Summer Buyers' Guide: Sunless Tanning Lotions
Achieving that bronze-kissed look without ever stepping foot on the beach has never been easier. And sunless tans will be hotter than ever this year with all sorts of streak-proof varieties, including a do-it-yourself airbrush tanning kit, readily available.
Here's how sunless tanners work. The active ingredient is typically dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which reacts with amino acids on the outermost top layer of the skin to produce a tan color without the sun. Look for DHA on the label.
"As long as lotions and sprays have DHA, they are fine," says Ariel Ostad, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University Medical Center. "There are a lot of equally good products and they are all extremely safe," he says.
"You can put them on and go into the sun, but you will probably still need sunscreen for protection," he says.
DHA and the "tan" you get from it do not offer any protection from the sun.
While sunless tanners like sunscreens come in many varieties, "gels are drying, so I would choose lotions or sprays because they go on easier," Ostad adds.
Bruce E. Katz, MD, the medical director of the JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York City is a fan of the sunless airbrush tan. In a nutshell, airbrush tanning consists of spraying the DHA solution on with a spray gun. "It is actually very reliable and you get good results and not much in the way of streaking," he says. You can do it in a spa or purchase an at-home kit.
Regardless of which type of self-tanner you choose, you have to find the right one for your skin type. "A self-tan that may be great on one person makes someone else look orange," Katz says. "Do a small area first before you commit and try not to experiment before a major social event."
Remember that "it's trial and error and really a question of finding the right one for your skin. Then you can go as dark as you want by repeated applications."