Are Self-Tanners Safe?
It’s a classic question, especially for us Austinites who get to enjoy a longer than average summer season:
Is it better to bake it (sun tan) or to fake it (using self-tanners)?
Here’s all the facts you need to know in order to make the decision that’s right for you.
Sun Tanning Is Natural (And It Injures Your Skin
It’s no secret that worshipping the sun – especially without proper protection – can cause damage to your skin. And, it’s well known that the cellular changes that come from too much sun increase your risk for skin cancer.
(Note: According to studies, melanoma frequency is on the rise, even among adults under 40.)
But here’s something you might not know: In order for you to get a natural tan from the sun’s UV light, your skin has to be injured.
That’s one reason why self-tanners have become a popular option amongst those looking for the perfect sunkissed color, minus the damage.
How “Unnatural” Self-Tanners Work
Self-tanners contain an ingredient that stains the outermost layer of your skin. For the majority of self-tanning products on the market, that ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA).
When DHA combines with the amino acids in your skin, it creates a browning reaction. The browning only takes place in your skin’s “stratum corneum” – the outermost layer, which is composed of dead cells.
But DHA isn’t just involved in aesthetics. It’s actually one of the most important omega-3 fatty acids that you can consume. Omega-3 are powerhouses when it comes to overall health, and DHA, in particular, has shown to be particularly good for things like:
- Heart health
- Cardiovascular health
- Cognitive health
- And even eye health
It’s for this reason, that many dermatologists stand by the claim that, when used topically, DHA is the only safe way to have a tan appearance.
Why Self-Tanning Has a Bad Rep
A few years ago, a popular report from ABC News raised a number of concerns about spray-tanning salons… And for good reason.
At spray tanning salons, while you are having DHA applied topically, you’re also inhaling it (along with a number of other ingredients). Research showed that inhaling spray-on tanning chemicals could have all sorts of potential health consequences.
In fact, studies show that when inhaled you’re potentially raising your risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or even cancer.
But what about spreading DHA on your skin?
The ABC News report cited Food & Drug Administration data suggesting that small amounts of DHA might seep through your skin and into your bloodstream. However, it’s worth noting that since that FDA data came to light, follow-up studies have failed to find evidence that DHA penetrates your skin’s protective barriers.
Unfortunately, this addendum to the ABC report did not receive nearly as much attention – Meaning many people have erroneously assumed that all self-tanners are bad.
To clarify: When used as a cream, and rubbed into the skin correctly, DHA is completely safe!
In a Time Magazine article in 2015, Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, went as far as to say:
“There’s no data to show that DHA is harmful when applied topically… Pregnant women and children may want to avoid it just as a precaution, but this [topical DHA] is benign stuff.”
How To Use Topical Self-Tanners Correctly
While DHA is quite safe to use topically, you should still familiarize yourself with the best practices for applying it properly.
Correct application means avoiding the sensitive skin around your eyes and on your lips, as well as cuts or abrasions.
Could rubbing DHA into very thin or broken skin allow it to enter your system. Yes, but even if it got beyond your outer skin barrier, studies have proven that any risk is hypothetical.
Final Thoughts (And One Last Warning)
Compared to the well-established risks of sun exposure, topical self-tanning lotions are a safer option. As with any new cosmetic product, it’s always a good idea to do a small test on your skin to ensure that you don’t have any allergic reaction.
However, there is one additional warning to note:
Self-tanners do not offer your skin any protection from sun damage.
Some people think that having tanned skin from a self-tanner acts like sunscreen… But they most certainly do not.
That’s why, whether it’s summer or winter, or whether you’re naturally tan or beautifully dark with the help of some DHA, it’s always a smart idea to protect yourself from the sun’s UV with some mineral sunscreen.
Need help choosing the right DHA self-tanner or sunscreen for your particular skin care needs? We’re here to help! Book a free consultation online or call us at 800-954-7590.