Tanning Series: Sunless Tanning

All about the "Fake Bake" 


Sunless Ingredients 

   There are two common ingredients in self tanners: DHA and Erythulose. Some use either or, sometimes a combination of both. Erythrulose (48-72 hrs fully developed), which is known to become red-orange when used strictly for a sunless application, and sometimes a very unnatural yellow color can develop as well. This all depends on your skin's chemistry and undertone, some people do not even have a reaction to erythrulose. DHA (24hrs fully developed) is more common amongst sunless formulas, it oxidizes to a black-brown tone on the skin that is darker than erythrulose. This reaction is called the Maillard reaction, a non-enzymatic browning, which occurs between amino acids and sugars on the skin. Many newer self tanners and lotions include a blend of DHA and erythrulose to create a darker, longer lasting tan. In my opinion and experience, a purely DHA solution seems to work for a broader range of skin tones due to its color when completely oxidized. Some prefer the blend of erythrulose and DHA together since the DHA provides the color depth, and the erythrulose streaks less, ensuring a smooth application. All of this varies person to person!

   Some solutions with a cosmetic bronzer offer different color bases to complement a person's skin tone. Mediterranean Tan is one brand I know of that offers both violet and green based solutions! If you are golden-toned, go for the violet. If you have a pink-tone, go for the green. This is basic color theory applied to the formulations to ensure a neutralized, brown tan on either skin tone. If you are neutral in skin tone, you can use either or. Norvell also offers a violet based solution called "Venetian Tan" in their collection, and That'so is all green based in their cosmetic bronzers. Many brands do not offer this information along with their products sadly, so I highly recommend looking into Mediterranean Tan's products! 


Spray Tanning Booth Systems

   Spray tanning in a booth system is one of the most popular sunless tanning options on the market today. It is fast, very easy and no at home mess. There are many systems with different formulations out there! The most popular one is the VersaSpa. There is also the MysticTan, CalTan, Norvell, That'so and a few more. I personally do not like the VersaSpa system, I felt that I did not have a natural color from the spray. However, I have used the That'so spray system, which is sadly hard to come by, and it was hands-down the best one I have used. Each spray system has its own step by step process when using it. VersaSpa has silly poses, That'so and CalTan (both use the same exact booths, just different solution) has the person perform a twisting motion for application. 

   The reasons behind my love for the That'so system and formulation is the built-in anti aging treatment! It also does not contain erythrulose and has a green base. 

   Many other sunless solutions do not fade evenly, even with proper maintenance. The That'so solution has been perfected and many who I recommend it to fall in love with the results they achieve. The DHA percentage of in the in-salon spray formula is 10% which contains a cosmetic bronzer. The take home sprays and foam are 8% for both the clear and cosmetic bronzer options. 

   Another brand, Norvell, also has a great formulation called "Venetian" sunless formula. This one has a special violet pigment blend to give a great tan resembling a Mediterranean glow on yellow undertones. The DHA percentage of "Venetian" is 9.5%. They also have a "Blackout" formulation which gives an extremely deep tan color for competition and stage usage. 


Airbrush Tanning

   This is very similar to the spray booth but a person is applying the solution to your body. The great perk of this type of sunless tan is customizing the solution for your tan and precise application! In some cases, the tanning consultant can apply the solution to "contour" the body giving more definition to muscles and create a slimming illusion. 

   More salons are starting to offer this method of sunless tanning and it is becoming increasingly popular. It is typically offered at a higher price point for a full body, but I recommend people to choose this method over a spray booth if it is available to them. You can also choose to do just the face, legs, body without the face etc... The VersaSpa offers that option but it isn't as precise and you have many more solutions to choose from with varying levels of DHA! It is completely customizable. Ask your consultant about the solutions they offer and what would be ideal for your desired tan. 



   This is something we have all done at some point in our lives, and most likely have messed it up. But do not fret, self tanning can be mastered with the right products and tools! I highly recommend using an aerosol spray or a mousse applied with a foam mitt. 

   If you opt for a spray, make sure you do it in your shower or bathtub. The best method for stand-alone bathtubs is filling the bottom up with a shallow amount of water, just enough to cover the bottoms of your feet and tops of your toes. This will act as a "barrier" cream and catch the excess solution from the spray for easier clean up.

   Be conscious when applying both sprays and foams, try to create a gradient on the hands where the fingers meet. People make the mistake of completely leaving their hands without color, but you need to blend it down for a more natural look. A line of demarcation can be obvious, especially if you go very dark. The easiest way to blend color to the hands and feet is with a foam tanner applied by a foam mitt. You can find these mitts at places like Sally’s Beauty, Ulta, Sephora etc…

   When it comes time for the facial area, some self-tanners can be applied without issues and some may not be ideal for the face area. Make sure you check the label to confirm it can be applied to this area and it is also non-comedogenic, as well as hypoallergenic. There are brands that do offer self-tanners specially formulated for the facial area. If you are concerned with this being an issue or have sensitive skin, use the specific formulation(s) for the face. 


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Preparation and Maintenance 

Sophia's Picks of UV and Sunless Tanning Products