Sunshine in a bottle Beauty: Who needs to go outside? You can buy a tan -- light, medium or dark -- at the drugstore or at your salon.

June 21, 1998|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,SUN STAFF

The quest for the perfect tan now has more to do with science than the sun.

A bronze glow often comes out of a bottle these days, and cosmetic companies are making the most of this lucrative market - introducing new self-tanners or refining old ones.

There are many ways to try to achieve a golden hue. You can choose your consistency: foam, milk, spray or lotion. You can pick your shade: light, medium or dark. And you can select one with a sunscreen, alpha hydroxy acid or moisturizer.

"Every year the products seem to improve a little," says Ann Anthony, manager of La Parfumerie in Cross Keys. "But people still come in and ask: 'Am I going to turn orange?' "

When it comes to self-tanners, that's the perennial question. The good news is that they no longer leave you looking like a pumpkin the way QT did. The bad news: They still don't quite match the real thing.

But as baby boomers age and lament youths spent dripping with baby oil in the sun, faking a tan has become more acceptable and appealing.

"Everybody wants to be tan, and we're all afraid of what the sun will do to our skin," says Barbara Zinn Moore, senior vice president of cosmetics and fragrances for Macy's East. "This is a natural finish."

Well, as natural as anything containing cyclomethicone, isopentyldiol and octyl stearate can be.

The process by which self-tanners work is akin to a human chemistry experiment. The key ingredient, DHA (dihydroxyacetone) reacts with amino acids in the top layers of skin to create an artificial tan, says Daniel Maes, vice president of research and development for Estee Lauder. The lotions are safe because they don't penetrate the skin, he says.

Dr. Margaret Weiss, assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, recommends self-tanners to patients who want the look of a suntan, but she cautions that they offer no protection from the sun unless they contain a sunscreen.

"I would rather people like the look of pale skin, but that's not America in the '90s," says Weiss, who is also on the medical staff of GBMC.

She usually can tell instantly when a patient has tried a self-tanner, but there have been a few occasions when she's been momentarily fooled.

"I asked: 'Is that real or is it out a bottle?' One time it was Clarins. Another time it was Estee Lauder," she says.

There is an art to applying self-tanners, and mistakes can lead to embarrassing outcomes: orange palms, dirty-looking knees and odd body stripes. Some companies now offer tinted self-tanners that help you see where you are applying, and new formulations allow the "tan" to appear more quickly - often in a few hours. Once the color sets, it doesn't wash away but simply fades in several days.

One of the still unremedied problems is odor. Many self-tanners contain fragrances - from hibiscus to lavender - that initially give them a sweet smell, but there's often a chemical scent afterward.

Some people opt not to apply these products on their own and visit salons to get their skin exfoliated and a sunless tanner applied by a professional.

Jill Turnbull, owner of etches inc. in Mount Washington, says, "It's like hair color. It's easier to get it done than to do it on your own." She uses anan self-tanner on her clients, and the service costs from $25 to $60.

Similarly, Diana Gavrila, owner of Diana's European Skincare Inc. in Mount Washington, offers a regimen that includes a body exfoliation, shower, moisturizer, self-tanner and sealant. She uses French or Italian lines, and prices range from $45 to $90.

Around town, there's a variety of best sellers. Neutrogena, Coppertone and Banana Boat products do well at Target. La Parfumerie sells a lot of Clarins and Estee Lauder. And Macy's does brisk business in those two lines as well as Lancome and Clinique.

While each product offers directions, here are a few tips from beauty pros and our testers who recently tried a variety of brands:

* If you're a first-timer, apply a light coat and avoid the darker shades.

* Using soaps that are too alkaline may turn the tan yellow.

* Make-up brushes or wet cotton balls can help, particularly around edges and hard-to-reach spots.

* To avoid orange palms, wear gloves.

* If your tan ends up looking streaky or uneven, try carefully applying more to even out your mistake.

Bain de Soleil Sunless Tanning Spray, Dark

Price: $9.89 for 3.5 ounces

Scent: No scent initially but a "dog-like" smell after drying.

Consistency: Watery. Watch out for drips.

Results: Deep golden-brown. Bottle says tan appears within three hours, but it took longer than that.

Banana Boat Sunless Tanning Spray, Deep Dark

Price: $5.99 for 3.75 ounces

Scent: Fresh, clean.

Consistency: Light mist that was runny and difficult to control.

Results: Light brown color suited even fair skin.

Chanel Bronzage Automatique Perfect Colour Self-Tanning Lotion, Deep SPF 8

Price: $27.50 for 3.5 ounces

Scent: Pleasant and light but lingers after two showers.

Consistency: Like greasy suntan lotion.

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