How Safe Is Sunless Tanning?

You may have heard that sunless tanning is a safe alternative to a natural suntan or an indoor tanning bed. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunless tanning as the only safe method to achieve that perfect bronzed glow. But what exactly is sunless tanning, and is applying a chemical cosmetic product to your skin really better than sunbathing outdoors on a hot day?

Here, we have some answers to your common questions about sunless tanning.

What is Sunless Tanning?

Sunless tanning is a method of self-tanning that does not involve exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Any tan achieved by the sun or by a tanning bed is skin damage. There is no such thing as a safe natural tan, and UV rays are the number one risk factor for all types of skin cancer. A sunless tan (or self-tanner) creates the same bronzed glow as a natural tan, but color is applied via a cream, lotion, spray, or wipes.

How Does Sunless Tanning Work?

As stated above, self-tanners come in creams, lotions, sprays, and wipes. The active ingredient in sunless tanning products is a color additive called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is a chemical derived from glycerin (like in beet or cane sugar) and it temporarily darkens the skin when applied topically. DHA interacts only with the stratum corneum, which is the skin’s outermost layer of dead skin cells. The body sheds this surface layer of dead cells regularly, so the skin darkening effect of DHA will last only until the stratum corneum sloughs off, usually between five to ten days.

What Does the FDA Say About DHA?

The FDA has approved the use of DHA in cosmetic products for external application only. The FDA does not approve applying DHA to areas of the body with mucous membranes (around the eyes, lips, nose, and pubic area), applying DHA to areas of the skin with cuts or open wounds, or inhaling DHA. Currently, there is not enough clinical research available to determine the effects DHA has when it is inhaled or when it enters the bloodstream.

What Are the Risks of Sunless Tanning?

Like all cosmetic products, you could have an allergic reaction to sunless tanners. While DHA is the active ingredient in self-tanning solutions, many products also contain inactive ingredients like fragrances, parabens, latex, or nut and fruit extracts that could cause skin irritation.

Sunless tanning products do not contain sunscreen or provide UV ray protection, as many people believe. If you are going to spend time outside, you will still need to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing to avoid sunburns and skin damage.

How Do I Use a Sunless Tanning Product?

Follow the directions on the product label. Make sure you have a way to cover your eyes, mouth, nose, and pubic area while you apply the solution. Exfoliate your skin beforehand to remove excess dead skin cells. Areas of dry, thick, or calloused skin will absorb more of the product and turn a darker shade of orange or brown.

It may be easier for you to apply sunless tanner in sections – arms, legs, trunk, etc. If you are using a cream or lotion, wipe off your hands between sections so you don’t stain your palms. After you finish, apply baby powder or lotion to joints – elbows, knees, and ankles – because these areas tend to absorb more product. Give yourself adequate time to dry before showering, putting on clothing, or venturing outside.

If you apply DIY sunless tanning products at home, you run a greater risk of streaking, smearing, and uneven application. Here at Ageless Allure Medispa (AAMS), we offer a sunless tanning treatment session using a natural, organic, and hypo-allergenic solution. Our treatment is fun, quick, and safe – contact our clinic today to schedule your appointment.