How to Match Tanning Lotion to Skin Tone

Sunless tanning lotion works when a key ingredient reacts with surface skin cells. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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Do you love that warm, sun-kissed glow your skin gets after a day at the beach or pool? You might think a bronzed beach body looks healthy and youthful, but it's not. Tanned skin is actually a sign of damage, not health. The long-term effects of tanning include premature aging, wrinkling and a heightened risk of skin cancer. So, whether you tan indoors on a tanning bed or outdoors on a lounge chair, the damage and health risks increase as soon as your skin turns brown or -- even worse -- red.

Given that doctors diagnose approximately one million cases of skin cancer each year, getting a tan, or a sunburn, is a serious health matter [source: AOA]. The best ways to avoid sun damage are to stay out of the sun and to protect your skin by wearing sunscreen and covering up with wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts. But if you can't resist the lure of looking like you spent a week traveling in a tropical locale, there is a tanning alternative that avoids exposure to the sun altogether.

Using a sunless tanning, or self-tanning, lotion can give the appearance of time spent at the shore without the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays, such as sunburn or dry skin. It is important to note, however, that most of these products do not contain a sun-blocking agent, so you need to use sunscreen after application if you plan to spend time in the sun.

You should also be careful when choosing sunless tanning products. Some lotions are advertised as "tanning accelerators," which promise a faster natural tan from the sun. The manufacturers of such products claim that the lotions contain a natural enzyme that stimulates the production of melanin -- the substance that gives skin its color -- with sun exposure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says these products are not effective, and might even be dangerous, because they don't block the sun's UV rays [source: Skin Site, FDA].

If you're ready to try tanning without the risks, read on for advice on how to choose self-tanning products and sunscreens based on your skin tone.