What do pigs, humans, and certain types of sharks have in common? It seems we are the only species who have the ability to tan, when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight.

Truth in Aging has recently published a half-dozen reviews of sunless tanners, and for good reason.  It is spring time, and while most enlightened people are now avoiding OVER exposure, most of us also want to avoid the snow-white look winter imparts on bare legs and arms.  So now my quest has turned to finding the perfect sunless tanner and to understanding what pitfalls I should avoid along the way.  And when I mention pitfalls, the scent and color aren't all you should be thinking about.

Overly simplified, here is the relevant history on sunless tanners. First and foremost, there is no actual "tanning" (production of melatin)  involved, just an artificial browning of the (dead) top layer of skin. Virtually all sunless tanners contain dehydroxyacetone (DHA), which is a derivative of vegetables, (typically sugar beets). Most sunless tanners also include Erythulose, Stearic Acid, Triethanolamine, and/or mineral oil.  DHA reacts to the amino acids in your skin to form perfectly safe brown-colored melanoids, hence the “tanning” effect.  The ability of DHA to change the color of skin was discovered in 1920 by accident by German scientists who were, interestingly enough, experimenting with DHA in conjunction with the x-ray process.  1960 marked the first large scale commercial use of DHA as a sunless tanner (Coppertone QT), but because QT's formula had a ph which exceeded “6” (apparently the magic number), it was virtually guaranteed that consumers would turn a nasty shade of orange instead of anything resembling a natural looking tan.  The=2 0FDA approved DHA for use in cosmetics in the ‘70s, and in the 1980’s the refining process improved to the extent that ph levels could be decreased and consumers were able to get a fairly authentic looking shade of tan. But because sunless tanners almost all still contain DHA, they contain an odor that most people do not like.

The "trivia" about pigs, humans and sharks might be interesting, but a  far more important "tanning fact " relates to the 2007 study* which Marta referenced in her January 19th post. The study found that the skin exposed to sunless tanners is especially susceptible to free-radical damage from sunlight, for 48 hours after application.  (*Katinka Jung of the Gematria Test Lab in Berlin). According to the study, “40 minutes after the researchers treated skin samples with DHA or Erythulose, they found that more than 180% additional free radicals formed during sun exposure compared with untreated skin. For a day after self-tanner application, excessive sun exposure should be avoided and sunscreen should be worn outdoors.

Great.   So my choices are 1) to remain horrifyingly white, or 2) opt for dried up, wrinkled, but “naturally” tanned skin or 3)  alternative stinky orange-colored skin which sunless tanner has made even more susceptible to damage from free radicals and skin cancer than before?  No, no, and no.

First, by avoiding sunless tanners which contain Stearic Acid, Triethanolamine, and/or mineral oil, you are highly likely to avoid the high ph value that turns your skin orange.  PH needs to be less than 6, or you have a high probability of turning orange.

Second, DHA-based sunless tanners which add a fragrance in an attempt to cover up the DHA smell generally make the smell more unpleasant.  Think air-freshener-“masking” food-garbage-smells which is just about guaranteed to amplify the unpleasantness of the original odor. Avoid products with added fragrance if you can.

Third, look for labels which include oils and emollients other than mineral oil, like sesame or jojoba oil.

Lastly, be sure to apply a high quality sun block (I prefer “physical” sun blocks to “chemical” sun blocks) every time to expose your fake bake tan to the suns’ rays, but especially for the 48 hours following the application of sunless tanning product.

I am still early in my testing of sunless tanners which meet the qualifications I have listed above, but I am posting now because I have found one which is really quite good: Famous Dave’s Sunless Self Tanner! I am not wil d about the ever present parabens, but I do like absolutely everything else about the product.  The Famous Dave Self Tanner goes on smoothly, turns my skin a very natural and even shade of brown overnight, the scent is very light (I end up smelling delightfully like a French Fry instead of a chemical depot), and it has a wonderful moisturizing effect on my skin. It doesn't wipe off on bedding or clothing, and it lasts a decent amount of time.  I have tried it on my marshmallow-colored legs and my Shamu-white-stomach with great success, and it even works well when applied very carefully and lightly to my face. For a deeper tan, add additional layers a day or two apart.

If you have tried the Famous Dave's product, add a comment and let me know how it worked for you.

Famous Dave’s Sunless Self Tanner ingredients:

Water propylene glycol, dihydrox yacetone, ceteryl alcohol, cetereth 20, sesame oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera, napca, vitamin E, methylparaben, propylparaben.