Okay, so, a couple of things:
1. Right now everyone wants a tan about as badly as I want a pair of Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes (which is very badly). No one wants to invite their pale winter skin to their debut beach moment but, well, that pasty skin is coming whether we invite it or not.
2. I am unabashedly, unashamedly a sun worshipper. I could spend the ENTIRE day at the beach (as in 9:00am to 9:00pm) and be happy as a clam. I love they way I look with a tan. I love the way I feel with a tan. Tan is to my skin what heels are to my wardrobe: confidence boosting and, let’s face it, not entirely good for me. My college friends have a story they love to tell about me wherein we’re talking about our weekend plans and maybe meeting up the next day and I replied (insert vapid, whiny voice here) “You guys, I wanna come but I have to wake up so early tomorrow and tan.” Not write a paper. Not cram for a test. Not try to make a 7:00am yoga class…but tan, as if it were some sort of laborious, tedious task, like how I imagine sitting through an episode of Downton Abbey might be.
On a recent trip to Naples (no, not that Naples) Naples, Florida (just as glamorous, I assure you). I dedicated my days to building up my “base color,” which was…well…red.
BUT seeing as how I just turned 37 (it actually hurts to type that), I’ve noticed sun damage—these vague blotchy discolored spots on my forehead and cheeks that I just can’t dismiss as freckles. I spent the good part of a cross-country road trip with my man last summer looking in the passenger seat mirror as the sun hit my forehead just right, illuminating my age spots (???) while I asked him in a panicked voice if he could see them like, ten times in a row.
All this to say that it seems like the perfect time to look into some healthier (are they healthier?) ways to feel and look all glowy. When I told some girlfriends over drinks that I’d be venturing into the wide world of fake tanning and that aside from a spray tan I got when I was living in Arizona (I had probably just turned 24, which was the year I decided that everything was “over” because I would be turning 25 the next year) the only thing I had ever smeared on my body in pursuit of a golden hue was SPF 4, they exclaimed “Oh my god, you’re a self tanning virgin!!! You’re perfect for this!”
I blushed. I mean, I really love being perfect. But honestly, I’m really just perfectly unsure and skeptical of the whole thing. All I remember from my spray tan experience is feeling awkward and weird and cold and having to put on an unsettling pair of disposable underwear while a machine sprayed some stuff on me. I felt like a car in a carwash. So, like, totally sexy. Then I went home, trying not to have my skin touch anything (which, as you can imagine, is impossible) for fear of rubbing my orangey brown fakeness all over things. It happened anyway. Eh. Not really for me.
Still. It’s a new day. There are new advances. Self-tanning is easier and more foolproof than ever etc. etc. etc. That doesn’t mean that I’m still not as wary of it as Justin Bieber is of t-shirts (or any shirt, really). They say knowledge is power so I hopped online to learn a little more about the stuff. The world wide web told me that I should exfoliate, wear gloves, and apply evenly—not exactly rocket science. I also found out that the majority of self-tanners contain dihydroxyacetone or DHA (now we’re talking rocket science). DHA is a colorless sugar that, when introduced to the top layer of your skin, darkens it, or in some unfortunate cases, turns it orange (just ask the cast of The Jersey Shore). The orange color happens when you layer on too much product—technically an oversaturation of DHA—so overzealous self tanners would be wise to start with a product that has lower saturation levels. Okay. I’m feeling pretty good now. But there’s no substitute for talking to an actual expert, so I asked Joanna Vargas every single little thing I could think of about tricking everyone into thinking I just got back from Tulum:
Facialist and Founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare.
Facialist and Founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare.
What’s the best route for a beginner aka the most foolproof?
Swap your regular moisturizer for a self-tanning body lotion. It’s very easy to use and gives you a pretty glow without looking orange! I love using it in preparation for a vacation.
What are the pluses and minuses for each type of tanning product?
I have found over the years that people have an easier time applying a mousse rather than a lotion or spray. Sprays are hard to control when applying to one’s own body and mousse has a lite texture that is easy to spread without unevenness. Lotions are the most common, but they need a bit of practice before perfecting them. For all of them, the rules are the same: you need a well lit room and exfoliated skin. Gels are also a great easy consistency for application and technically better for dryer skin.
Home or in salon spray tan?
I always opt to start with a salon tan and then maintain it at home.
What should you absolutely NOT do?
Never apply with product like body oil or moisturizer already on the skin or it will streak. Never do it unless you exfoliate first. Never wear tight clothes over a fresh application and never wash it off too soon. Never wear light clothes over a fresh application. Never apply heavily to your knees elbows feet and hands.
What should you absolutely do?
Exfoliate first! Apply onto clean skin and wear loose clothing. Spend eight hours in it before showering. Wear dark clothes, use dark sheets and wear gloves.
How easy are these? For real?
They are not too hard if you do it slow and steady. If you take your time, you can do it easily at home.
Should I invest in some crappy sheets?
Yes!!! It can make a mess!
How long will they last?
A week to ten days, unless you re-apply. We always encourage clients to take a tube of self-tanner home so they can keep it up during a vacation.
Any disaster stories?
My best friend decided to go to one of those booth spray tanning places. She did the whole thing wrong. She was wearing white. It was one of those hot humid days in NYC, so she left the place and walked home. By the time she got home her clothes had all turned brown, she smelled and was streaked everywhere. I had to come over with a loofa and help scrub her all over so she wouldn’t look crazy the next day. We have never laughed so hard!
What are the benefits?
The sun is the worst culprit in skincare. The benefits of a sunless tan is a better aging process for skin!
Is this bad for me?
Some products cause breakouts and clog pores on the face. Always buy a high quality product and make sure you exfoliate first!
Tell me about DHA and erythrulose.
DHA can be chemical or natural. The natural version is derived from sugar or beets and interacts with the amino acids in skin to create the color in a sunless tan. Erythrulose is derived from raspberry and also creates a reaction with the proteins in your skin to produce the color. Color change is quicker with DHA than with Erythrulose, but oftentimes a product will contain both. They are natural and safe, but remember they don’t protect against a sunburn!
Are there any new notable advances in self tanning?
We now have more of a choice in the type of sunless tan we use. Traditionally sunless tan has been full of chemicals to make us darker. I have been using organic ingredients for the sunless tan product I use in treatments, but now we carry a whole line of sunless tan that actually has skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid and botanicals for the skin, called Vita Liberata.
Okay. So there’s my crash course. Will I be trying one of the three kinds of self-tanners I bought that have just been sitting in the same plastic CVS bag for a week now? Maybe.
Will you? Have you? If you have, how did it compare to sun tanning?
Help a sister out, would you?