The dermatologists and skin care experts at Davie Dermatology and The Med Spa cannot make this point strongly enough: there is no such thing as getting a “safe” tan from the sun. A “base tan” does not prevent sun burns, and getting a tan in the early morning or late afternoon makes no difference. Exposure to UVA and UVB rays damage skin cells, causing wrinkles at best and skin cancer at worst.
But that lovely bronze glow is still within reach: and is even safe, thanks to sunless tanning products. Products that give the appearance of a tan fall into two categories: bronzers and sunless tanners. Bronzers are essentially cosmetics; they are available in lotions, sprays, powders, and sticks, and they can be applied to the face or any part of the body. Like any cosmetics, they wear off after a while, or they can be washed off at will.
True sunless tanners contain ingredients that react with the amino acids in your skin, changing its color to light brown. Most sunless tanners contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which causes a response called the Maillard reaction with the skin. The Maillard reaction is the same process that causes the caramelization of sugar!
Unlike cosmetic bronzers, sunless tanners actually change the color of the first layer of the skin, so they cannot be washed off. They are available for home use as lotions, sprays, and wipes, but even application can be challenging, so many people choose to go to “sunless tanning salons” to get a professional full-body spray.
If you do decide to go the sunless tanner route, the American Academy of Dermatology has some tips, including exfoliating well and drying your skin completely before applying.
And it’s important to note that getting a spray tan does not protect the skin from the sun, so you still need to wear sunscreen and practice good sun safety!