Golden Brown

How to make – and why to fake – your summer tan

If you’re off on your holibobs remember that Coco Chanel has a lot to answer for; She freed women from the tyranny of corsets, designed the covetable quilted handbag – still a trophy for many a monied woman – and since the 1920’s made a tan the next great fashion accessory.

The rise of the bronzed body has been unstoppable but with rates of skin cancer now at the highest ever* we need to take a little responsibility for what we do to our bodies.

Skin contains special cells, called melanocytes, which deposit dark pigment in the skin. Inside these cells, the pigment melanin is made by a multi-step chemical reaction.  Once the melanin is produced, it is moved outside the cell, colouring our skin. This is a sign that the body is under stress. It’s a defensive action to protect against damage. It is not a sign of glowing health. And it’s not the easily avoidable visible light from the sun that causes your skin to crisp, but rather the invisible ultraviolet waves (UV) that are present all year round.

Would a sunbed be any better? Sunbeds too work by exposing the skin to UV radiation, through glass tubes and while sunlight contains a mix of UVA and UVB radiation, sun ‘showers’ produce mainly UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into skin. It’s estimated that 20 minutes can be equivalent to about four hours in the sun. And as using a sunbed is not any safer than natural tanning, the law changed in April 2011 to bring the Sunbed Regulations Act 2010 into effect.

Now, in the UK, nobody under the age of 18 can use a sunbed and shop owners be fined up to £20,000 per offence. The British Photodermatology Group (BPG), which is an expert on the effect of light on the skin, recommends that sunbeds are not used at all but if you’re a die-hard tanner, limit their use to no more than two courses – or 10 sessions – a year.

If you are born to be white, any tan will fade as new cells containing less pigment (so when you’re back from your sunny holidays) push the tanned cell layers upward where they are scaled off, meaning that the perma-tan is a false state of affairs. But faking it is probably the best way to glow.

No excuses. Fake tan is everywhere. Spray on, instant, gradual – more formulations than bikinis and, unlike bikinis, something to suit everyone. The day-glo orange has gone and beautiful tones of naturalness can be achieved by the simple application of DHA ( dihydroxyacetone), a naturally occurring carbohydrate that reacts with acids in the skin cells to create a browning effect.

Tanned skin is not, nor has it ever been, a universally accepted ideal. Recently its appeal has been fading. Today we know that 90% of all skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun and up to 90% of the changes commonly attributed to aging, including wrinkles, leathery skin and brown spots.

True fashion – and health – aficionados have abandoned tanning to embrace sun protection and natural skin tones. As Sarah Brown, Vogue’s Beauty Director commented: “A healthy glow does not mean a tan, and I think that’s what we have to clear up. A healthy glow is your skin tone, glowing.”

*At least 15 22-34 year olds are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every day in the UK.