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Safest way to get a tan

Last updated on October 24, 2017

With all the warnings about skin cancer, finding alternative ways to get that golden glow has become more important than ever. The good news is that there are some self tanning products that can offer a safe way to get a natural looking tan whether its summer or winter. Here’s a look at some tanning options and what doctors have to say about them.

Tanning pills

Most tanning pills contain the color additive canthaxanthin, which is an orange coloring similar to beta-carotene. When you take tanning pills these additives are deposited through the entire body turning the skin an orange-like hue. The American Cancer Society warns consumers these color additives have been shown to appear in the eyes as yellow crystals causing impaired vision and have been reported to cause skin hives and liver problems. The FDA has not approved any of these additives for consumption in tanning pills.

Tanning beds

Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D. and Mayo Clinic dermatologist say, “tanning beds don’t offer a safe alternative to natural sunlight.” He explains that regardless of where the UV exposure comes from — from a tanning bed or from the sun — radiation damages the skin and puts tanners at a high risk of premature ageing and skin cancer. Furthermore, he warns that tanning beds also emit UVA rays, the rays responsible for an increased risk of developing melanoma.

Sunless tanning products and accelerators

While sunless tanning products are a safer alternative to tanning beds or the sun, these products are not without their own risks. Self-tanners, or sunless tanning products as they’re also called, are commonly found in sprays and lotions that are applied topically to the skin. These tanning products work via tanning additives such as erythrulose or more commoly, a primary color additive called dihydroxyacetone.

Dihydroxyacetone, which can also be found on product labels under the name glycerone or DHA, is a simple carbohydrate created from sugar cane or sugar beets during a fermentation process. It is also the same simple carbohydrate used in making wine.

While dihydroxyacetone itself is colorless, when applied to the skin it reacts with dead skin cells, which results in a temporary staining of the skin. Mayo Clinic doctors explain that since your dead skin cells naturally fall off over the course of a few days, the color too, will also disappear and require reapplying. Sunless tanners are considered the safest alternative to getting that sun-kissed glow.

However, the American Cancer Society warns that tanning accelerators that contain the amino acid tyrosine (or its derivatives) are not considered effective or safe. Tanning accelerators are often marketed as being able to stimulate the body’s own tanning process, but research shows different.

Although dihydroxyacetone has been approved for external use in tanning products, the FDA has not approved it for internal use, so you need to avoid using self-tanners around the eyes, nose or mouth. When using spray-tanning products, take care not to accidentally inhale the product. You can avoid inhaling spray tanners by holding your breath and wearing nose plugs and goggles while spraying.

It’s important to note that tanning products do not offer any form of sun protection. If you skin is dark from using self-tanners, you will still need to apply adequate sunscreen to protect yourself from ultraviolet rays while outside.


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