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Home Blog Safe Tanning Without The Sun

Safe Tanning Without The Sun


We all want that gorgeous sun-kissed glow but if you can’t afford to jet off to warmer parts of the globe for a tanning session in the dead of winter, you may start to consider other tanning options. It is possible you have even resorted to using a tanning bed once or twice, but we want you to know you have other options available to you! From at-home products to spray tans, there are a number of ways you can achieve darker skin during colder months (or all year long). Continue reading to learn about premium skin care products and how you can achieve a beautiful sunless glow.

Is Safe Self Tanning Possible?

The general belief in the medical community is that there is no such thing as safe tanning1. While it may seem to be an alarming statement to be sure, it refers to any tan achieved through exposure to natural sunlight or harsh UV lighting. As our skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it increases the production of a skin pigment known as melanin in an effort to protect itself from further damage2. This increased presence of melanin is what gives your skin a tan color and may continue to darken your skin over the next 48 hours.

This may not seem like a bad thing, but increased melanin is actually a sign of sun damage to the skin and, contrary to popular belief, having a tan will not protect you from developing a sunburn or further skin damage with repeated exposures3 to sunlight. The extra melanin in tanned skin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 2 to 44 which is far below the recommended minimum of SPF 15. Before hitting the beach or pool, apply anti-aging sunscreen to help protect your skin from getting a burn. Keep in mind that if you go to a tanning bed, tanning under UV rays or lights puts you at increased risk of developing skin cancer by 75%5.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that as research has shown us the dangers of UV radiation many products have been created to provide you with a safe tanning experience. The difference is that none of these products rely on exposure to UV radiation and instead alter the color of your skin in different ways.

Model woman with sun in her face

How to Get a Tan Safely

There are many at-home products and professional procedures you can have done to give your skin the appearance of being tan including lotions, wipes or towels, foams, and spray tans. But even if you have heard of these methods, chances are you have also heard horror stories about them as well. There is an increased chance that self-tanning lotion may leave streaks in various shades and cause uneven skin tones, so be aware if you decide to choose this method. Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. With some care, a lot of patience, and the right product you can have a beautiful even tan without any of the damaging effects of UV rays. So here is how to safely tan your face and body.

Sunless Tanning Products

There are a variety of sunless tanning products to choose from to experience the benefits of tanning without the increased health risks, but we’ll focus on some of the most popular methods. First up, at-home lotions and foams. These might be the most readily accessible products as they are on shelves in pharmacies, beauty stores, and online. But they are also the products you hear about most when people talk about a streaky or patchy tan. However, with the right application process, you can walk away with a gorgeous golden glow. Here’s how to do it:

Pick the Right Shade Before you even begin to apply a tanning lotion or foam, make sure you have selected an appropriate shade or color if applicable. Anything too dark will look false on your skin while too light will be barely noticeable. Ideally, you want to start with something that is just a shade or two darker than your skin. However, some products don’t offer shades and label themselves as gradual or building these are even better products because they work with your skin (more on that later) to provide a more natural shade.
Exfoliate Once you have your product selected, be sure to gently exfoliate your skin to remove any dead skin cells, focusing a little more on those areas with thicker skin such as your knees, elbows, and ankles. This will help prevent the product from sticking to any uneven parts of your skin. Thoroughly dry your skin when you are done.
Apply in Sections As you apply the product, massage it in a circular motion on your skin while moving in sections across your body. You could start with your arms, then legs, and finish with your torso but be sure to wash your hands between each section to avoid discoloring your palms.
Take Care Around Joints Your joints like knees, elbows, ankles, and wrists are where product tends to pool and absorb more of the sunless tanning product. To avoid this, apply the product gently in these areas and lightly extend the product from your ankles to your feet and from your wrists to your hands. After you have applied the product, you can dilute the tanning effect around your joints by gently rubbing them with a damp towel.
Let It Dry After you have fully applied the product, wait at least 10 minutes before getting dressed to allow the product to fully dry. When you do get dressed, wear loose clothing and avoid sweating or showering for 24 hours to ensure the product has properly set.

Tan Towels packettes by bathroom sink

It seems like a lot of work, but it is the best way to get an even tan when using a lotion product. Thankfully, lotions are not the only product available. In fact, Kate Somerville esthetician Aly Mac recommends using towels or wipes instead. Sunless tanning wipes, just as they sound, put all the power of lotions into an easy-to-use towelette. “Tan towels are a great option for year round use and they have a lot of benefits. You don’t have to shower after you put them on like with a spray tan, they don’t have a fake tan smell, and Kate Somerville’s towelettes use great ingredients so they can be used by those with sensitive skin,” says Aly. Having used the Kate Somerville towelettes herself, Aly understands the product and loves that it goes on clear but develops into a tan quickly. She recommends using one towelette to achieve a single shade darker and says it will last for about 3 days. But if you want to take your skin a few shades darker she recommends using two towelettes to layer on the effects and says the results should last around 5 days.

And finally, you always have the option of paying for a spray tan. Every tanning therapist will be slightly different but you can generally expect to strip off all your clothing and be misted with a cold, brown spray from head to toe. Your therapist should ask you how “deep” of a tan you want to achieve and about the occasion you are getting tanned for. If they don’t, run for the hills. This information, along with your natural skin tone, will help them determine the shade to use. While spray tans have come a long way over the last few years, you will still leave with strict instructions not to shower until at least six to eight hours have passed and if you choose to sleep on a spray tan before showering, be ready to wash your sheets in the morning. Don’t worry, that’s normal and won’t cause you any streaking if you wait that six to eight hours before you crawl into bed.

How Does Sunless Tanning Work?

The active ingredient in most sunless tanning products is a color additive known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA)6. When applied to the skin, DHA reacts with cells on the skin’s surface to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan7. This is why the coloring typically fades after just a few days. However, just as with UV tanning, sunless tanning will not protect you from harmful UV rays so you should continue to wear sunscreen when spending time outside to properly protect your skin and maintain your health.

Is Sunless Tanning Safe?

Sunless tanning products that are applied to the surface of the skin are generally considered safe alternatives to sunbathing so long as they are used as directed and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved DHA for external application to the skin. However, they caution against inhaling DHA or applying it to certain areas including the lips, nose, or around the eyes. As you use athome products be sure to carefully follow the directions on the label and do not get the product in your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you are going to get a spray tan they should provide you with the proper protection but if they do not offer them, ask.

While UV tanning may seem like the easiest option for tanning, it is important to recognize the dangers of repeated and continued sun exposure. Most of us want to achieve that perfect summer glow all year round but it is crucial you do it safely and in a healthy way. Lotions, towels, and spray tans all offer safer alternatives to get tan, you just have to decide which one is the best method for you and your skin.


[1] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/tanning/ucm116432.htm#2
[2] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/protein-plays-important-role-increased-skin-pigmentation-can-help-protect-against-harmful-uv-exposure
[3] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/tanning/ucm116432.htm#2
[4] https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/tanning/ucm116432.htm
[5] https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning
[6] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sunless-tanning/art-20046803
[7] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sunless-tanning/art-20046803

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