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Self Tanning Lotions - When Fake is Good

Updated on August 21, 2013

Get a Sun-Kissed Glow without Damaging Rays Using Self Tanning Lotions

The transition from winter to spring is a glorious one.... bulbs sprouting from the ground, buds appearing on barren tree branches, grasses greening up and the sun warms our faces with longer days and the promise of summer ahead. So.... you start shedding your heavy winter garb to reveal pasty legs, arms and chests below. Maybe not so nice. Before you don skirts or shorts, let's consider a few ways you can brighten up those gams, and perhaps your spirits, as well!

We've come a long way since that awful concoction "QT" that was marketed by Coppertone in the 1960s and 70's. "QT" was supposed to stand for "quick tan," but probably should have meant "quite terrible," instead. A give-away orange glow was indicative of the consumer's use of the lotion product, instead of actual time spent in the sun.

Well, not only have we advanced with respect to formulations for lotions, gels and sprays to give us great looking faux sun tans, but our knowledge of the damaging effects of the sun's rays has also given us some serious reasons to stay out of the sun - even to re-think whether a tan should be considered "healthy."

Self-tanning lotions are a good alternative to UV rays and tanning beds
Self-tanning lotions are a good alternative to UV rays and tanning beds | Source
Self tanning lotions are much improved
Self tanning lotions are much improved | Source

Real Tans are not Safe

Malignant melanoma is a type of deadly skin cancer that is usually preventable by proper use of sunscreen when you go out in the sun, particularly between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Exposure to UV (ultra-violet) A and B rays can cause melanoma, which is a fast growing cancer, that may lead to death. Other cancers can result, as well, including squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Tanning beds are not any safer than the sun! In fact, some experts believe they may be more damaging. Particularly since users do not apply sunscreen beforehand. Do not, under any circumstances use a tanning bed!

Be on the lookout for skin cancer. If you have a mole that has changed shape, size or color, or another lesion on your skin about which you are concerned - do not delay - contact your doctor as soon as possible!

Obviously, it would be difficult, if not impossible to avoid all contact with natural sunlight. For this reason, you should always use a sunscreen of at least SPF (sun protection factor) 30, particularly in high exposure situations (during summer, or while engaging in recreation during any time of the year, i.e., skiing, boating, hiking, etc.) Reapply sunscreen often, at least every 3-4 hours, to maintain its effectiveness. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and clothing to protect your skin to the maximum extent possible.

By the way, the sun protection factor (SPF) is a number that roughly corresponds to the amount of time that you can be in the sun before you start to burn - with the appropriate sunscreen applied. If you normally start to burn in 10 minutes, then an SPF of 30 would allow you 150 minutes in the sun (a little over 2 hours). Remember: you must apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before sun exposure for it to be effective. If you start to burn, you must get out of the sun and reapply sunscreen. Wait at least 30 minutes before deciding whether to go back outside. Your best bet may be to stay indoors for the rest of the day.

A self-tan is beautiful and safe
A self-tan is beautiful and safe

Types of Self-Tanners

If you're looking to deepen the hue of your skin, without the damaging effects of the sun, there are several products that you can chose from. You will find a broad range in cost, but most experts will say that the base ingredients are not very different, if at all. You can generally get the same results (if applied carefully) with a drugstore brand as with a high-end department store counterpart. Formulations may be different for body lotions and gels and those for the face, however.

Most of these products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which reacts with surface skin cells, causing them to turn brown. As dead skin sloughs off, the "tan" will fades. Some formulations contain bronzers, which give a light sheen to the skin and may cause the effects of the tan to show up sooner.

  • Self-tanning lotion
  • Self-tanning gel
  • Self-tanning spray
  • Self-tanning lotion for the face
  • Moisturizing lotion with a hint of self-tanner
  • Self-tanning towelettes

The easiest of the above to apply are the moisturizers that include a little bit of self-tanner. It is hard to make a mistake, and you don't need to worry about washing your hands very carefully to avoid streaks between your fingers. A number of major drugstore brands, including Dove, Jergens, Vaseline and Neutrogena have these products on the market. They come in two or three main shades (light, medium, dark). Just don't expect a major difference right away. Over about a week of use, you should notice a glow!

