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Sunless Tanning

What is Sunless Tanning?

Sunless tanning is considered a convenient alternative to sunbathing.  It gives the skin a tanned look without the harmful ultraviolet rays.  Although sunless tanning is widely accepted as safe, sunless products may carry some risks depending on how they are used.

How does Sunless Tanning work?

Sunless tanning is usually achieved by applying a cream, gel, lotion, or spray to the skin.  In most tanning products, the active ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA).  DHA reacts with dead skin cells on the outermost layer of skin and temporarily darkens the skin.  The coloring doesn’t wash off, but gradually fades as the dead skin cells slough off.  Skin cells renew often and the epidermis renews itself completely every month or so.

Who is a good candidate for Sunless Tanning?

Sunless tanning may be useful for individuals who want to be tanned, but are fair skinned and burn easily. It also may be useful for individuals who want to be tanned year-round, and don’t want to go to tanning beds.

What results may be expected from Sunless Tanning products?
Sunless tanning products usually go on clear, and darken the skin gradually.  Individuals may see results after an hour, or within eight to 24 hours.  However, some sunless tanning products contain a tint that begins darkening the skin immediately. 

Sunless spray-on tanning is available at tanning salons.  These tans are sprayed evenly over the entire body.  Sunless tans usually last five to seven days.  If an individual wishes to maintain the sunless tan, it is recommended that application occur every three days.

Is Sunless Tanning safe?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers DHA safe when applied to the skin.  DHA darkens the skin by reacting with the amino acids on the skin’s surface.  However, the risks, if any, of inhaling or ingesting DHA are unknown.  Therefore, proper precautions should be taken to prevent DHA from getting into or near the eyes, nostrils, or lips.  During spray-on tanning, individuals are often encouraged to wear protective devices like goggles and nose plugs.  Generally, sunless tanning methods are regarded as safe alternatives to sunbathing.

Are tanning pills safe?

No.  Sunless tanning pills are regarded as unsafe, and are not approved by the FDA.  These pills contain an ingredient called canthaxanthin, which is a color additive.  Canthaxanthin settles in parts of the body, including the skin, when taken in large quantities.  It can cause canthaxanthin retinopathy, and hepatitis.  Retinopathy is the formation of yellow crystals in the retina of the eye.  Tanning pills can also cause nausea, cramps and diarrhea.

Is Sunless Tanning affordable?

There are many different brands of sunless tans.  Since all sunless tan products use the same active ingredient, it is easy to find an affordable brand at a local drugstore.

How to achieve the best results:

Many sunless tanning products suggest adding additional coats every three hours to obtain the desired color.  However, since sunless tanners can continue to darken for many hours, they should not be reapplied for at least twelve hours after the initial application. 

For very light skinned individuals, dark-tanning products should not be used.  Light skinned individuals should start with a very light tanning product, and gradually use darker products. 

The product should be applied evenly and lightly.  The skin should be exfoliated prior to application to remove excess dead skin cells.  This allows for a more even application because the skin’s surface will be smooth.  Less of the sunless tanning product should be applied to dry skin or thickened skin, like over the knees and elbows, since they tend to absorb the product more readily. 

Individuals should wait 15 to 20 minutes after the product is applied to dress which may help avoid staining clothes.  Shaving body hair may be considered for a more even application.

Disclaimer: This information is intended only as an introduction to this procedure. This information should not be used to determine whether you will have the procedure performed nor does it guarantee results of your elective surgery. Further details regarding surgical standards and procedures should be discussed with your physician.

By Staff
Updated: December 14, 2008

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