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The most important factor to consider when choosing a self-tanning spray is whether it contains the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This ingredient causes the top layer of skin to change color. Nearly all self-tanning sprays on the market contain this active ingredient. Beyond this factor, a consumer can consider personal preferences such as scent, absorbability, and cost.
DHA is a chemical that interacts with the amino acids in the top layer of the skin and causes the skin to become brownish-orange, mimicking the effect of a natural suntan but without the dangers of sun exposure. The stain is temporary and will fade as the top layer of skin is naturally shed over the course of a few days to a week. Although virtually all self-tanning sprays contain DHA, a few may also contain erythrulose, a chemical that works in a similar way to DHA but takes longer to develop. As erythrulose causes skin to take on a redder tint than DHA, it can help counteract the orange tone that DHA tends to cause and can be an ingredient to look for in a self-tanner.
As DHA has a strong odor, many self-tanning spray manufacturers add fragrance to mask it. A consumer may find that certain self-tanning spray brands have more pleasant fragrances than others and choose a product based on that preference. Self-tanning sprays contain less alcohol than other types of self-tanners, so many find that sprays have a more pleasant fragrance for that reason.
Absorbability can be an important factor to consider. It is not enough to merely spray on a self-tanning spray. It must be evenly wiped onto the skin surface with either a hand or a wipe. Some brands do absorb into the skin better and have different consistencies. It may not be possible for a customer to evaluate the absorbability of the self-tanning spray prior to purchase and may become a factor later, after several brands are compared.
For many people, the cost of a self-tanning spray is an important factor. As virtually all self-tanning sprays contain the same active ingredient, cost has little effect on the potency of a spray. Yet many brands vary widely in cost. The percentage of DHA in a self-tanning spray may vary slightly, but it is rarely enough to warrant extra cost. Drugstore brands are basically just as effective as more expensive brands.
It can also be helpful to consider the size of the package. Some brands market self-tanners for faces only, but these tend to be priced higher per weight of product than products marketed for the entire body, even though they may contain nearly identical ingredients. Self-tanning products marketed for the body are perfectly safe to be used on the face.
To get the most out of a self-tanning spray, it’s best to apply it to clean skin that has been recently exfoliated. This ensures that the color will stay longer. Self-tanners tend to collect in skin creases and on thicker skin like palms of hands, elbows, and knees. It’s best to use the product sparingly on these areas and to wash hands after applying to prevent excessive color.
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