When I was young I had beautiful golden brown skin; that was from my mom pouring baby oil all over me and locking me outside for hours. Of course back then the dangers of prolonged UV exposure and skin cancer weren’t feared like they are today. I tanned for a while on my own, up until I was in my late teens and decided I didn’t want to risk my health (or get wrinkles) so I vowed to play it safe in the sun. Needless to say my golden brown skin eventually tapered away to a ho-hum pale olive complexion that, at this moment, I’m dying to get back.
Self Tanners – How They Work
Most self tanners use a chemical called dihydroxyacetone, commonly called DHA. When DHA comes in contact with the amino acids in skin it starts a chemical reaction that causes browning of the uppermost skin cells. This isn’t a sudden change; the reaction takes between 2 – 4 hours to start showing and may continue to darken for up to 72 hours.
This is the part I wish I paid more attention to! Because I wasn’t seeing a change I kept applying the tanner thinking I was just too light to notice a difference. Oy!
After the process is complete, you can expect the tan to last 7 – 14 days and it will gradually lighten. Soap, water, or sweat will not wash the tanning away once the process is complete.
Self Tanners – Best Practice
If you’re new to self tanning, trust me on these. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, these can help save you the frustration, embarrassment and mistakes I’ve went through.
- Exfoliate. Since DHA based tanners work by coloring the top layer of skin, making sure that layer isn’t going to flake away immediately will keep you from looking blotchy. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells and leaves you with soft, flake free skin.
- Moisturize. This will allow the tanner to absorb better and go on evenly without having dark patches. Using tanner on un-moisturized skin can also lead to blotches and streaks.
- Start light. If you have light skin this is definitely important. You may want a drastic tan, but going with a dark tanner can leave you with a very unnatural complexion. After the about 12 hours if you want to go darker apply another layer of the light tanner and wait it out. Too much too soon is scary! Remember, you wont see an immediate difference.
- When choosing a tanner opt for a tinted version. This allows you to see where the tanner is going. Using a clear formula ends up in a lot of guess-work. This can greatly reduce the risk of streaks of un-tanned skin.
- Use gloves. Latex gloves (or similar if you have a latex allergy.) I can’t stress this enough. It may seem like a pain and bare handed might be more comfortable, but using bare hands can cause a very, very unattractive discoloration of fingers and palms. If you absolutely can’t use gloves then wash your hands a LOT during the process. When washing your hands focus on the tips of the fingers and between the fingers – accumulation here could be bad.
- Only use tanner on dry skin. Not damp or even slightly moist. Make sure you are completely dry. The slightest bit of moisture will leave you with brown streaks.
- Rub the tanner in evenly. Using a circular motion apply the tanner like you are moisturizing. Your skin tone will be uneven and blotchy in the places that you don’t.
- Don’t get dressed or go to bed until you’re dry. Putting clothes over wet or damp tanner will lead to blotches as your clothing will absorb the tanner off of your skin.
Self Tanners – What to do when they Go Wrong
We can’t get it right every time. Things go wrong, and with self tanners it’s no difference. Don’t let that thought stop you from tanning at home though; it’s still much safer than tanning outside or in a tanning bed. Here are some ways to fix a botched at home tanning job.
- If you catch the mistake early (as in before the process is complete) you can rinse off and exfoliate in the shower. This process is more effective the sooner you do it.
- Jen from Life with Levi suggests using a sea salt scrub with lemon juice to remove the color once it’s set.
- A cuticle remover cream can be used to correct small areas.
- Using a lotion made with alpha hydroxy acid, moisturize the streaky areas.
- Use an exfoliating scrub and/or loofah to go over streaky and/or blotchy areas.
- Use tanning remover wipes found in many drug stores and mass retailers.
- One of our awesome readers suggested Lemon Juice, sugar and honey scrub for the shower. It will take it off from the acid in the juice and the sugar.
- Coat your body with baby oil and let your skin soak it up for 20 – 30 minutes. Soak in a warm bath and exfoliate the skin with a sugar scrub.
- Body hair bleach can be used carefully on the fingers, palms and feet to remove the color build up.
- Wait it out. While this isn’t the quickest option it’s definitely the most effective. Use makeup to hide face errors, accessorize with scarves, shrugs and opt for clothes that cover the mistakes. It will go away eventually.
- Don’t go crazy with these options – use 1 at a time so not to abuse your skin. Make sure you’re keeping your skin moisturized as well.