American Cancer Society From the American Cancer Society

Americans are wising up to the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Exposure to these raysÂ-whether from the sun or from indoor tanning devicesÂ-can prematurely age your skin and is the leading cause of skin cancer , the most common form of cancer in the US.

Still, many people like the look of a golden tan. And a variety of powders, gels, lotions, and sprays may help them go for the glow without frying their skin in the process.

The active ingredient in most sunless tanning products is a colorless sugar called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). By interacting with the outer layer of your skin, DHA produces a bronzed hue that lasts for several days.

Sunless tanning products are available in tinted and non-tinted tones that range from light to very dark. To ensure a natural looking tan, chose a tinted product that is in the range of light to medium. (Tinted products go on with less streaking.) You can find sunless tanning products throughout the year at drugstores, cosmetic counters, spas, and beauty salons.

Understanding SPF Sunscreen helps keep your skin looking good by blocking the UV rays that cause wrinkles, age spots, and discoloration. Choose a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. The number tells you how long the product will prevent a burn, depending on your skin tone. Example: a fair-skinned person can begin to burn after 10 minutes in bright sunshine. When used properly, a sunscreen rated SPF 4 should allow 40 minutes before skin begins to burn (10 minutes x 4 = 40 minutes). One popular option is a tanning mist applied at a salon. Compared to lotions and gels, mist tans are priceyÂ-$15.00-$30.00 per visitÂ-but fans of the technique say the machine-generated application results in a streak-free tan that lasts up to five days. The FDA cautions people who are considering this type of spray tan to be sure they don't inhale or ingest the chemical mist, and to protect their lips, mucous membranes, and the entire area around each eye from the spray.

Steps to Success

Check out the tips below to get the best possible look from bottle or spray tan products.

Exfoliate the skin. Remove flaky, dry skin cells before applying a tanning product to prevent streaking. Try a scrubbing sponge, exfoliating gloves, or a loofah in the bath or shower. Dry your skin completely.

Moisturize. Smooth on moisturizer to help your skin absorb the tanning product more evenly. Be sure moisturizer dries completely.

Apply the self-tanner. A tinted self tanner makes it easier to see if you've missed any spots during application. Use less where skin is dryÂ-ankles, knees, and elbowsÂ-to avoid darker color in those areas. Avoid staining palms and fingertips by washing your hands often during application.

Air dry. Allow 15-20 minutes before dressing to avoid staining your clothes. For the longest lasting tan, don't swim or sweat heavily for up to six hours after application.

Check and protect your skin. The American Cancer Society recommends that you learn the early signs of skin cancer and examine your skin once a month. Make it part of using a self-tanner and don't forget to use a sunscreen of at least SPF15 if you'll be showing off your "bottle tan" outdoors in the sunshine. Most self-tanning products do not protect your skin from sun damage. Check the label.

Products to Avoid

Avoid tanning pills, which are not FDA approved. Some reports have linked them to crystal-like deposits in the eyes.

Dermatologist Roberta Sengelman, MD, of the Washington University School of Medicine tells people to avoid tanning accelerators, which are promoted as a way to speed up tanning during sun exposure. Any tan from UV exposure is a sign of damage to the skinÂ-damage in the visible skin cells on top, as well as permanent damage that remains in deeper, unseen layers of skin.

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