Self-tanners are a great way to get that bronze glow all year round and without the sun damage. But that doesn’t mean all self-tanners are safe — we should still be mindful of the chemicals and ingredients that go into them.
There is no such thing as a safe suntan. A tan in and of itself is a sign of sun damage. Over time, the more our skin is exposed to the sun, this damage accumulates and can lead to skin cancer. A natural and/or organic self-tanner is a great option for those wanting a bronze look, without the health dangers. To ensure your tan is safe, it’s good to know how tan works, the common ingredients in tan and what to look for when choosing a self-tanner.
How does fake tan work? DHA is the chemical used in fake tans to turn the skin a darker colour. Chemically made DHA has been shown to damage and change cell DNA. However, not all DHA is necessarily harmful. Natural and organic fake tan uses naturally derived DHA, like from sugar, that has been extensively tested for its safety. There are some common chemicals in fake tan that we should look for and avoid. These chemicals include propylene glycol (a petrochemical), phenoxyethanol, parabens and artificial dyes and fragrances.
The chemicals in self-tanners can be harmful to our skin and inner health. Commercial spray tans use aerosol tanning bottles which can be risky as the chemicals can be absorbed by all mucous membranes (eyes and mouth) and inhaled, which can see the chemicals lodge in our lungs. Even fake tans that you use at home that aren’t spray-on, can be harmful to breathe in. Some studies have shown that DHA can enter the lungs and alter cells and organisms inside the body. However, the risk with a natural DHA is much less.
Most dermatologists agree that self-tanner is generally safe for the skin. When the DHA in a self-tanner interacts with amino acids on your skin it stains the dead skin cells brown. Fake tan doesn’t permanently stain your skin as the staining only happens on the first layer of skin. After about a week the skin that’s stained will naturally shed off and new skin cells will be formed. That said, the chemicals that can be found in conventional tanning products can dry out or harm the skin — just like any product that contains harsh chemicals and parabens. Mineral oil is sometimes used in fake tanners as it creates a slippy and spreadable consistency. However, mineral oil is a derivative of petroleum that has been shown to have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties. Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, often listed as a ‘natural preservative’, is irritating for the skin and eyes and can be found in some tans. You should also avoid artificial fragrances and colours which are often created from petrochemicals (no thanks) and irritate the skin.
There are two leading brands for safe, natural self-tanners that work. Eco Tan is one of the most popular self-tanner brands in Australia and for good reason. Eco Tan makes its DHA from natural and non-GMO vegetable sources. And the formulas are always chemical-free. The Eco Tan range has everything from tanning lotion and tanning mousse to face tan water. Wotnot Naturals new tanning range is also great for those wanting a natural way to get that bronze glow. The Wotnot Natural tans are certified-organic and natural, making them perfectly safe for your skin and lungs. If you want to avoid DHA altogether, you can try the Aussie Bronze DHA-free instant tan. This tan doesn’t contain any DHA which is why it doesn’t cling to or stain the skin, making it great for an instant bronze you can wear out and wash off at the end of the night.
Whether you choose a tanning lotion, mousse or spray depends on your skin type and preferred application. Lotions are great for those with drier skin types and who want something that is easy to apply. A gradual tanning lotion is the best option for those wanting subtle results, or those with fair skin. A mousse is perfect for those salon-like results at home and is easy to apply with a tanning mitt. You’ll want to use face tan water which will gradually tan the skin on your face to match your body. Don’t use a regular tan on your face, however, as the skin on your face is more delicate.
All-natural and organic self-tanners make achieving that sun-free summer bronze truly safe.