How does sunless tanning work?

Tanning products contain a color additive called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is a sugar derived from plants like sugar beets and sugar cane that reacts with amino acids in the skin’s top layer (the epidermis) to darken skin, explains Pino. ” If you slice an apple in half and leave it on the counter, or if you leave your banana open, what happens? It turns brown. Air oxidizes this chemical on your skin.”

The FDA has approved DHA for external application to the skin, but states it should not be inhaled or applied to the mucous areas like the eyes, lips and nose since the risks of doing so are still unknown, which is why spray tanning booths are not approved by the FDA, it can be difficult to avoid exposure while in them. Depending on where you go, some tanning technicians will supply nose plugs and goggles. Still, research on the effects of DHA is preliminary and most dermatologists, including the American Academy of Dermatology Association, agree that sunless tanning is a way safer alternative to sun-bathing.

Before the tan

While women often shave before a spray tan — mainly to avoid scrubbing the tan off with a razor afterward — shaving prior to your appointment really depends on the look you’re going for. If you’re planning to shave your face or any other part of your bod, it’s preferable to do it before tanning so the tan can penetrate better, though it’s not a total dealbreaker. “If you’re going to go on vacation and shave your face anyways, I’d probably say to shave just to get more of a tan penetration. When it comes to the face in general, it’s not really that necessary because I feel like even if you tanned and have some facial hair, just using clippers would be better,” says Pino.

What you definitely want to do, though, before a spray or at-home tan, is to exfoliate your body with an exfoliating scrub, brush or glove, and to moisturize (but not too much). “For most guys, I actually ask them to not only exfoliate but to actually moisturize before a spray tan,” says Pino. “Moisturize with a water-based moisturizer — but not excessively. I don’t want somebody coming in greasy, but just to give it more of a base. You got to think of your skin as a really nice canvas. If you’re going to paint on something super crusty and dry and brittle, well, it’s going to come off crusty, dry, and brittle.”

Since the tan is non-dermal and sits on the top dead layer of skin, you want your skin to shed as evenly as possible so you don’t end up with a patchy tan. “Exfoliating and getting it as moist as you can without being gooey and over-moisturized, you’re actually giving yourself a longer-lasting, more even tan,” she adds.

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