Are Self-Tanners Safe?

Your days of slathering on coconut oil and baking in the sun to achieve the perfect tan are over. You know the risks of skin cancer and are diligent about using sunscreen, but you still long for a little color especially as you're getting ready for a spring break trip to the Caribbean. 

How can you safely achieve that sun-kissed glow?

There are a number of self-tanning products on the market available as lotions, creams, sprays and pills to help you achieve that golden tan without going out in the sun. But are they safe?

Self-tanning products most commonly contain the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive that binds to proteins in the top layer of the skin and causes it to darken. DHA can be manufactured synthetically, or it can be derived from natural substances, like beet sugar or cane sugar. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for topical use in 1977 and is the only such agent approved for use by the FDA.

There is no clear evidence that DHA is harmful if it is used as directed. DHA is approved for external use only and should not be inhaled, ingested or used on the lips or any surfaces covered by a mucus membrane. Do not use self tanners on children without checking with your pediatrician.

Concern about DHA arose when a study correlated use of highly concentrated amounts of DHA with production of free radicals, which can damage cells. However, commercial sunless tanning products typically contain between 3 and 5 percent DHA concentrations and are considered non-toxic and non-carcinogenic.

However, while DHA has been approved by the FDA for use in self-tanning lotions, it hasn’t been approved for use in spray tans -- whether they are at-home self-tanning sprays or sunless spray “tanning” booths at a salon. Primary concerns about self-tanning sprays relate to the risk of inhalation and ingestion of DHA, which is not recommended. When you get a spray tan, it can be difficult to prevent excess mist from making contact with your eyes, nose and mouth. Further research is needed to determine the risks — if any — of this type of exposure. In the meantime, protect your eyes, mouth and nose when spray tanning and avoid inhaling the product.

You may also see self-tanning products sold in the form of pills containing canthaxanthin, a color additive used in foods. These pills are NOT safe. According to the Mayo Clinic, when taken in large amounts, canthaxanthin can turn your skin orange or brown and cause hives, liver damage and impaired vision.

If you choose to use a self-tanner, make sure you still practice proper sun protection as well. Self-tanning does not offer any significant UV protection, so even if you're sporting a faux tan, be sure to still use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 when you’re out in the sun. 

March 15, 2017 by Blue Lizard Staff

Self-tanning Tips: How to build a perfect tan without the danger

It’s almost Spring Break and you’re headed to the Florida coast for a little R&R. You can’t wait to enjoy some warm weather but are worried about your winter skin looking too pale when you put on your swimsuit for the first time in months. You know that tanning beds are dangerous and can lead to skin cancer and outdoor tanning also has risks.

 So what can you do if you want a healthy glow? Self tanner is a great and safe alternative to indoor and outdoor tanning. There are numerous self tanning products on the market that you can use to create a sun-kissed look without the risks. Self tanners come in a range of formulas from gels to creams to foams and in various shades.

The natural color of your skin should help determine the type of self tanner you buy. If you have pale skin, opt for subtle shades (look for the box that indicates fair or light skin). These shades will give you peachy-apricot coloring, rather than too orange. Bronzing when you're fair-haired and pale is all about getting a healthy glow without the color being too obvious. If you have medium or olive skin, most shades of bronzer will suit you; just choose the strength of tan you want (medium or deep).

Using self tanners can be tricky. You want to make sure you don’t end up looking like an Oompa Loompa or all splotchy and uneven.

Here’s how to create a flawless tan using self tanner:

  1. Cleanse and exfoliate your skin first with your favorite natural products
  2. Dry skin completely (drips cause streaking)
  3. For face and body, massage self tanner into skin in circular motions
  4. Use a small amount on elbows, knees, ankles, feet and hands
  5. Wash hands thoroughly with warm soap and water (orange palms are sure giveaway!)
  6. Wait 10-15 minutes until self-tanning lotion is absorbed before dressing
  7. To maintain tan level, repeat application after four to five days

Don’t forget that you still need to use sunscreen when heading outdoors to protect your skin from burning and skin damage.


March 14, 2016 by Blue Lizard Staff
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