The Search for a Sunless Tan

If you have light skin this time of year brings a consistent challenge. How do you get that summer tan without damaging your skin? So lets get into the options and some of the products that help you get that healthy glow. It should be noted that we are focusing on inexpensive healthy solutions that you can try on your own.

Sunbath with Sunscreen

You can actually build up a base tan slowly and safely with 15-30 minutes a day. The key is to be sure to use a high SPF sunscreen (SPF 30+). You may be feeling like you’re not getting any browner, especially if you use a sunscreen with zinc because it will make your skin look paler until you wash it off, but a slow brown base will develop and can be maintained by daily or bi-daily short stents in the sun. When using sunscreen be sure to apply it in all the hard to get places like the back of your neck, earlobes, feet/toes and hands/fingers. Also be sure to reapply as needed if you’re sweating or in the water. does a nice job of reviewing sunscreen choices if you want to read more. As part of the skinimalism trend, there are new combination items like sunscreen or moisturizer with sunscreen and tint.

Try a Self Tanner

Self tanners activate your skin cells to temporarily darken in color. Most sunless tanning products use a color additive dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which reacts with dead cells in the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin. The tan coloring typically wears off after a few days. It’s important to remember that self-tanners do not offer any protection against sun damage. In fact, some research indicated that the DHA may actually increase the damage your skin can get from sun exposure. I have tried Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer Self Tanner and found it to be a satisfactory inexpensive solution ($10 – $14). You can build your tan color by applying multiple coats more regularly. Downside for me was the smell and that the color of my tan became orange toned if I applied it daily. As for the smell, it almost smelled to me like my skin was cooking. I think this is from the chemicals activating skin cells. My first choice in this category is  St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse, it’s a little pricey at $42/8 oz, but that bottle should last you all summer. I found it to go on smoothly, not have the bad smell and to provide a natural looking tan that lasted for about a week. It’s important to use the application mitt as it helps to ensure an even and streak free look. There are numerous new entries in this category that are healthy and organic so it’s worth checking carefully for all options.

Choosing the best self tanner can be a challenge. Downsides include, streaking, orange or unnatural color and a strange smell. Personally, I would not put self-tanner on my face as that skin is typically the most sensitive and the most likely to change due to higher new cell turnover.  You can use make up bronzers in powder or cream form on your face and wash it off, vs fully committing. Want more options check here from

Apply Self Bronzers

I am in my 50’s and having seen the sun damage I’ve accumulated over time I am leaning into this option. Bronzers are nothing more than make-up that will temporarily provide a brown tone to your skin. I purchased St. Tropez One night Only 24 hour Bronzer (Light/Medium) and really liked it. The shade I purchased is light but did a good job of balancing my skin tone. The cream does have a scent similar to sunscreen but it fades over time. It dried in about 10 minutes and did not leave a sticky residue. I did purchase an applicator pad and recommend that you do the same for self tanners or bronzers as it protects your hands from clean up and makes the application smooth. At $18.00 a tube, I recommend this for your legs, arms and chest. It can be used on your face as well, but I did not try this.

In summary, there are lots of options to help you get that brown summer skin without harm. Check out your local stores and try something new as there are lots of new options.

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Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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