Bikini in action

Although the St. Louis winter hasn’t been as severe as some years, we still have a long way to go before spring. And if you’re longing for the sun-kissed look of summer, you do have options. In fact, since sun exposure is so damaging to skin, sunless tanning is your best bet any time of year.

“While less than the summertime, there is a significant amount of ultraviolet rays in the winter air, and you can still experience the harmful effects,” says Dr. Scott Fosko, a SLUCare dermatologist. Dr.

Joseph Duvall, a dermatologist with Mercy Hospital St. Louis, agrees that sun protection should continue throughout the year. “If you’re at high risk for skin cancer, even a little sun might add to your risk, so blocking even winter sun over a lifetime will be beneficial,” he notes.

Sunless tanning products commonly include the active ingredient dihyrdroxyacetone (DHA), an FDAapproved substance that reacts with the skin’s surface to trigger pigment production and darken skin tone. DHA generally is considered safe, although some preliminary research indicates that after applying the product and immediately exposing the skin to ultraviolet light, there is an increase in the formation of potentially harmful free radicals. “While an animal study, it suggests that there may be some initial damage to the skin if you get UV exposure shortly after applying the DHA selftanning agent,” Fosko says.

Custom spray tans are a popular option for many because they not only darken skin with DHA and bronzing colorants, but the airbrushing technique can include contouring that helps trick the eye. “The contouring can make you look slimmer and hide some flaws,” says Jaclyn Retherford, salon manager and esthetician at Eclips Salon and Spa. In addition, she notes that the available tanning shades can be mixed to provide the desired color upon application.

Topical sunless tanners, whether applied as a lotion or a spray, are the only products at this time that offer a convincing tan without a known serious risk. Sunless tanning pills, which typically contain the color additive canthaxanthin, are considered unsafe. Reported side-effects include hives, liver damage and serious eye problems.

“Some prescription medications can increase your sensitivity to ultraviolet rays, and we see patients who are ingesting medications that react with the sunlight,” Fosko says. “There are even severe outcomes of patients taking pills to help them get a sunburn, and then they get in a tanning bed and have severe blistering.”

Tanning beds themselves have been classed as carcinogens by the FDA, and regardless of the settings by which the UV light is controlled, dermatologists universally warn against this type of exposure.

“The take-home message is that at all times of the year, you need to think about your exposure to ultraviolet rays, and you should take the usual precautions to protect your skin with protective clothing and using an SPF 30 sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection against UVB and UVA rays,” Fosko advises. “Also, remember your lips and eyes and protect them, as well.”

Duvall adds that winter is a great time to give your skin a break. And since fashionistas and celebrities are embracing the ‘pale skin is in’ philosophy, perhaps a little winter fade is exactly the look to go for.