Tanning booths are considered unhealthy by dermatologists, but what about sunless tanning (A.K.A. self tans, UV-free tans, fake tans)? While rocking the natural skin look is most recommended, those who cannot ditch the glow should opt for self tanners over UV tanning. First learn how it works. Then how to properly apply it.
At the local drug-store and you’ll find self tanners in the form of lotions, creams, sprays and tanning wipes. All contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a sugar molecule that darkens the top layer of skin and is the main ingredient used in self tanners. DHA does not instantly dye the skin. Rather, over the course of a few hours, skin will gradually brown. This color will fade in 5 – 10 days.
In the 1920’s DHA was first used as an active ingredient in the pharmaceutical field. Then, in 1957 a doctor discovered the tanning properties of DHA. DHA is the only approved agent for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for artificial tanning—external use only. According to the FDA tanning pills pose many risks, thus they are not FDA approved. Similarly, Melanotan, an illegal synthetic hormone injection that tans skin, can have serious side effects, possibly including death.
Melanie D. Palm, MD, MBA, recently wrote an article for the Skin Cancer Foundation where she states, “There is no clear evidence that DHA is harmful to humans if applied topically and used as directed. Concern about DHA arose recently when a study correlated use of highly concentrated amounts of DHA with production of free radicals, molecules that form naturally in the body due to oxygen use and can damage cells. However, concentrations used in sunless tanning preparations are considered non-toxic and non-carcinogenic.” Self tanners typically contain between 3 and 5 percent DHA.
If you’re going to use self-tanning spray or visit a spray tan booth, it’s recommended not to inhale or get into the mucus membranes as the long-term health effects for inhalation are not yet determined. When the FDA originally approved DHA for external use back in 1977, it was popular in tanning lotions. Now that is comes in spray form, toxicologists are concerned and urge consumers to use with caution.
Self tanners do not provide any protection from the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen daily. Remember to apply and reapply as directed. If you’re spending the day outdoors, opt for sun protective clothing, sun hats and UV sunglasses as well.
If you decide to try self tanning, follow these tips from American Academy of Dermatology for proper application:
1. Exfoliate. Using an exfoliating product or wash cloth will help remove dead skin cells. Spend a little more time exfoliating where your skin is thickest — elbows, knees and ankles.
2. Dry your skin. Drying your skin before you apply a self-tanner helps it go on evenly.
3. Apply in sections. Apply the self-tanner in sections (such as the arms, then legs, followed by the torso). Massage the self-tanner into your skin in a circular motion.
4. Wash your hands after each section. You will avoid orange-colored palms by washing your hands with soap and water after you finish applying the self-tanner to each section of your body.
5. Blend at your wrists and ankles. For a natural look, you need to lightly extend the tanner from your wrists to your hands and from your ankles to your feet.
6. Dilute over your joints. Lightly rub with a damp towel or apply a thin layer of lotion on top of the self-tanner.
7. Give your skin time to dry. Wait at least 10 minutes before getting dressed. For the next three hours, it is best to wear loose clothing and try to avoid sweating.
8. Apply sunscreen every day.
The safest color is still “natural” skin color. If tanning is a must, take all facts into consideration and remember the safer route – self tanners, not UV tanners (A.K.A. tanning beds).
1. National Toxicology Program: DHA
2. SCF: Ask the Experts: Are Self Tanners Safe?
3. FDA: Tanning Pill
4. FDA: Tanning Injection Warning Letter
5. Huffington Post: Did Tanning Injections Lead to Bolton Woman’s Death?
6. ABC.com: Are ‘Spray-On’ Tans Safe? Experts Raise Questions as Industry Puts Out Warnings
7. AAD: How to apply self-tanner
Disclaimer: The information provided by Coolibar and its contributors is general skin care information and should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem.