Tan Safely But Surely: The Best Products & Application Methods for Sunless Tanner


Everyone knows that the sun’s rays can be harmful, but the fact remains that a tan is a coveted aesthetic in today’s society. With dermatologists telling us to cover up when outside, and tanning beds likened to cigarettes in terms of health risks, we decided to look at the safest and most effect ways to get a natural looking sunless tan.

The most common term when these products first hit the market was ‘bronzer’; and rightly so, because they basically turned your skin an orange-y color. The first sunless tanner debuted in the 1960’s, when Coppertone released their “QT” (Quick-Tan) line of products. Since then, the market has exploded, but they almost all feature the same active ingredients.

For 99% of topical sunless tanners, the active ingredient is the same: dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is a colorless sugar that interacts with the dead cells located in the epidermis. As the sugar interacts with the dead skin cells, a color change begins. Taking advantage of the millions upon millions of skin cells your body ‘discards’ every day, self tanners produce a highly desired darkening look that’s always temporary.

One of the newer developments in sunless tanning is non-topical products, or “tanning accelerators”. These are typically pills that contain tyrosins, which they claim accelerate melatonin production (the product of your body that creates a natural tan). Though the market for these accelerators is huge, the science over their effectiveness is still out, so stick to topical sunless tanners.

suntanning lotion

Unlike sunless tanners, which affect the actual epidermis through a reaction, bronzers simply dye the skin surface for a highly temporary tanned look. Typically, an exfoliant used in the shower will remove all traces of the product, so they’re great for times when you don’t want to commit to a ultra-tanned look.

If you think about sunless tanner as an application like – for example – paint, you’re going to want a good surface for it to adhere to. To get the most even and long-lasting sunless tan you want to scrub your skin with an exfoliating scrub or soap and a loofah. This will slough away the loosest of your dead skin cells as well as dirt and oil, allowing a clean, even surface for the sunless tanner to do its work on.

When using tanner as part of a beauty regimen, you’re also going to want to make sure it’s the last step in your process. Get your hair done, get a manicure and wax your legs before applying tanner to avoid wearing your tan away early. When applying the tanner, make sure you start at the bottom and work your way up. With clean hands (or latex gloves), smooth on self-tanner in circular motions using about one teaspoon of product at a time. Start at your ankles and work your way up to your shoulders.

The key to a realistic looking sunless tan is the face, because it’s what people will focus on the most. Use about a dime size amount of tanner and apply it to your forehead, cheeks and the bridge of your nose, spreading it outward for a nice even look. Once you have the tanner on, avoid showering or sweating for the next 6-8 hours, since the tanner will need time to set. To prevent it from staining clothing, apply a light layer of talk to your skin.

Ultimately, sunless tanning products are a great way to get that fresh-from-the-beach look without the damaging effects of the sun. Do your research and make sure to focus more on how closely a product matches your skin tone than what type of application it is. Taking the time to exfoliate and prepare your skin for the tanner means that you can achieve an even and natural look without even stepping outside.

About the Author

Erik Adler
Erik Adler is the Editorial Director for EveryGuyed.com, a site that focuses on men's style and fashion trends. An avid cyclist, when he's not working he can be found restoring vintage bikes for his collection.