Tan in a Bottle?
How bad is it to self-tan? Is it any better for you than the sun?
People just can't seem to get away from the idea that a tan is healthy and beautiful, and so you have self-tanning lotions and tanning salons.
The lotions are harmless, but they never quite look like a natural tan to me. Fortunately, these days there are improved formulas that at least don't make you look streaked with orange. The new products are made with dehydroxyacetone, which interacts with proteins in the surface cells of your skin to darken the color. Some people complain about a slight chemical or metallic scent, but that goes away in a few hours.
To avoid blotches, you need to be careful when applying the lotion. First, get rid of dry, flaky skin with a sponge or washcloth. Remove your rings and other jewelry, and apply the tanner lightly just like you would a body lotion, blending well. Put only a little on your knees and elbows - the dry skin will absorb more color than the rest of your body. Try not to get the lotion under your nails because it will discolor them, and wash your hands immediately so your palms don't look unnaturally tan. Then, remember that even though your skin is more brown, it's not protected by the melanin produced by a natural suntan. So be sure to use lots of sunscreen, and select the kind that protects against the whole range of the sun's rays, both UVA and UVB. Apply this only after the tanning lotion is completely dry.
As for tanning salons, my advice is to stay away. The rays in a tanning parlor can be a lot stronger than ordinary sunshine. A study in Sweden a couple of years ago found that people under age 30 who used tanning salons more than 10 times a year had a seven times higher risk of melanoma than other people. Most skin cancer is related to UV radiation, and melanoma is the deadliest kind. There's no such thing as "tanning" rays, as distinct from "burning" rays. The UVA light of tanning salons is as harmful as the UVB rays you get during peak sunlight hours.
Sometimes people go to tanning salons before they go on a winter vacation in order to avoid a sunburn. A better technique is to expose yourself gradually to the sun once you've arrived, and be sure to use a sunblock of at least SPF 15.
I'm not one of those doctors who would have you avoid sun at any cost, but a tan is definitely not a sign of health. The only good thing about a suntan is that it means you've been outdoors, where you may have been getting exercise and enjoying relaxation. To get tan in a shop, without the associated healthful activities, is not quite what the doctor ordered.