Remember when going to the beach meant piling on the suntan lotion, baking in the scorching sun for hours, and then hoping for that glamorous, golden tan the advertisements promised? Usually the result was painful sunburn. In reality, direct sun can seriously damage the epidermis, and staying in the shade seems to be the best and safest course of action. But this need not mean staying pale forever. Today you can spray tan at home, away from the sun.

Can the use of chemicals really look as good as an old-fashioned sun-exposure tan? Tanning outdoors is really the skin’s reaction to sun damage. Tanning agents, on the other hand, do not burn. They work by means of a reaction between the applied chemicals and naturally occurring amino acids. The two most common chemical ingredients are dihydroxyacetone(DHA) and erythrulose. If they are applied judiciously, the result actually mimics a suntan, without the harmful rays.

Other darkening methods include tanning pills, or even implanted hormones. There are temporary bronzers which are similar to makeup, and can be rinsed away after a day’s use. These are not as popular, effective, or convenient as the spray-on or airbrush tan, both of which originated in salons. Like any other salon treatment, they can be costly. The serious tanner is now able to purchase home equipment similar to those professional spray-tanning booths or airbrush sets. These are actual equipment purchases, but are still less costly than buying a home tanning bed, and are less damaging.

There is, however, the option of using less costly spray systems designed for home use. These products work well, and tans last about a week before beginning to fade away. They can be reapplied whenever necessary. Choose a home tanning spray based on the tone of your skin, because different formulas produce varying shades of color. Don’t hesitate to be brutally honest with yourself if you are choosing a product that promises a ‘deep, golden tan.’ If you are very pale, using a large amount right at the start of the tanning season may color you orange. Use a product that is easily controlled, and that will build color gradually.

No single product works the same way for everyone. Just because your friend looks great using a particular spray-on doesn’t mean you will look or react the same way. Also, products that worked well for you in the past may no longer seem as effective, because the skin changes with the seasons and years. A little research may be necessary before buying, but the results will be better. Remember that with these types of chemical solutions, less is more.

When you have decided on a product, preparation is essential prior to applying the solution, whether is is to be airbrushed on, or sprayed from a can. Be sure and read the directions carefully to avoid any mistakes. Inviting a friend to help is probably a good idea, because manually spraying those hard-to-reach areas like your back, for instance, can be difficult. There can still be some streaking or uneven color. Most of these products recommend application at night to allow maximum drying time. Then, in the morning any color looking uneven can be given a touch-up.

Don’t forget to exfoliate before applying the solution. This is very important, because the chemicals in the spray solution affect primarily the outer layer of dead cells. Exfoliation removes most of the dead cells that normally fall off anyway. If they are not scrubbed away, the tan will fade prematurely, and will have to be re-applied more often. Also, be sure not to wear any cosmetics or deodorants, because these cover up, and will prevent the spray from working as efficiently.

If done correctly, using a home tanning product or equipment can result in looking nearly as good as a day at the beach, or even a visit to the spa. They may save you time and money and a drive to the salon. Avoid sun damage this year and spray tan at home.

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