How to fake tan

October 10, 2013, 4:15 pm Caelia Corse Women's Health

How to get a natural-looking fake tan (without looking like a carrot).


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We know tanning is bad for our skin but still we covet sun-kissed skin. Look good but skip the cancerous side effects with this report from Women's Health Beauty Editor Caelia Corse.

We should embrace the pale. Unveil our legs and go belting around on the beach epidermis au naturel. We know. But the indisputable truth is a lot of Aussies, actually, women around the world (bar the cast of Downton Abbey) feel they look better bronze. It’s the bane of the Cancer Council’s existence, but it’s true.

Even politicians and princesses can’t resist the golden allure. Capital Hill has it Sarah Palin installed a tanning bed in the governor’s mansion. Well, how else could she perfect her burnt orange mug in Alaska?

And Kate Middleton’s royal wedding fake tan prompted a 219 per cent spike in the sale of tanning products at UK department store Debenhams. Pippa’s prompted comparisons to Snooki, but most of us were really looking at her arse...

With more than 10,300 cases of melanoma in Australia every year, self-tanning products are the sunless solution for many women who feel they look better brown. If you’re keen to fake it this summer, here’s the latest info on tanning safely, plus tips on getting it right.

Are spray tans still safe?

A recent report by ABC News America suggests dihydroxyacetone (DHA) – the chemical in spray tans that reacts with amino acids in the skin to turn it brown – has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage. Read: cancer scare. Read: panic attack.

Six US medical experts in dermatology, toxicology and pulmonary medicine reviewed 10 of the most current studies on DHA – however none of these studies were conducted on humans. They were actually conducted on cells in a lab, which, according to Cancer Council Australia, can react very differently to what happens in the human body.

A bit of background on DHA: the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DHA for external use in tanning products – back in the ’70s. However the use of DHA in modern day all-over sprays has not been approved, as no safety data has been submitted since, for review.

So, should we freak out about getting a spray tan? Or spray tans past? No, but be cautious.

“There is no evidence that spray tans applied to the skin cause cancer,” says CEO of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Ian Olver.

The concern is that if tanning solution is inhaled during a spray tan this could potentially trigger cancer with sufficient exposure. There are no reports of this to date, but experts suggest safety precautions, and further research is needed.

“A face mask or goggles and nose plugs should be worn, and you should be sprayed in a well ventilated, non-confined space,” says Professor Olver.

What about other fake tan products? The issue is with DHA inhalation via the respiratory system; it is safe when applied to the skin in a cream or lotion, says Women's Health beauty expert Dr Elizabeth Dawes-Higgs

Click the photo for our pick of tanning lotions!

Saving face

We reckon you’re up to speed on spray tans but what about all those products out there now for tanning your face? Facial tanning products help colour match your face and neck to a freshly fake tanned body, and eliminate the need for applying excess bronzer – a minefield in itself. A quick application to your face, neck and decolletage will also give you a fresh glow when you don’t have time to coat your body.

To achieve a look that’s more golden honey than Vegemite moustache, exfoliate your face first to slough away dry skin and create an even base, says Dr Dawes-Higgs.

“Use a daily tanning moisturiser that gradually builds colour to the face. Apply every night over your regular moisturiser and once you’ve achieved the right shade drop back to applying once or twice a week, after exfoliating, to maintain your glow,” says expert facialist and beauty therapist Jocelyn Petroni from The Facial Room.

Try: St. Tropez Everyday Face. Alternatively mix a facial tanning product with your regular facial moisturiser to ensure a subtle effect, suggests Dr Dawes-Higgs.

Clever tip: remove excess product from your eyebrows with a clean toothbrush to avoid hair follicles grabbing the colour, says Petroni. Good to know.


DIY tanning with creams and lotions is safe during pregnancy, says Allison Cummins, a lecturer in midwifery at the University of Technology, Sydney. The jury is still out on sprays. If you can’t go without a spray tan (hey, they make you feel better when you’re feeling frumpy), wear a face mask and opt for organic.

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  1. Glib07:03am Wednesday 21st November 2012 ESTReport Abuse

    "still we covet sun-kissed skin" Rubbish. No we don't. Tans are so 70s.


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