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Browned off for summer

 July 2011 

Sun tannedMany of us believe we look – and feel – better when we have a slight suntan on our skin. That golden glow can be invigorating as well as making us feel more attractive.

But here in the UK our lack of blue skies and bright sunshine means that we can’t gradually develop a golden skin over years of gentle exposure and most people know the real dangers of short isolated bursts of strong burning sun rays.

Products which create a lovely golden tan without the need for sunshine have been around for a long time. Coppertone was one of the first to bring the formula to the general market when it introduced Quick Tanning Lotion, or QT, in the 1960s. The results were often more orange than golden, and streaks and deep patches were clear indicators that this was not a natural tan. Nevertheless it was immensely popular and researchers have been hard at it ever since to develop the best possible self tanning products.

Today the self tanning products available are light years away from those early attempts 50 years ago. The latest products are generally based on dihydrozyaceton (DHA). DHA is a colourless sugar that interacts with amino acids that are found in the dead cells in the upper layers of the epidermis of the skin. The reaction is well known to food chemists who call it the Maillard reaction, a browning process that occurs during some food manufacturing. With self tanning products, as the DHA interacts, this colour change turns the dead layer on the skin surface into a golden brown.

The colour will usually last around five to seven days and of course will deepen and last longer if you apply more product to produce further interaction.

Self tans don’t last for long because every day millions of dead skin cells are rubbed off or simply flake off from the surface of our skin – every 5 to 7 weeks we grown an entirely new epidermis. So to maintain the tan, the product needs to be applied every few days.

Another development is adding erythrulose to the DHA. Erythrulose is similar to DHA and works in the same way but develops more slowly; by using the two chemicals together the tan may last longer.

However, as with everything, there can be problems. Some people have reported that self tanning products have caused dermatitis and this is why many products suggest you trial a little first on a small section of your skin and wait 24 hours to check whether you have any negative reaction. DHA is also absorbed in higher levels by thicker skin such as on the hands and feet and can cause dark staining, so it is recommended these areas and any other areas of harder or thicker skin are avoided. It is because of this that it is recommended that hands are washed immediately after any application.

While products that contain DHA are generally thought to be the most reliable and are also quick and easy to use, there are other types of products now on the market to help gain that lovely tan.

Tanning accelerators, which can come in pills that you take as well as lotions, are usually based on tyrosine, an amino acid that is said to stimulate and increase the formation of melanin, key to the natural tanning process.

The tanning pill is another development. This is usually based on canthaxanthin which is often used as a colour additive in food. When you take canthaxanthin, it reaches all your body including your skin which it turns brown.

Both tanning accelerators and tanning pills are reasonably new developments and there are still questions about their safety and long term effects on health, so do your research before trying them. Interestingly, only very small amounts of canthaxanthin are used in food but as a tanning agent much larger quantities are needed. There have been reports of its use causing die effects including hepatitis and also retinopathy, when yellow deposits form in the retina of the eye.

Another recent development in the self tanning market is the bronzer. Bronzers come in sprays, mousse, gels, powders and moisturizing creams and are really just a coloured cosmetic to give a lovely tan than can be washed off.

If you are willing to invest a little more in a glorious all-over tan, many professional beauty salons and spas offer various tanning services including all over tanning sprays that can produce a wonderfully even all over tan. You need to exfoliate beforehand and the application takes around 25 minutes with 10 minutes drying time. Salons often recommend the colour is left on the skin overnight before showering and the end results are usually an excellent overall even golden tan.


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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