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Safe Tanning Without the Sun

Sunless Tanning Products Are Healthy Alternatives To Direct Sun Tanning

Before tanning was popularized in the '20s by Coco Channel, women avoided the sun. Remember bonnets and wide-brimmed hats? They didn't want their skin to become freckled or browned in appearance, as tanned skin was associated with poor, outdoor workers.

"All that changed with Coco," says Peter Lamas, founder and chairman of Lamas Beauty International in Los Angeles, Calif. "Having a bronze glow meant that you had enough leisure time to lay around on the beach, basking in the sun. Tans were 'healthy' and desirable. The connection between tanning and skin cancer was then unknown, however, and the 'healthy tan' was anything but that. Although we're now aware of the premature aging that's the side effect of tanning, tans are still in vogue and sought after. So for those who enjoy that sun-kissed look, but also want to avoid sun-damaged skin, sunless tanning products are an obvious solution."

Advantages of Sunless Tanners

While basking in the sun is free, you can – and many do – pay a much higher price for it later in life. So despite the cost of buying a sunless tanning product, there are many advantages to their use. "The biggest advantage of using sunless tanners is that you can achieve a tanned look quickly, without risking the health of your skin," says Lamas. "Additionally, there are those people whose skin only burns and never tans, so they can also realize that tanned look without pain."

"I'm very pale," says Eliza Ferree of Yuma, Ariz. "Anytime I am in the sun I burn and peel. It's painful, and it's frustrating. So I tried a self-tanner. It was a much better way to get a tan and be able to enjoy it."

Self-tanners and Teens

Parents don't want or like having to be morbid in any discussions with their teens. However, when it comes to helping a teen save their health, and maybe even their life, being upfront and honest is the only way to go. "Be honest with your kids about the devastating effects of sun exposure to your skin," says Lamas. "Show them photos of people with wrinkles and melanoma, and let them know in no uncertain terms that this damage can be easily avoided. Hopefully the parents have been using sun block on their teens since they were wee ones, so the concept of skin protection is already instilled in them."

Because teens want to be in style and look their best at all times, a discussion about sun safety and skin health may bring up the topic of sunless tanners. However, many parents don't know the details about the products, and they may find themselves being apprehensive. "My advice to a parent with a teen who wants to use sunless tanners is: Let them!" says Lamas. "Wouldn't you rather have your child avoid sun damaging her skin? I would encourage a parent to be supportive of their teen's option to want a safe alternative to the sun. I would also encourage the parent to purchase quality sun tanners and not to let their child use some of the cheaper products available at the local drugstore."

Makin' It Easy

According to Lamas, sunless tanners come in different shades for different skin types. There is sure to be one perfect for you or your teen. "The best way to choose the right shade and type of sunless tanner is to know your skin type," says Lamas. "People who always burn or never tan – redheads, for instance – shouldn't go too dark. If you burn easily or tan minimally – blondes with fair skin – you can actually try light, medium and dark formulas. If you burn moderately or tan gradually to light brown, such as olive complexion brunettes, a darker tan will work well for you. If you burn minimally or tan well to moderately brown, such as Asian, then you'll likely need a dark or very dark lotion."

It is easy for teens to incorporate the use of sunless tanners into their regular routines, just as they do make-up, lotions, hair products and fragrances. "By simply setting aside a half an hour or so, one day a week, and making that their tanning time, teens can easily and readily make 'safe tanning' a part of their routine," says Lamas. "This is certainly more time efficient than having to spend hours sun bathing or utilizing a tanning salon, not to mention cheaper."

Melanie Baynes, a high school senior from Rochester, Minn., uses sunless tanners all the time. "I put on the tanning lotion after my shower, and by the time I'm done doing my hair, it's already working," she says. "I can get six months' worth of tanning for what it costs for two or three visits to a tanning bed."

For those who don't wish a tanned look all the time, the use of sunless tanners for a special event or occasion can be done easily as well. "Using self-tanners for a vacation, party, event or a date is easy," says Lamas. "However, if you want that tan so you'll have a certain look on the day of a special event like a prom or graduation, don't experiment with tanners on the day of the event. If you're uncertain about which product you should use, buy some different shades, and experiment with a patch of skin, which doesn't have to be exposed. That way, when the special day comes, you'll be ready – and tan!"

There's another surprising advantage to sunless tanners. According to Lamas, not only does the use of sunless tanners keep you from having to repeatedly expose your skin to the sun's damaging rays to get that golden glow, it may even protect you from the sun's UVA rays when you are exposed. "Recent research shows that higher DHA concentrations (the higher the DHA concentration, the darker your skin will stain) may give you some extra protection against the sun's longer-wave, UVA rays," says Lamas. "The UVA rays promote premature skin aging (photoaging) and skin cancer. Now you don't have to go in the sun, but when you do, your sunless tanner will help to protect you even more."

While sunless tanners can add some additional protection to your skin, they don't offer the kind of shield a good sun blocking lotion will give you. "You want to use a sun block with at least an SPF of 15, in addition to the tanner," says Lamas. "If you take care of your skin now, you will have beautiful skin 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now – and that's a goal anyone can relate to."

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