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Bottle Tans Take You Beyond the Pale


Before communing with sun, sand and surf this summer, consider how you can become as bronze as you want while sparing your skin unnecessary sun damage.

"Self-tanning is in, and sunbathing is out," says Encino dermatologist Helene Rosenzweig. Her patients are shunning the sun, she says, "because they know that sunbathing causes skin damage and may even lead to skin cancer. My patients and I see bottle tans as healthier, safer and more attractive than suntans."

While self-tanners of yore routinely turned users shades of pumpkin without offering any sun block, many of today's products provide a natural look with the added benefit of sunscreen.

To explore the beauty and health realities of sunless tanning, we tested self-tanners and bronzers in various price ranges. But it's worth noting that there are some drawbacks to these products.

"Any self-tanner may cause allergic reactions or skin irritations," says Los Angeles dermatologist Howard Murad. An associate clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA, Murad is upfront about taking precautions when using any self-tanning product, including his Murasun self-tanner with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. "Always do a tiny skin test before applying a self-tanning product," he says. "Put a dab on the ankle or underside of your forearm. Remember that allergic reactions can occur as early as a few hours after application or 48 to 96 hours later."

If your skin is highly sensitive, advises Rosenzweig, perform two skin tests, "since allergic reactions may manifest the second time you use a product."

After the skin test, Murad recommends that you "bathe and exfoliate those parts of your body that are going to be treated with self-tanner. Use a loofah or a body scrub. Towel dry and use a light moisturizer on thick-skinned areas, such as ankles, feet, knees and elbows. Use a rubber or latex glove to apply the self-tanner."

Daphne Harris in Rosenzweig's office suggests using an amount about the size of a quarter to cover one leg.

"For your feet," she says, "mix equal parts of self-tanner and a light moisturizer together and apply." Wait 24 hours before your next shower so the tan can "set."

Now for some essential bottle-tanning tips acquired through cruel experience: When self-tanning the face, also apply some under the chin and on the neck--unless you're going for a Harlequin look. And always apply to the ears to avoid a two-toned color scheme that screams, "Fake tan!"

The tanning and bronzing products below were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Ratings were based on tanning results, price, texture, ease of application, skin reactions and scent.

* Dior Bronze Transparent Face Self-Tanner SPF 10.

Price: $25 for 1.7-ounce tube.

Where to Find It: Introduced in May and available in upscale department stores and cosmetic boutiques.

Texture and Application: Silky, skin-softening cream goes on smooth and absorbs instantly. Feels luxurious.

Scent: Beautifully subtle and vaguely redolent of wildflowers and vanilla. The most pleasingly perfumed facial self-tanner tested.

Tanning Results: A convincing, golden tan after two applications.

Rating: 10. Expensive but worth it; provides a sun-kissed look while making face feel and smell lovely.

* Estee Lauder Self-Action Go Bronze Tinted Self-Tanner for Face.

Price: $18.50 for 1.7-ounce tube.

Where to Find It: Introduced in May and available in high-end department stores.

Texture and Application: Light cream goes on bronze, so you can control application and eliminate mistakes. After two hours, the tan reaches full bloom.

Scent: Generically sweet, synthetic cologne.

Tanning Results: Imparted such a reddish patina that my face resembled a Thanksgiving gourd. Yet after I applied some to my medium-complexioned friend, his face looked beautifully tanned. And my 50-ish girlfriend believes Go Bronze is the best self-tanner she's ever used.

Rating: 6. May achieve better results with dark complexions than with fair or light sallow skins.

* Green Valley Radiance Body Moisturizer / Self-Tanner

Price: $16 for 4-ounce jar; $26 for 9-ounce jar.

Where to Find It: Order from Green Valley Spa in Utah, (800) 237-1068, Ext. 19.

Texture and Application: This rich cream absorbs right away and stimulates circulation. The label indicates this is a body-care product, but on the face it also promoted a natural tan look while softening the skin.

Scent: Western canyon botanical--sage, alfalfa and other native plant extracts create a natural, romantic scent. Essential oils such as ginger add spice to the blend.

Tan Results: Mild tanning action imparts a ruddy, blushed look that is unfortunately ephemeral. A product well-suited for pale and sallow or peaches-and-cream complexions.

Rating: 7. Aromatherapeutic cream pampers skin and senses, provides healthy color and protective barrier against sun and wind.

* Murad Murasun Self Tanner with Antioxidants and SPF 15.

Price: $20 for 4.2-ounce tube.

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