Self Tanners: The good, the bad, and the orange.

Feb 21, 2011 by

I never thought I would say this, but Coco Chanel what were you thinking?! The beauty icon went on a Mediterranean vacation in the 1920’s and brought back with her the biggest trend she would ever start. Having a golden glow. Ever since that fateful day women and men alike have been going crazy over tanned skin. The only problem? Tanning is a major health risk. Which is why the advent of self tanners has become such a major trend.

Self tanners have really taken off in the past few years, mainly as awareness of the dangers of tanning have become more prominent. Finding a self tanner that will work, and live up to its claims can be hard work. I’m going to make it a little easier.

How they work:

Regardless of what preposterous claims a self-tanner makes about “unique: formulations, many self tanners have the same active ingredient: Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is skin care ingredient that is often derived from sugar beets or sugar cane, this colorless sugar is what gives a faux tan its color. The skin has amino acids that are found throughout every layer, when the DHA is applied it reacts with the amino’s on the top layer, the Epidermis. The Epidermis has dead skin cells on it, this is what the DHA is adhering to, which is why its so important to exfoliate before applying a self tanner.

The effect that DHA’s have on the skin were first discovered on accident by German scientists in the 1920s. The first sunless tanning product was introduced by Coppertone in the 1960s, and turned skin an unfortunate shade of beta-carotene-overdose orange (which is why they were never all that popular). Since then though, cosmetic scientists have gotten quite a bit better at refining DHA, resulting in a more natural looking outcome. Thank God!

The concentrations of DHA used in sunless tanning products can range from about 1-15%. Gradual self tanners like ” target=”_blank”>Jergens Natural Glow contain low percentages of the ingredient, which allows you to build your tan over several days; whereas formulas like ” target=”_blank”>St. Tropez have more DHA, and offer a much faster tan.

Why they are so stinky:

That stinky self-tanner aroma usually lingers for aouple of hours after application (sometimes even a full day). It’s just what happens when the DHA starts reacting with the amino acids on your skin, there isn’t too much that you can do about it. Generally though it isn’t the DHA that makes some tanners so stinky. It may seem logical to try and mask the smell of the DHA by adding in heavy essential oils and fragrance, generally though, this is going to make the scent even worse. Some of the scents manage to mask the DHA smell or work with it to try and make it more appealing . Usually though, the added fragrance just makes the overall effect even worse. Your best option is to find one that’s completely unscented, usually it will say ‘Unscented’ on the bottle. It’ll smell of DHA after a few hours, but that’s it. Without the added extra scents its much better.

How long will self tanners last?

Since DHA can only react with the Epidermis, your faux tan will only last for a few days, until your skin naturally exfoliates itself (or you scrub it off). The younger you are the shorter amount of time it lasts, that might be the one good thing about aging. If your tan happens to last longer, it’s not due to some “awesome unique formula that all the celebrities are using”  – it’s just because your body took a little while longer to shed the top layer of skin. Lucky you.

You can help to prolong the your tan with a touch-up layer of gradual tanner, like the Jergens every couple of days, at least until you’re ready start over. Typically applying layer after layer of tanner can make you streaky, blotchy, and orange so starting over periodically will give you a more natural looking tan, and keep you from getting “Snookified.”

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