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It is bikini season (or almost bikini season, at least) and despite all the warnings about sunbathing and tanning beds, once you step out on that beach in your cute new swimsuit and realize everyone is too distracted by your pasty white skin to notice how adorable you look, it’s hard to resist the urge to bake, even just a little bit. Instead of heading to the tanning salon, why not read through my list of 3 safe(r) ways to tan so you can get your glow on without having to worry about health problems down the line. Turns out there is such a thing as a healthy tan, and here’s how to get it:

1) Self-Tanner

The easiest, most comfortable, and cheapest solution would be to use good old-fashioned, store-bought self-tanning lotion. If you’ve had bad (read: orange-tastic) experiences in the past, give it another shot. The formulas have been improved dramatically in the last few years to reduce streaking and make the look more natural. To ensure your best results, choose a tanner that suits your natural skin tone. As much as you may want to look like you stepped off the set of Jersey Shore, if you’re natural skin shade registers around the “fish-belly white” side, then steer clear of the “deep tan” products and look for one that boasts a light, natural tan, or one that builds gradually as you use it. Try Famous Dave’s Fair Skin & Face Tanner or Aveeno Continuous Radiance. If you are lucky enough to have naturally more tan-coloured skin, go ahead and try the deeper products, like Clarin’s Self Tanning Instant Gel. Make sure you wash your body and exfoliate all over with a body scrub or natural sponge to remove any dead skin, dirt, or oil: this will ensure a smooth application to banish streaks. Once you have your self-tan as deep as you want it, you can help preserve it by mixing your self-tanner with body lotion and applying every other day.

2) Spray Tan

If the at-home process doesn’t work for you, you can still get the results you want from the tanning salon without having to climb into one of the tanning coffins they have in the back. Instead, find a salon that offers spray tanning, which works similar to self tanners but is misted on from head to toe in a quick and easy session. You’ll step into a special spray tan chamber naked (or in a bikini that you don’t mind getting ruined) and be gently sprayed head to toe. Some spray tanners require you to turn half way through, while other spray you from the front and the back. Wherever you go, explain that it is your first time and they’ll walk you through it. To take away any pre-tan jitters (since most of us aren’t used to the idea of being “sprayed” with things while standing in a “chamber”), why not check out a video, like this one, online that demonstrates the process—and don’t be afraid to ask questions at the salon, or mention that you’re nervous, the workers at the salon get it all the time and will help calm your nerves. To avoid even more surprises, be prepared to spend anywhere from $35-$50 for a single session, but most salons offer packages at a discount if you decide you like the look and want to maintain it for the summer or a special event. Remember to shower and exfoliate before your session, as most types of spray-tan require you to avoid showering for at least 8 hours after your application.

3) Lying Out

Okay, so lying out is obviously not a safe tanning option, but if you absolutely decide against the other options, there are steps you can take to make laying out in the sun at least safer. First, try to avoid going out during the peak hours of the day, between 11:00 and 2:00, when the sun’s rays are the strongest and can do more damage in a small amount of time. Second, be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sun block with at least an SPF 30 and reapply every hour. You’ll still get a tan, but this way you won’t also risk getting a burn. Focus on areas with thin skin, like the tops of your feet, your ears, face, chest, shoulders, and the tops of your thighs (ok pretty much your whole body) which burn more quickly than thicker, or less-exposed skin. Finally, remember to drink lots of water while you’re out in the sun, and limit your tanning session to 1-3 hours so you don’t risk dehydration—which can make your skin dry and prone to flakes. Although you should try to avoid lying out in the sun, if you decide to a couple times this summer, make sure you do it as sun-safely at possible. No amount of gorgeous golden skin is worth potential damage, illness, or even cancer.

Sun screens: Ombrelle, Coppertone Continuous Spray, California Baby Organic Sunscreen

What Do You Think?

Do you care about getting a tan this summer? What is your preferred method of sunless tanning? Any steps I missed? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. Some genuinely prime posts on this site, saved to fav.

