If you’re someone who loves to have a sun-kissed glow, but you’re too concerned about your health to lay in the sun or in a tanning bed, products that tan your skin without the harmful rays may seem like the perfect solution.
But are they safe? It depends.
Sunless tanning products include tanning pills, tanning accelerators, bronzers, and extenders.
Tanning pills use a color additive called canthaxanthin that, when ingested, causes the skin to turn orange. While the additive has been FDA approved for use in food, it has not been approved for use at the levels that are contained in tanning pills. At these high levels, canthaxanthin can be harmful. There have been reports of skin, eye, and liver problems brought on by the use of tanning pills.
Tanning accelerators come in lotion or pill form and claim to stimulate the body’s tanning process. However, the FDA calls them ineffective and unproven to be safe.
Bronzers contain color additives that have been approved by the FDA for cosmetic purposes. They work by dying the skin and can be washed off with soap and water.
Tan extenders, or self-tanners, are lotions or creams that interact with proteins on your skin’s surface to produce a tan color that wears off in a few days. The active ingredient in extenders is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is FDA approved for topical use. However, extenders are now used in spray tans which offer the appeal of an even application. Because the FDA did not approve DHA for internal use, it’s unclear whether the substance is safe when inhaled during a spray tan.
So while there are seemingly safe tanning alternatives, be sure to do your research before using any product, and see a dermatologist annually for a full body skin cancer exam.