Self-Tanning: Is Fake Tan Safe?

Pale and interesting! Dark and mysterious! We like to imagine how the tone of our skin shapes our personalities. Well, summer is here for some and nearly here for others. That means open toed sandals, fewer and shorter clothes and lots of exposure to the elements. My very pale Irish skin actually tans very well but I long put those days basking in the sun behind me once I finally realized the damage I was doing to my skin.  Despite this, I still like a tan. I like how it looks and I--for whatever reason--feel better when my skin is a little darker. So what’s a pale person who likes a tan to do?

*Fake tanning is an option that many people choose, especially women. But people worry about the chemicals in fake tanning sprays and creams – are they safe? Can they cause cancer or other health conditions?

Fake tanning sprays and lotions contains a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (generally known as DHA) that is found in sugar and temporarily causes the skin to darken. Some create an instant tan, others take a couple of days to show. Once the skin sheds (every few days) the tan will go, along with the old skin. A reapplication is needed to keep the skin dark. DHA is generally harmless; the only issues that occur seem to with allergies, and these allergies could be from the DHA or from the other ingredients like scents or moisturizers, but otherwise, the tanning creams don’t cause harm.  Spray tans are less safe when not done correctly. Users need to make sure their faces (eyes/noses/mouths) are completely covered so that nothing is inhaled. Although a spray tan can take several minutes and breathing is essential, covering the face can drastically reduce the risk of breathing in the chemicals or having the eyes exposed.

Some tips for self-tanning: a full body scrub once a week is essential in order to slough off dead skin cells and avoid clustered pockets of color or streaking. This also helps tanning cream to go on the skin more smoothly. Use plenty of moisturizer or a tanning cream that has moisturizers built-in and if skin is sensitive, choose a lotion without added fragrances. Make sure to take special care around the elbows, knees, feet and other joints so that they don’t streak or look less smooth than the rest of the body.  Using less tanning cream in these areas will help and scrub them well.

Spread the tanning cream in rounded stokes so it goes on evenly.  Tanning creams and sprays come in various tones – light, medium, dark, extra dark, etc. Use the tone that matches how your skin looks when naturally tanned. And as mentioned above, make sure the face is covered when using a spray tan.

Most importantly, remember that fake tan is fake! Tanned looking skin is just as sensitive and apt to burn when outside as pale skin. Always use sunscreen that's 30+ or above. Naturally dark skin can also burn.

Being pale is quite beautiful.  There’s no reason to darken the skin, other than preferring the look of a golden tan, so there should be no pressure to feel one has to alter one's color to look good. However, many of us do love the look of a tan. And we easily and safely do this by using creams, lotions or spray.

*Note: The term "fake tanning" or "fake tans" is sometimes used to describe the tan gained from tanning beds. These tans are not fake. They are the same kind of tans gained from sun exposure and carry the same dangerous health risks. Many health experts believe the health risks from tanning booths are actually more dangerous than tanning from the sun itself.

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