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Self-Tanners That Won’t Make You Look Like A Jersey Shore Cast Member (Or Damage Your Skin)

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Jersey reliving the ’80s with Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora—and Kiefer Sutherland. Because just when you think big hair and power ballads in the new Meadowlands Arena can’t get any better, Jack Bauer shows up. Unfortunately, so did 63,999 other people. And just a heads up, driving in a car with New York license plates through a drunk crowd of tailgaters—who have been barbecuing from their backseats all day and mixing jalapeno-flavored Doritos with god knows what in plastic champagne flute cups—bad idea. We won’t repeat the obscenities hurled at us because, well, that has nothing to do with the environment. We also won’t talk about the gestures we gave to one Snookie-esque orange-skinned New Jersian who shouted “asshole” at us for having the nerve to slow her down on her way to the Corn Hole tournie in Aisle J. But we will say, this was no Jones Beach Theater. And self tanner—definitely the way to go. Here are a few things to look for:

Parabens are preservatives. They also can mimic estrogen, a hormone known to play a role in the development of breast cancer,  in the body and have negative effects on the endocrine system. There have been studies that say they are okay to use. There have been studies that say they are not. Stay safe and avoid them. As for Dioxane, which has been linked cancer in animals, it is not listed as an ingredient, since it is used in the manufacturing process. To avoid it, stay away from  ingredients such as sodium laureth sulfate and those that have PEG, xynol, ceteareth, and oleth in their name.

Many products claim to be organic, yet are also comprised of synthetic materials. Look for the USDA Organic Seal. It guarantees that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.


Organic self-tanners are blended with the plant-derived dihydroxyacetic acid or dixydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is derived from sugar beets and sugar cane. So far, studies show this is the safest option. But there is one setback:

A fake tan does not protect the skin from harmful UV exposure—it makes it more vulnerable. DHA increases the free-radical damage of the skin from sunlight, according to the recent study led by Katinka Jung of the Gematria Test Lab in Berlin. Scientists recommend to avoid sun exposure for at least 24 hours after self-tanner application. After that, excessive sun exposure should be avoided and sunscreen should be worn.  Forty minutes after the researchers treated skin samples with dihydroxyacetone in the same concentration as self-tanners, they found that more than 180 percent additional free radicals formed during sun exposure as compared with untreated skin.

…but avoid oxybenzone. Oxybenzone has been linked to hormone disruption and cell damage. When it penetrates the skin of a pregnant woman, it can lead to low birth weight in baby girls, according to a study from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Oxybenzone is contained in hundreds of sunscreens sold in the U.S., so before you slather it on–read the labels.

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