A Guide to Self Tan

Artificial tanning products give the skin a bronzed glow safely and effectively. Increasing awareness of the dangers of sun exposure have meant ‘fake’ tan is now seen as the only way to achieve a safe, healthy glow.

There are two types of artificial tan formulations: wash-off and wear-off.

Wash-off products stain the skin temporarily as a quick fix for pasty skin. They are available in a variety of shades so you need to choose the shade that best matches your skin tone and colour expectations.

Instant tan products are a good choice if you only want a tan for the day, but do bear in mind some key maintenance points:

Look for special facial formulas that respect the delicate nature of this vulnerable area.

The more wash-off tan you put on in any particular area, the more pronounced that colour will be. You must make sure that you apply evenly over the whole body, taking care not to forget awkward areas such as the back, and the backs of your legs and arms.
Care should be taken while wearing a wash-off formula, as any contact with water, including rain and sweat, may cause unsightly streaks and stain your clothes. It is also best to wash-off the tan before going to bed!

Wash off tanning formulas do not give you any extra protection from the sun, and those with sunscreens tend to be a very low factor which are only suitable for cloudy days in the UK. If you are exposing your artificial tan to the sun, make sure you apply a suitable sunscreen on top of your wash-off formula, and follow the usual sun care code.

Wear-off formulas are usually called “self-tanning” products, and contain ingredients that react with proteins in the epidermis to darken it from within. When the product is applied the colour develops over a period of hours, creating a depth of colour relative to the skin’s natural capacity for tanning. The effect will fade gradually over a few days.

The key ingredient in most wear-off bronzing products is Dihydroxyacetone (or DHA), a natural sugar derivative that reacts with proteins in the outer layer of the skin. The protein and DHA fuse to form melanoidins, a darker pigment that creates the illusion of a tan without the exposure to UV radiation. The effect will fade as the dead skin cells housing the amino acids are naturally shed.

Because artificial tanning products are only active in the upper levels of the skin, they will not affect the lower layers of the skin, nor will they cause burning or blistering. Likewise, they do not give the skin any extra protection or contain sunscreens, and those that do tend to be low SPF factors. So if exposure to the sun is planned, the usual suncare code must still be followed.

Applying wear-off formulas can be tricky, as they do not reveal the colour immediately. So you must remember where you have and haven’t applied the cream! Applying more cream will not necessarily make the end result any different, because the final colour is dependent on the skin’s natural capacity for tanning, although some of the more advanced formulations do give the user greater control over her eventual colour.

Self tanning products contain topically active ingredients, so always perform a patch test before you try a brand for the first time. If any reaction occurs, don’t use the rest of it!

Applying Self Tanning Products:
Cleanse and exfoliate the skin to create a smooth, even base. If you apply self tanning formulas over skin cells that are about to be shed, your colour will not last as long.
Do not apply moisturiser beneath a wear-off formula, as this will interfere with the active ingredients. Many include moisturisers, but if you require a greater moisture-boost, wait until the formula has fully developed before applying your usual body cream or lotion.

Apply the product evenly over the skin, but sparingly on knees, elbows, knuckles and heels, as these areas tend to be rougher, and can take on a deeper colour than elsewhere.

Remove any excess product from your palms, fingers and toes regularly throughout the application process.

If any product strays on to your hairline or eyebrows, wipe gently with a tissue immediately, as these areas will darken rapidly.

Minimise body contact with towels and other fabrics for at least 20 minutes after applying a wash-off formula.

Remember that wear-off self-tanning formulas do not give you any extra protection from UV rays. Any sunscreens are usually too low to be effective in sunny climates. Wait for your formula to develop completely before venturing out into daylight, and always apply a separate sunscreen on top, while following the usual sun care code.