With self-tanning lotions and gels, you need to be more careful in their application. Start with clean, dry, exfoliated skin. Use a gentle scrub in the shower and shave, if desired. Take some time for the application, making sure that all areas are covered and blended well, particularly ankles, knees, elbows and wrists. You'll want to avoid streaks. Wait at least 10 minutes before dressing. Wash your hands very well, focusing on areas between your fingers and at the base of your palms.

Self-tanning sprays and towelettes are slightly less messy to apply, but you'll need to prepare the same way as above. Similar concerns with complete coverage should be addressed, to avoid a streaks - the dead giveaway of a fake tan! Again, wash hands thoroughly after application and wait before putting clothes on.

Two notes of caution - First, be aware that many self-tanning formulations do not include sunscreen. Check the label carefully, and unless it specifically states that it provides a certain SPF protection, you will need to apply sunscreen before going outdoors. Second, don't be in a big rush to get a deep, dark tan. Your self-tan will look more realistic if it is built up slowly, over time and matches your natural skin tone. If you are fair-skinned, then buy the fair formulations and don't go for the lotions marketed for darker skinned people.

Tips for Applying Self-Tanners

Limit your time at the beach by using self tanning lotions
Limit your time at the beach by using self tanning lotions | Source

Sunless Tanning Salons

As some consumers have moved away from the dangers of tanning beds, tanning salons have introduced new, safer services, for professional application of self-tanning products. In general, you can pay for either a session in a "spray booth," where product will be evenly applied over your entire body, or you can have a technician apply tanner with an airbrush system, or hand-applied self-tanning lotion. The cost can range from $25-$150 per session, depending on the salon, the service, and geography (Los Angeles salons are probably among the most expensive in the nation).

Professional spray tans dry in just a few minutes and, because they can get to the hard-to-reach areas, consumers are happier with the more authentic looking results. Some people say that you'll have to repeat the process every 4-6 days to deepen the tan and maintain results. That could add up! On the other hand, you may have the comfort of knowing that this is a single investment for a season and you won't be experimenting with a number of different gels, lotions or sprays at home.

How to Apply Self Tanning Lotions

Make-up Products for a Self Tan

Sometimes, you simply don't have the time to apply self-tanner and wait for the color to deepen. Or maybe you don't want to fuss with the mess. Any time of year, you can use bronzing make-up products on your face, neck, chest and decolletage to add a bit of color. As with any type of make-up, however, just be careful not to overdo it!

Bronzing powder comes in pressed and loose versions and can be applied either directly on clean skin, or over foundation. Lightly dust the powder where the sun would hit your face - forehead, bridge of nose and chin. If you're wearing a low-cut shirt, be sure to dust your chest and decolletage, as well. The kaleidoscope pressed powders blend to create a myriad of colors to avoid a matte-like pancake face that can result from other products.

Be sure to care for your bronzer make-up brush as you do other brushes and implements. Wash it in warm, soapy water every month and stand it to air dry. Replace every 6 months.

Again, realize that most bronzing powders do not include sunscreen. Be sure to apply appropriate sunscreen to protect your skin, before heading outdoors.

Use Makeup to Create a Self-Tan

Before You Get Ready to Self-Tan

  1. Decide how much you're willing to invest on a tan, both to develop one initially, and maintain it through the sunny months. Be sure to factor in additional costs such as sunscreen! Be realistic and don't over-extend yourself. Its only a skin tone, after all!
  2. Take a good look at your natural skin tone and choose a self-tanning product that will be a good match. Don't go for dark, if you are fair-skinned!
  3. Be patient and be moderate. The best "fake" tans are those that look like the person spent a few afternoons outdoors, not a month in Bermuda! Don't be overzealous in applying self-tanning lotions, or too much bronzing powder.
  4. Remember - you are beautiful in every season! Have some fun with the beauty products that are on the market, but don't depend on them for happiness or well-being.


