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Fake tans: The dos and don'ts

Concerns about sun damage to the skin and a rise in skin cancer have boosted the popularity of fake tanning and self-tanning beauty products. These have moved on since the early days of orange streaks and bad smells. If you want to get a glow from a self-tan, there's now a wide range of fake tanners to choose from.

Most fake tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a non-toxic substance that reacts with cells in the outermost layer of the skin to produce a brown colour or pigment called malanoidin. It is not considered harmful when applied to the skin surface, and can be used if you are pregnant.

Fake tans can last from 3 to 7 days, depending on the product and how well you have prepared your skin beforehand and moisturised afterwards. The tan will fade naturally as the outer layer of your skin sheds dead cells.

A fake tan will not protect you from the sun so it's important to wear sunscreen.


Fake tanning products range from self-tanning moisturisers, which have the lowest concentration of DHA, to products with higher concentrations of DHA, which can achieve a faster tan. These are available in a variety of formulations, from tanning towelettes, to lotions, creams, mousse, gels and sprays.

If you are a beginner to fake tanning, you might want to start with self-tanning moisturisers, which are the easiest to apply and will build-up a tan gradually, or tanning towelettes, which are pre-soaked with self-tanner and can be wiped across the skin for an even glow.

If you are not experienced in using fake tanning products and want a faster tan, you could try self-tanning lotions and creams, which are not absorbed instantly into the skin so you have time to blend them in. Some are tinted, making it easier to get an even tone.

Mousse and gels are lightweight and dry quickly so you may need some practice to make sure you tan evenly.

Do-it-yourself tanning sprays are the quickest way to cover large areas and are good for hard-to-reach areas, but technique matters. You need to apply evenly in a circular motion about 6 inches (15cms) away from the skin.


Preparation is the key to success with self-tanning products. It's very important to exfoliate, especially drier areas such as elbows, knees, feet and hands. Shower before tanning and use a loofah or exfoliating gloves. Avoid salt or sugar scrubs that may contain oils that will prevent the fake tan from absorbing. It's best not to moisturise as this can also prevent absorption.


Wear gloves to prevent your hands staining. Latex ones are best. Start with your feet and work up. Use a small amount and blend in a circular motion. Blending the tanning product with a non-tanning lotion around the ankles, wrists, knees and elbows will result in a lighter, more natural-looking application around these areas. Leave your hands till last. After removing the gloves, apply a hand sanitiser to your palms to stop them absorbing the colour. Apply the tanner sparingly to your face and neck because the skin there will darken easily. Start by applying it to the places where you naturally tan, your forehead, the apples of your cheeks, your chin, and the bridge of your nose. Using a steady circular motion, smooth the tanning lotion outwards to cover the rest of your face. If you are nervous about applying fake tan to your face, you might want to use a bronzer instead.

The product instructions will tell you how long to wait before you get dressed or go to bed so that colour isn't transferred to your clothes or sheets. It's best not to shower for at least 8 hours and don't do any sweaty exercise.

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