  2. avatar Noor says:

    I have darker skin, so I don’t like to get *too* tan… Any tips?

  3. avatar Sara says:

    Some people just need to chill out

  4. avatar Kaleigh says:

    Thanks Rachel and Jennifer, it’s good to get as much information as possible. The more informed we are about the products out there, the better choices we can make for ourselves! There are certainly dangers out there in the cosmetics world, but it is up to each college girl to decide for herself which products or methods to use, and which to avoid. :)

  5. avatar Jennifer says:

    The concentration of the DHA in sunless tanners is a relatively low level, and has been tested to not damage the skin. The only risks of using sunless tanners are contact dermatisis (allergic reaction) and sensitivity, which can be caused by any products.
    DHA does not cause free radical damage in the skin, though it can sometimes make the skin more susceptible to free radical damage caused by the sun. This can be prevented by following regular sun protection procedures such as applying sunscreen, wearing long sleeves and hats, or simply staying out of the sun after self tanning.
    Also, free radical damage is still only a theory. There is no 100% solid proof on free radical effects on the skin.

  6. avatar Rachel says:

    I think all girls should know that self tanners contain “dihydroxyacetone” which is the chemical that give you the tanning color. that chemical creates free radicals in the skin, Free radicals are minute chemical particles (atoms or groups of atoms) which are frequently the by-products of chemical processes. For example, when two chemicals join together to form another chemical, some particles are eliminated and these can be free radicals. Free radicals have at least one unpaired electron, causing the chemical particle to be unstable. To become stabilized, the particle must obtain an electron from some other chemical. By taking an electron from another chemical, the free radical becomes a stable chemical, but the other chemical now becomes a free radical and its chemical structure is changed. It must then steal an electron. Thus the chain reaction (of atoms stealing electrons) continues and can be thousands of events long.Free radicals can steal an electron and break down another biomolecule such as loose proteins, sugars, fatty acids, etc. that are NOT part of a larger chemical structure. In these cases the free radical does little damage.

    If a free radical steals an electron from one of the proteins that is contained in a strand of collagen (rather than a loose protein), it causes a change in the chemical structure of the collagen at that point and causes a break in the collagen strand. This is damage. Once a bundle of collagen has multiple points of damage, which occurs over years, the strand of collagen becomes dysfunctional and loses its elastic quality. The skin begins to sag. Over time, free radical damage happens to the various components of the body and this damage is progressive.

    Free radicals chip away at cell walls, molecule by molecule, making holes. The cells leak and lose their chemical balances. Subsequent free radicals are able to chip away at DNA, making cells dysfunctional. If this damage affects cellular DNA, the cell may malfunction. This is what happens cell by cell over the lifetime of a human being, ultimately causing entire organs to malfunction. If the DNA of basal keratinocytes, for example, are damaged the cells may become dysfunctional and the basal cells will reproduce cells that are equally as damaged and dysfunctional, resulting in the aging and dysfunction of the skin and its various components. Aging is simply the progression of damage, caused by free radicals.

    The major creators of free radicals in the skin are (1. normal chemical processes such as producing and using energy, producing skin components such as lipids, and other daily chemical processes that give off free radicals as a natural byproduct (2. unprotected sun exposure, (3. products applied to the skin that produce free radicals and (4. pollution. The way to slow the process of skin aging is as easy as reducing the volume of non-essential free radical activity in the skin.

    Please Don’t promote self tanners because they are dangerous to our skin.

  7. avatar Melissa says:

    Marthe, I am not the author of this blog, but maybe I can help? My best friend has very fair skin and she uses Clinique’s Self-Sun Face Quick Bronze Self-Tanner ($17), and it looks very natural on her.

  8. avatar Marthe says:

    I have very fair skin, can you recommend a self-tan that is not as dark as these?

    When I use self-tan the tan doesn’t look natural, since my skin never gets that dark naturally…

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