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    • Evita's Fashion profile image

      Evita Andrianni 

      6 years ago from New Zealand

      More we are aware of the sunbathing dangers, more we consider using substitutes. I am not that fair skinned,winter is always when I need a bit more of the color, at least at the face. I found some tanners do work quite well,but I mostly end up using bronzing products with a big brush - quick and easy. Summer coming here soon, I might go for a self tan. Otherwise, somehow can't get enough confidence to jump into the 'bare legs - short sleeves' combo.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Better to be fair than streaked.... I was just thinking the other day about how pale I am in mid-winter. But I'm never going to set foot in a tanning salon! The lotions I will only consider when the sun is actually shining.

    • LondonGirl profile image


      9 years ago from London

      I'm going to stick to my natural, very fair skin, and save myself a lot of bother (-:

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      You and I must be similar, Whitney. I look great in the summer, but otherwise, yech! So, you're right. You really have to watch the fake stuff. The gradual tan stuff works well, if you remember to use it. I like the bronzing powder stuff for my face and neck too - it doesn't look orange! For your legs - you've got to use the Jergens stuff though.

    • Whitney05 profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia

      With natural sun, I bronze nicely, but otherwise I'm a nice pale olivey color. I don't know what color you'd call it but just plain pale. I like the lotions but some of them smell, some turn you orange, and by the time you find the right one, you forget to use it daily. Ha. At least that's me. I'm a big fan of the Jergins lotion, but after a few weeks, I changed my routine b/c of something I forget, and I haven't used it since.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I've never been a fan of tanning beds either. With the sunshine, I've been lucky with olive skin, but I'm watching out for wrinkles now and realizing that skin cancer is a serious concern. I've been using the fake lotions for several years now....

    • Whitney05 profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia

      Definitely not a fan of tanning beds- unsafe for your health. Same with the sun- don't like to get sweaty. I'll stick with fake tan lotions.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Michelle, yes, unfortunately, I think all this stuff smells a bit. I didn't realize that proactiv had tinted sunscreens! That is really cool. As for sprays... I tried one brand a few years ago and didn't like it at all. It was a mess! If I'm going to be sprayed, I'll do a salon (but I've never tried that either!). :-) Thanks for all your great comments.

    • Michelle Bowman profile image

      Michelle Bowman 

      10 years ago

      I like the Jergens lotion too, but do you notice it still has an after smell to it that is less than pleasant? I have tried so many, because I like the way I look tan better than white and I live in Wisconsin, so we don't get a lot of sun :-). Also, the face tanners seem to always make me break out.

      I have really grown to love the lighter tinted sunscreens they have out on the market. I use proactiv solutions tinted sunscreens that give a hint of sun glow, even out my complexion, and lessen the chances of a break out. Neutrogena also has some good bronzing lotions out. This only gives color to the face though. Have you ever tried Sally Hansen's spray stuff for your legs? I have heard that it works good, but am scared to try anything spray.

      NIce hub!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      That's a bummer, cause I love to lay out

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Zs - we should be asking that question more and more these days. MM, you are exactuly right. Tan = potential cancer. We've cut back on smoking and other risky behaviors... why not sun tanning too?

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      10 years ago from NSW, Australia

      in my opinion it is better to have a fake than than to get a melanoma. 

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Great HUB Steph! to tan or not to tan is the question...regards Zsuzsy

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks for the comment on the photo - I was ready for a change! :-)

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      LOL - just thinking of your brother in law (whom I don't even know). That's the point about moderation. Too much, and I do think you can turn orange. Get the right lotion for your skin tone and it can look OK. I really do swear by the Jergens moisterizer.

    • WeddingConsultant profile image


      10 years ago from DC Metro Area

      I should have mentioned that his fake tan was due to him using the tanning beds...

      Oh and I like the change of profile pictures, steph! Not that the old one was bad, but it's nice to change things up a bit every now and then!

    • WeddingConsultant profile image


      10 years ago from DC Metro Area

      Good hub on fake tanning. I have to confess, though, that I laugh when my brother-in-law takes his shirt off and has a fake tan that he's so proud of. It's funny because I can always tell there's an orange tint to it!

      I agree with your point toward the beginning of the hub- tanning in the sun can be dangerous, when not regulated. My grandmother died of skin cancer after falling asleep in the sun. I didn't know her well, but it was hard for my father, that's for sure.


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