For a Natural Fake Tan, It’s All About the Penetration
When you think about sunless tanner, your head might fill with memories of brown streaks on orange ankles, not to mention the maple-syrup-like fumes.
The 2000s were a rough time for faux tanners, let’s put it that way. If you were a teen whose frontal lobe hadn’t fully developed, you were either giving yourself melanoma in a tanning bed or wafting Mystic Tan all over your bod, only to look like an Oompa Loompa. Even the chillest of formulas, like Jergen’s Natural Glow, could cause an orange tint if you left them on too long.
This caused a backlash that led many of us to swear off spray tans and tanning lotions for years. (And if you’re smart, you prob quit tanning beds for life.)
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So we decided to chat with Marissa Carter, the Irish (yes, Irish!) beauty scientist behind the Cocoa Brown line of tanning products. Here’s what we learned.
1. The Fake Bake Is Back
As previously mentioned, a deep faux glow used to be the trademark of the 2000s. But Marissa tells us everyone in Europe is currently obsessed once more with the concept of a tan. And we all know what starts in Europe eventually migrates over to the U.S., so expect your Instagram feed to be lit up with sun-kissed hides this summer.
The funny thing, though, is that Europeans are fake-tanning because they’re convinced everyone in America is still doing it.
“Europe is seeing a massive trend towards a darker glow than we would have usually,” Marissa said, “and I think it’s that kind of Hollywood, LA, naturally golden and beautiful and outdoorsy [tan] is the look everyone wants to emulate.”
Talk about the snake eating its own perfectly bronzed tail!
2. It’s All About Penetration
The technology and formulations behind fake tanning have improved to make you appear way less orange, and it all comes down to penetration.
You see, every beauty product — including a fake tan — will only work if it can penetrate your surface layers of skin. For tanning, this penetration is achieved using an ingredient called DMI, which Marissa says she was the first to use in her Cocoa Brown tanning products.
Here’s how it works: fake tans used to look orange because the DHA, or the active ingredient that makes you look tan, would sit on top of the skin and oxidize. But nowadays, DMI acts like an envelope or carrier for DHA. This means it gets further into your skin and doesn’t get the chance to oxidize on the surface and make you look orange, Marissa said.
Not only does this help your tan appear more quickly and more naturally, it also decreases the weird smell that comes along with tanning solutions.
DMI’s been upping the world’s fake tan game since 2012. But lots of people were still too traumatized by the fake tans of the ’00s to try it back then, so it makes sense it’s really seeing its moment in the sun today. If you can’t get your hands on Cocoa Brown, always look to see if DMI (also known as dimethyl isosorbide) is listed as an ingredient.
3. Fake Tans Don’t Increase Your Melanin Levels
No matter how deep and golden your fake tan looks, it’s not the same thing as the base tan you get from actually spending time in the sun.
If you’re the type of person who gets a tan from laying out, it’s because of melanin coming to the surface of your skin. And you might have noticed that the tanner you are, the less sunblock you need to wear because the melanin protects you from sunburn.
But this isn’t true of fake tans. Fake tans are the result of a compound called melanoidin appearing in your skin, not melanin.
Melanoidins are a totally different molecule, Marissa said, and they provide zero sun protection. That means even if you achieve an envy-inducing tan from a bottle, you still need to amp up the sunblock when you go out in the sun or you’ll get burnt.
4. People With Darker Skin Don’t Necessarily Respond Better to Fake Tans
The flipside of melanin and melanoidin being unrelated is that people with more melanin won’t necessarily develop a fake tan faster than pale betches.
This made me wonder why, in the 2000s, I looked so much more orange with a fake tan than my olive-skinned friends did. Marissa said this is just because you can see a crappy tan better on light skin than on dark skin.
So it’s good to know my friends’ tans were just as bad as mine back in the day — you just couldn’t see them as well.
5. The Swedish Are the Biggest Fake Tan Addicts in the World
Shocking as it is, the U.S. is not the country with the most fake tan junkies in the world. That honor belongs to Sweden, with Ireland and the UK coming in a second and third, Marissa said.
So much for that California tan — maybe we should start calling it a Swedish glow instead?