So what are my options? Do I stand in front of a bunch of spray nozzles and dye myself amber? Or do I ignore the risks and toast my flesh on a bed of bulbs? Like the nervous indoor creature I am, I asked an expert.
Pros and Cons: Booth
Not familiar with spray tanning? You stand up what looks like a shower stall, arms raised, while your entire body is misted with a spray containing dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This compound interacts with your skin cells to darken them. So, even though it looks like painting a car, you’re not technically being dyed.
“Sprays are, generally speaking, not harmful,” says Hooman Khorasani, chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. “Don’t get it in your mouth. Don’t get it in your eyes. Don’t breathe it in - but that’s not usually a problem.”
In other words, if you can avoid gasping - in my experience, the spray is cold - then you’re going to be fine. The only downsides? You’ll feel sticky while you let the tanning agent work for a few hours before you shower, and sometimes you smell a little…off. Like a faint whiff of fry oil.
Thanks to the reaction caused by the DHA, “There’s a funny smell that goes with sprays,” says Khorasani. “And on different types of skin that smell can be different.”
On me, it was temporary. And if you’re at all concerned, you can always ease into self-tanning at home. One word of advice: Remember that your summery glow is fake. You will still need sunscreen.
Pros and Cons: Bed
But what about the bed? This is where you stretch out for a warm, blindingly bright nap in what looks like an electric coffin. Unfortunately, because you’re blasting your body with UV rays, the coffin analogy is appropriate.
“Any kind of tanning with radiation is bad for you,” says Khorasani. “No matter where the radiation is from, you’re still radiating your body.” It's cancer with a side of wrinkles.
Data from the American Academy of Dermatology indicates that using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can up your risk of melanoma by 59 per cent. And the risks don’t go away once you’ve quit your UV habit.
Meanwhile, when you put yourself in the bed, you are boarding an express train to age spots and wrinkles. You’re saying, “I’m ready to look like a young Benjamin Button. Bring it on!”
“The lighter your skin, the more visible aging effects you’ll see from UV radiation,” says Khorasani. “We even see this with workers who sit by a window all day. On one side they’re exposed to sun, on one they’re not, and they look like totally different people.”
So either go with the booth, or learn to love your deathly pallor.
If you’re not convinced, let’s talk. You’ll find me sitting in the shade, thinking about how young I’m going to look in 30 sunless years.
This article was originally published on MensHealth.com