It is tempting, in the dead of winter when you’re feeling like a pasty slug, to go out and get a suntan. What a psychological boost when we’re depressed from the seemingly endless short dark days all bundled up in our winter gear. I am ashamed to admit that when I was in my twenties and lived in Minnesota, I used to do this before going on winter vacations to the Caribbean. We would wear those winter tans like proud badges. In those days the only self-tanner was Coppertone QT, a lotion that made you an embarrassingly fake-looking streaky orange. Eeew. The other option available in those days was tanning booths, the precursor to today’s tanning beds. You’d stand in a contraption like a phone booth with your swimsuit and goggles on, eyes tightly shut, and get radiated! We thought if we pushed the envelope and got a little burned, all the better. Our logic was, lay down a base tan in the booth before exposing skin to the equatorial sun to get a deeper tan on vacation.
That thinking was so lame!
We now know how harmful any deliberate unprotected sun exposure is, and the tanning beds are no exception. Indoor tanning can increase your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 59 percent. That’s a lot! Not to mention accelerated aging from the UV exposure. Stay out of tanning beds, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Thirteen states and one territory (California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington) now ban the use of ultraviolet tanning devices by anyone under age 18. Other state laws combine various restrictions.
Do it right
There’s never a reason to bake in the sun (like, ever), especially when you can fake a gorgeous glow with a skin-safe self-tanner. Whether you want to look subtly sun-kissed or just-back-from-the-Caribbean-sexy-bronzed (moi at age 20), there are all kinds of creams, gels, and sprays available now that give you safe, temporary color with a natural appearance.
Prepping the skin is critical before applying a sunless tanner. The harmless DHA dye attaches itself to dead cells on the skin’s surface—sort of like how Velcro attaches to itself. Then over time the dead cells begin to wear off and you need to reapply. We have a lot of dead cell buildup on knees, elbows, heels, toes, knuckles and sometimes ankles. The tanner can collect there and make you too dark in these “rough zones.” So, first exfoliate paying special attention to these areas. You can use a scrub, a loofah, or a skin brush in the shower to get those cells off and provide a clean, even surface.
Once, while on a family beach vacation without using faux glow, my brother complained that he needed to put on sunglasses to look at my bare legs, they were so white! The following year I tried out a sunless tanner. The next morning I woke up feeling tanned and fabulous, until I looked at my feet! Aaagh! They looked like hairless hobbit feet! I had to get out the scrub fast. My brother never teased me about glow-in-the-dark legs again.
Next, when out of the shower, quickly apply the tanning product in thin, long, even strokes, feathering off at the rough-prone zones that are likely to grab too much color. You can even put a little body moisturizer on those areas first before applying the tanner. After application, be sure to wash your hands and in between fingers and around nails and cuticles with soap and water to avoid surprise stains there later on.
I like to do this before going to bed. I make sure to rub in the tanner thoroughly, air dry for a couple of minutes, then put on all black clothing: yoga pants, socks and long-sleeved tee to avoid tanning my nighties and sheets. Shower in the morning and apply regular body moisturizer and voila! Just-back-from-the-Caribbean-sexy-bronzed!
In a few days the tanned dead cells will naturally slough off and your color will need to be refreshed. Just like a semi-permanent hair color washes out over time, you need to repeat the process periodically to maintain your beautiful faux glow.
Special treatment for the face
As we age, our skin, hair and eye color tends to fade. You can use sunless tanners formulated for the face to add a subtle, sunny boost to pale skin anytime, year-round. Just remember to exfoliate evenly first. Use care in application to feather the edges and in the eyebrows and hairline. And go very lightly. A little goes a long way to stay looking natural, not orangey or streaky, especially around the brows. For prepping, I love the Microcrystal Resurfacer Youth Perfecting Polish. I use it on my face AND body. Be sure to use it on wet skin, with wet fingers, and spend some time very lightly polishing the crystals around in little circles. No fast fierce scrubbing! Rinse thoroughly and you’re ready to go. If you wake up the next morning with some darker, uneven patches, a little judicious light polishing with the Microcrystals will help lighten those up and blend them in.
NOTE: Use of alpha hydroxys, retinoids, skin brushes and scrubs will speed the fading of your faux tan so you may need to use the tanner more frequently if those products are in your homecare routine. Be careful, it’s easy to go overboard on the face with the tanner. Usually once a week or so is enough.
ANOTHER NOTE: Be aware that sunless tanners do not provide any sun protection. At all. So always wear SPF protection on all exposed skin (including hands!), even in that pale dead of winter when you’re feeling like a pasty slug!
Do you feel depressed and crave the warmth of the sun in winter? Do you have any embarrassingly funny, scary stories about faux tanners gone rogue? Or raving successes? Share your story with us below in the comments area. We’d love to hear them.