The myth of the base tan

It doesn’t protect you from the sun.

People use self-tanners to develop a base tan before vacations, thinking that it will both give them color and protect them from UV exposure. But the second point is false.
Darker skin has more melanin, a pigment that shields against the sun. But a natural base tan hardly increases the amount of the pigment present, says Matthew Mansh, MD, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. It offers the same protection as an SPF 2 or 4 sunscreen would.

Getting artificial color from a cream or lotion has no effect on melanin, so it doesn’t shield you at all, he adds. Plus, those who self-tan are actually less likely to protect their skin when they are in the sun (by seeking shade or wearing protective clothing) and more likely to report recent sunburns compared to people who don’t, according to Mansh’s new study in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
Even if you have a tan or use bronzing lotions or sprays, you still need to be vigilant about protection when you’re outside. “Wear SPF 30 sunscreen every day on chronically exposed areas like the face, ears, neck, hands, and forearms, and reapply every two hours,” Mansh says.

For a DIY tan without the skin damage, Sarah Garland, New York City-based manager of The Spa at Equinox, recommends these Alpha Beta Glow Pads and this Organic Sunless Tan Dry Oil Mist.