Artificial Tanning

Products that darken your skin to a colour similar to a natural tan have been around since the 1920s. Many of the organisations the promote sun protection recommend such products as the only truly ‘safe’ way to get a tan. They are also probably the only option for the those that have difficulty developing a natural tan. However, for most people the case against a natural tan, developed slowly and gently, has probably been exaggerated.

Sunless (or lightless) tanning products also do not provide the other benefits of natural sun (or equivalent) exposure, such as vitamin D production. They also probably impair natural vitamin D production when the skin is exposed to sunlight, since the colouration could well reduce the penetration of UV into the skin to some extent. However the effect is unlikely to be anywhere near as strong as that of a normal sunscreen, and may be less than that of a natural tan of a similar colour.

Even products that are designed to provide UV protection, and are accompanied by claims to that effect by the manufacturer, generally do not provide protection for any greater time than a normal sunscreen – about 2 hours – and certainly not for as long as the tanning effect lasts. All of the normal approaches to sun protection are therefore also necessary.

Early sunless tanning products got a bad name for streaky or uneven colouring, or for producing an odd, obviously unnatural, orange colour on some people. Modern products, however, are much better.

Sunless tanning products usually use synthetic or vegetable dyes that temporarily paint the skin brown. They can be self-applied as lotions, gels, creams or sprays, and automated self-application spray booths and profession airbrush sessions are also widely available.

The effect usually dos not penetrate very far into the skin, colouring only the outermost layers of skin cells. The effect therefore fades fairly quickly, only lasting a few days, as the dead skin cells are worn off as part of the skin’s normal replenishment cycle. They therefore have to be reapplied regularly to maintain the effect.

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