

L’Oreal Body Expertise Sublime Bronze Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion $10.00 at CVS

Splurge: Clinique ‘Self Sun’ Body Tinted Lotion $20 at Nordstrom

Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel $32.50 at Sephora

Sources: Dr. Neal Schultz, cosmetic and medical dermatologist in New York City http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/Tanning/ucm116432.htm

Nancy Mucciarone is a senior at Syracuse University, majoring in magazine journalism and minoring in psychology. Along with writing for HerCampus, she is the fashion and beauty editor of Equal Time magazine, a freelance writer for Studio One Networks, as well as the public relations vice president for Alpha Xi Delta. She is the former web editor for College magazine, and this past summer, she was loving life in New York City as she participated in the Condé Nast Summer Intern Program as an editorial intern at Footwear News. When she's not making detailed to-do lists or perfecting the grilled cheese sandwich, you can usually find her watching Animal Planet or trying to curb her Milk Dud addiction. She aspires to one day be the bachelorette.
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