Sunless tanning: what options do you have?


Sun exposure can harm your appearance and your health. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun can cause sunburn, premature aging, skin cancer, and eye damage. Despite this, many Americans continue to strive for a “perfect” tan. Is there such a thing as a safe tan? Sunless tanning options offer an alternative to bathing in the sun’s rays.

Sunless tanning is growing in popularity. And with the development of sunless tanning products and methodologies, the results look more natural than ever before. Sunless tanning can even encourage people to protect their skin from the sun. But are some sunless tanning options safer than others? Here’s more information on the sunless tanning options available.

Spray tanning booths

The most common sunless tanning service offered at tanning salons is spray tanning booths. Spray tanning booths work by providing an even layer of the chemical dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to your skin using spray machines located inside enclosed booths. DHA works by interacting with dead cells on the skin’s surface to darken skin color, simulating a tan. Results typically last for several days.

DHA is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cosmetic application, but is approved for external use only. DHA is not approved for the eye or lip areas, and should not be inhaled or ingested. This type of exposure is difficult to avoid in spray tanning booths. Before using a spray tanning booth, the FDA advises asking if your eyes and lips will be protected, and if you’ll be protected from inhaling or ingesting the spray. If the answer is no, you should find another salon.

airbrush tanning

A potentially safer (but more expensive) method of receiving an even layer of DHA is an airbrush tan. During an airbrush tan, a salon technician covers your eyes, lips, and other mucous membranes, and sprays a layer of DHA onto your skin using a compressor spray. A natural-looking tan will appear within a few hours and will typically last for several days. The benefit of airbrushing is that it results in an even tan while reducing the risk of inhalation, eye and lip exposure.

self tanning lotions

Self-tanning lotions are available over the counter at pharmacies and cosmetic stores. These self-tanners contain DHA. For a natural looking tan, apply lotion evenly to skin. The results will appear within a few hours and will last for several days. With spray booth tanning, airbrush tanning, and self-tanning lotions, you’ll have more even results if you exfoliate your skin with a scrub brush or loofah before applying tan.

suntan lotions

Bronzers include tinted moisturizers and brush-on powders. Bronzers can be used to temporarily color the skin, achieving a sun-kissed appearance. It’s hard to get a full, even tan with bronzers, but they can add some color to pale skin. Bronzers, like makeup, wash off with soap and water.

tanning pills

Tanning pills are not safe and are not approved by the FDA. They contain the coloring additive called canthaxanthin. When ingested, canthaxanthin can turn the skin orange or brown. Its use has been linked to a number of serious health problems, including eye damage and severe itching.

So far, it seems that the safest ways to achieve a fake tan are the use of bronzers, self-tanning lotions, and airbrush tanning. If you use spray tanning booths, make sure your eyes and lips are protected and that you don’t inhale or ingest the spray. And remember that sunless tanning, while darkening the skin, does not protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, so wear sunscreen or stay dressed to protect yourself.