Getting tanned without the sun

This article originally ran in the Toronto Star but it seems like a good time to remind people that you don’t need to bake in the sun to get a tan. Think of these “sunless tans” or fake tans as non-carcinogenic ways to gain colour.

You’ll have to update prices but the products are still on the market.




By: Peggy Mackenzie Toronto Star, Published on Sat Apr 12 2008

Here comes the sun and I say it’s time to get our tan on. Literally. No frying for us under a sun lamp or following the sun in our backyards. With the self-tanning products on the market, broiling on the beach to achieve that bronze look is so passé.

Self-tanning products are safe, Toronto dermatologist Dr. Cheryl Rosen writes in an email, “as long as people don’t rely on them to be sunscreens.” All the self-tanning products warn consumers to put sunscreen over top of the tanner if going out into the sun. Other things to keep in mind:

If you’re sensitive to smells, take a sniff at the store. Some had no smell while others lasted throughout the day.

All tanners warn to spread evenly but sparingly over knees, knuckles, toes and ankles. This is easier to do in theory.

They also warn you about ruining your clothes if you don’t wait long enough for the product to dry. All tanners varied wildly on drying time.

Vicky, at the Shoppers Drug Mart at Union Station, says to exfoliate before applying the tanners and moisturize after (if needed).

We tested legs for this column but some of the tanners advertise that they’re for the whole body, including faces. Check the label to make sure.

All five of Test Drive’s pasty-white testers complained there weren’t enough instructions even though an error in application has serious consequences to your body and clothes.

All tans were intact after shaving, although the Marcelle tester found the tan “bled” a little onto the razor but there was no change in the colour on her legs.

To the bronzed beauties in the photo – Gale, Deb, Libby and Jane – a big thank you. I was also a tester.

 Clarins Self-Tanning Instant Gel

Cost: $37

Size: 125 mL

Drying Time: 15 to 20 minutes

Moisturizer: Yes.

Scent: Yes. Pleasant

Libby had a lot of time to contemplate this gel after the first application. She read the minimal instructions, washed her hands and nails thoroughly after use, and then waited for three hours while it dried. “I think I applied it with too heavy a hand,” she jokes, since the product normally dries in under 20 minutes. “It smells wonderful – like every Clarins product I’ve ever used,” she says, adding that this tanner was even a great moisturizer. “(It) got rid of the alligator-skin look my legs usually have all winter.” She liked the colour and, unlike the rest of us, there were no splotches after her first try.

Roc Minesol Bronze Self-tanning lotion

Johnson & Johnson

Cost: $19

Size: 100 mL

Drying Time: 30 minutes

Moisturizing properties: Yes

Scent: Yes. Pleasant

Jane used this lotion six times over the two weeks before the last photo shoot and her legs have the look she normally has in the summer. She waited a minimum of one hour before getting dressed but had to dodge her dog who tried for a quick ankle lick. The minimal instructions made it difficult “to determine how, how much, and where to apply.” The white lotion was a good consistency and coated evenly with almost no aroma. Dry skin areas, though, absorbed it quickly and then developed a yellowish hue. Immediately after applying, Jane noticed a slight tingling sensation and a slight “suntan lotion” smell that was clean and fresh. That’s when the dog moved in. Like Clarins and Biotherm, a rounded tablespoon was enough for one application. It absorbed well, with no stickiness.

Neutrogena Build-a-Tan

Cost: $13.99

Size: 200 mL

Drying Time: 5 minutes.

Moisturizing properties: Yes.

Scent: Yes. Unpleasant chemical smell that lasted all day.

I used this lotion daily for five days before the last photo shoot and every other day for two weeks before that. The colour appeared natural to me, not orangey, and does slowly build over time. Applying the lotion was easy from the pump but, because I feared having a two-toned result on my ankles and knees, I applied sparingly on those areas and still created that look anyway. To ensure even coverage, you’d have to use this product for at least a week before showing your legs to the world. I found it reassuring that the tan built over time, since there’s too much room for error with an instant tan. The drying time was minimal and, to check if the colour bled, I wore white socks and never noticed any colour on them. This tanner was the cheapest of the lot but worked very well once I got into the swing of it. Now that I’ve stopped for three days, however, my tan isn’t as even.

Biotherm Sun Tan Gel Beautiful Legs

Cost: $30

Size: 150 mL

Drying Time: 45 minutes

Moisturizer: No.

Scent: Yes. A “chemical” smell

Gale likes that the gel is bronze-coloured for application, since it was easy to see the coverage against her white legs. After one application, she did see a slight bronze colour, but also streaks. Getting the product to “feather” or fade on Gale’s feet was hard and she had a “start” line that looked unnatural. The colour darkened after the second application and the streaking was minimized. Her knees were another hard area to tan: “I had two large circles of dry skin.” When the tanner dried, Gale’s skin “felt a little tight, like it contracted when it dried. I had to moisturize big time.” The odour was neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but it did have a “chemical” smell. Gale wished there was an insert “explaining if it would stain, how long I should wait before I dressed, if I could use it on my arms or torso.” A towel did get stained but the stain washed out.

Marcelle Tinted Self-Tanning Gel-Cream

Cost: $12.95

Size: 100 mL

Drying Time: 5 minutes

Moisturizer: No

Scent: Yes. The bottle says “perfume free” but Deb smelled “molasses with a chemical smell like the paint in my new kitchen but with a vaguely sweet undertone.”

Deb used the product almost daily but her legs didn’t get very dark. The gel spread easily and she was careful not to spread it too thick on her knees and ankles but noticed “the more I used it, the more speckly my legs looked.” Also, she says she walks into things a lot – “I always have bruises on my shins” – and the bruises turned a darker colour than the rest of her leg.

She didn’t notice any staining on her clothing but always waited at least five minutes before getting dressed. The tanner is not a moisturizer, and Deb noticed that her skin had a “papery” texture. She used a moisturizer after application.

Deb wonders about the safety of using self-tanners, with all the chemicals listed. Instead of competing with a beach tan in the summer, she’ll aspire “to an 18th-century standard of beauty.”

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