Is it safe to expose sunless tanned skin to the sun?

Britt asks…I love your website but am not going to rave about it here (I’d rather save the positive comments for my friends so that I can get them hooked too!) My question is about these gradual tanning lotions (e.g. Jergen’s Natural Glow). I have been using this product on and off all Winter (with mediocre results) and plan to keep using it so as to get my money’s worth. Since it is now Summer, however, I am a bit nervous about using the lotion and then going out into the sun. I am not a sun-worshipper but do ride my bike to and from work. Should I be worried about exposing my freshly fake-tanned skin to the Summer sun? Thanks!!

The Left Brain enlightens…

We’ve previously written about how sunless tanners work but we didn’t answer this question. For the most part, skin that has been treated with a sunless tanner is no more protected or vulnerable than untreated skin. In both cases you should be wearing sunscreen when you go outside (preferably SPF 30). The only safety issue with sunless tanners is that you THINK you might not need to use sunscreen since you’re already tan. In other words, sunless tanners can lull you into a false sense of security so you forget to protect you skin. And that’s dangerous!

Difference between sunless and real tans

The color on skin from a sunless tanner is chemically different than a real tan. Real tans are the result of melanin in skin. Fake tans are the result of chemical reaction between skin protein and DHA.

Can sunless tanners protect skin?

Recently, there was a study which showed that a new type of sunless tanner could actually be beneficial. Consider this self-tanner story recently reported by netdoctor. It turns out that this kind of fake tanner may actually have the potential to protect from skin cancer. In a study done on mice, scientists were able to show that extra skin pigmentation from their plant-derived fake tanner was able to help protect DNA from UV damage. Less damage = less skin cancer.

This technology is different than the standard DHA containing self tanners you can buy now. Unfortunately, it also isn’t ready for prime time as it hasn’t been proven in humans plus it’s not clear how nice a tan you might get. But it would be nice to do something good for your skin while you protect it.

Incidentally, for the entire month of May, The Beauty Addict is reviewing the ins and outs of self tanners. She kicks off the month with self tanner basics. It’s definitely worth a read.