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How To Get Tan in Winter Before Heading South

Updated on October 29, 2012

Tanning in the Winter

If you need ideas on how to get tan in winter, especially if you are heading south for an occasion like a family vacation or spring break, here are some ideas that can give you a nice base before you hit the beach.

Tanning in winter is generally not something that you should do, since it is not necessary and may expose your body to unnecessary chemicals or UV rays. However, when a person who has not seen the sun for several weeks or months suddenly spends time on a southern beach in full sun, a sunburn is a serious possibility, and being armed with a base tan may make a huge difference.

The best alternative to winter tanning, of course, is to simply use a total sun block while at the beach, and this is great advice, but while a high SPF sunblock is very effective, you may still look white as a ghost on the beach. To avoid that and allow your skin some protection between applications, here are some ways to get a bit of color on your skin before you head south.

Using a Tanning Machine

The first thing most people think of when trying to get a quick tan is to visit a local tanning salon to spend some time under the lights. This typically involves a series of sessions of less than 30 minutes under a bed made of fluorescent lamps that expose the skin to UV rays similar to the sun. Just like exposure to the sun, these rays will result in a gradual tan.

There have been many reports of adverse effects of tanning lights, including an increased risk of skin cancer and even cataracts. Also, a tan achieved from a tanning machine offers only slight protection from the sun's harmful rays. Because of this, a tanning bed should not be your first option. If this is the best option available to you to avoid overexposure on the beach, keep the sessions to a minimum and always wear protective goggles to protect the eyes, but first consider another option.

sunscreen may be your best bet to avoid burns
sunscreen may be your best bet to avoid burns

Tanning Spray or Lotion

Similar to tanning beds, there are commercial machines that will actually spray a tan right onto your skin. In these machines, a subject stands up and enters a booth, raises the arms, and gets sprayed. You might think of it like getting spray painted, but with a subtle color that looks the color of tanned skin.

The way a spray turns the skin tan, in fact, is not by coloring it at all. Instead, these applications normally contain a chemical known as DHA that reacts with the outermost layer of the skin to turn it darker. The good news is that there is no exposure to ultraviolet light needed to get a tan in this manner. The bad news is that DHA can be harmful, and particularly when used as a spray, it is important to avoid contact with the eyes and to keep from breathing the mist.

Other products use the same chemical, like sunless tanning lotion or even wipes. These work pretty well and are cheaper than a commercial application, but sometimes color can be uneven, especially if you don't have another person to help with application in places like the back.

Spray tanning or sunless tanning lotion are viable options when in a pinch, but the color will only last for a week or so, making it ineffective for a very long time.

Getting a Natural Tan

A natural tan can be achieved through diet to some degree, but it is not easy. This works when higher than normal doses of carotenoids, found in food sources, are consumed. Examples include lycopene, found in your favorite patio tomatoes and even more effectively in cooked tomatoes, or foods high in beta carotene. Really, many fruits and vegetables will improve resistance to UV rays, so getting the required servings every day is always good.

The problem with these natural tanning agents is that it would take such high quantities to achieve an effective screen, and doses at those levels is not safe. While great in theory, it is best to just eat a normal diet including these fruits and vegetables and not to overdo it.

Should You Tan in Winter?

Whether you are thinking of a tanning booth, spray or lotion, or some other method, the question remains. Should you really try to tan before heading south? The answer quite honestly may be no. Of all options available to you, doing nothing may be the healthiest for your skin.

The best protection of all on a beach in winter, when skin is most susceptible to sun damage, is to use a high quality sunblock with SPF of at least 30. Even if you choose another pre-tanning method, the use of sunblock is a must.

To make sure the protection really works, select sunblock that is waterproof if you will be near the pool or ocean, and reapply as directed. Also, buy a new bottle. Sunblock can age and lose its effectiveness, so having this year's product is best.

If you make sure you limit fake tanning methods or avoid them and use a quality sunblock when you head to the beach, your skin will be protected in the safest way possible. Now that you know your options for how to get tan in winter, you can choose wisely.


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