Wednesday, 29 April 2020 09:15

Going for Bronze: A comprehensive guide to sunless tanning

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At some point, sadly, most clients have used a tanning bed or laid out in the sun covered in baby oil and iodine – mostly because they did not know any better. For some clients, it is not uncommon to go to a tanning bed several times a week – there is nothing quite like a nice golden tan to make a person feel like their best self.


It was not that long ago that sun tanning was totally acceptable! Everyone did it. Twenty years ago, many drug stores did not carry sunscreen products. The only SPF option was good ol’ Coppertone – white and sticky and sure to make a person break out or look 50 shades of white.


Fast forward to 2020 and clients have made leaps and bounds when it comes to sun protection and education. Even though clients may feel they look better with a tan, the harmless effects of negligent sun exposure are all too apparent.


Skin care professionals are more educated and savvier. For most, sunbathing is a hard no. The chance of it leading to skin cancer is much higher and the long-term effect it has on the appearance of the skin is frightful. Every day, professionals treat skin that has been damaged by years of sun exposure – deep lines, wrinkles, and sunspots galore. That once beautiful golden glow has turned into unsightly brown spots. It’s just not worth it. So, now what? Luckily, not only has awareness of the dangers of sun damage expanded but so have self-tanners.



With sun damage awareness being at an all-time high, manufacturers have jumped at the opportunity to come out with a much safer alternative. Creating a desirable product that would mimic the look of a tan proved to be revolutionary.

Now, the truth is that it started out a little rocky. Many of the first-generation self-tanners left users looking more radioactive than tan. To this day, many think of the color orange when it comes to self-tanners. But, fortunately, formulations have improved tremendously, and most self-tanning products leave skin looking as close to a natural tan as possible – sometimes, even better.



The main ingredient in self-tanner is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Dihydroxyacetone is a color additive that, when applied on the skin, reacts with dead cells to temporarily darken the skin and look like a tan. A lot of the “orange” that is seen associated with self-tanners is due to poor formulations.

In low concentrations, used topically and correctly, there is no evidence that suggests dihydroxyacetone is toxic or carcinogenic as it is unable to penetrate the skin’s barrier. However, there is some debate on inhaling dihydroxyacetone, therefore it is advised to keep it away from the mouth when possible.



Professionals can carry their favorite self-tanner in the spa to make it easy for clients to purchase. When choosing a self-tanner to retail in the spa, read the reviews first. People are going to buy what works, so invest in the one that sells the most and start there. Let other people’s trial and error guide to the best product. Since all self-tanners are created equally (all use dihydroxyacetone and work the same way), it is really a matter of what formulation is the best, sales numbers, and good reviews. It is a simple strategy, but it works.



Self-tanners come in many different formulas, including creams, lotions, mousses, sprays, and wipes. All contain the same dihydroxyacetone ingredient and work the same way on the skin. Tanner can be self-applied or sprayed. Self-spray, professional spray, or booth sprays are all options in addition to self-application of creams, lotions, mousses, or wipes. Mousse tanners are by far the easiest to use and will give the most even application.


The application is just a personal preference, as they all work in the same way. In the end, for many clients, the choice comes down to cost and time. A mousse can be applied in the comfort of one’s own home, but is the quality the same? Compare it to box hair color versus salon-grade treatment. Both will do the job, but obviously the best results come from the professional.


Still, 90% of the time, most users self-tan at home because it is just more convenient and is much more cost-effective. Ultimately, it is a personal preference as everyone’s tanning needs are different.



Self-tanning is kind of a way of life for some, so it is a conversation to have with clients often. Many are still under the impression that they are hard to use, streak, or make the skin look orange. When retailing self-tanners, go over the key points that clients should remember when using the product at home. They can also watch instructional videos on YouTube that are helpful in showing how to apply self-tanner.


Exfoliate: Exfoliating skin prior to application is crucial. Taking a nice, warm shower and exfoliating skin with a scrub will remove dead skin and residual self-tanner. Take a little more time on dryer areas like the ankles, knees, and elbows. Shaving is also recommended.


Use a Mitt Applicator: Mitt applicators make the application much easier. They keep the palms of the hands-free of tanner, make it easier to get to hard to reach areas like the back and apply the product much more smoothly and streak-free.


Apply Lotion to Dry Areas: It is a good idea to apply lotion to the tops and heels of the feet, knees, elbows, and hands. These areas are drier and will absorb more tanner, which can lead to significantly darker spots. The lotion will act as a barrier and keep the tanner even-toned with the rest of the body.


Apply the Tanner is Small Sections: Apply a pump of cream or mousse on the mitt, and in a circular motion, apply to smaller sections at a time. To start with the lower legs, then thighs, buttocks, stomach, back, arms, chest, et cetera. The idea is to make sure every area is well covered with an even amount of product.


Skip the Face: Because dihydroxyacetone interacts with the skin to make it appear darker, it can adhere to skin lesions and make them appear darker. Only medical-grade skin care products should go on the face. Bronzers and tinted sunscreens are a great way to add a tan look without having to worry about lingering brown spots.


Check Yourself: Take a quick glance in the mirror to make sure the tanner is evenly applied and that no spots are missed.


Let it Dry: Allow a couple of minutes to let the product sit on the skin before putting on loose-fitting clothing. Refer to the product application instructions for guidelines on how long the self-tanner needs to stay on before rinsing off.


Use Self-Tanner Friendly Body Products: To extend the life of a tan, avoid body washes and lotions that contain sodium lauryl sulfate and mineral oil.



Skin is the body’s largest organ. Clients absolutely have to take care of it and keep it as healthy as possible. Fortunately, the cosmetic industry continues to keep up with these needs, which enables professionals and clients to make smart choices when it comes to skin health.

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December 2023

Skin Care Blogs

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