Warmer weather is on it's way in the southern hemisphere, so that means peeling off the layers and revealing your pasty white skin to the world or making a beeline for the nearest bottle of sunless tanning lotion.
Tanned skin is perceived as a healthy glow. Tanning beds are out and while the sun is necessary for a vitamin D fix, hanging out in it for hours at a time to brown and burn isn't in either.
If you really knew what was in your average bottle of tanning lotion, would you still use it?
If you share my philosophy, that you should only put on your skin what you would be willing to chow down on, then the ingredient list on most tanning lotions equate to a bad idea.
HOW DO SELF-TANNING PRODUCTS WORK?
While health authorities say tanning lotions are safer than baking your skin in the sun, they don’t tell you about some of the potentially harmful ingredients found in many of them.
These products contain colour additives that interact with the skin's chemistry, causing it to look darker. The one approved chemical is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When it combines with amino acids in your skin, the DHA causes a browning reaction—similar to when you make toast or grill meat, explains Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine. That may sound scary but the browning only takes place in your skin’s "stratum corneum”—the topmost layer composed of dead cells, Friedman says. "Our bodies make a form of this stuff,” he adds, referring to DHA.
The fine print of using DHA comes with a list of protective measures such as avoiding contact with eyes, nose, and mucous membranes. A few years ago, a much-cited report from ABC News in the US raised concerns about spray-tanning salons and the risks of inhaling DHA and other self-tanning ingredients.
Subsequent research supported the idea that inhaling spray-on tanning chemicals could potentially raise your risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or cancer. The ABC News report cited Food & Drug Administration data suggesting that small amounts of DHA might seep through your skin and into your bloodstream but follow-up studies have failed to find evidence that DHA penetrates your skin’s protective barriers. To date there's no data to show that DHA is harmful when applied topically but if you're pregnant you may want to avoid it as a precautionary measure.
The most common risks of using tanning lotions and potions appear to be allergic reactions or irritation. On the upside they don't lead to skin cancer like actual sun exposure can.
SELF-TANNING INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Here are some of the more common ingredients that are best to avoid in suntanning lotions:
Mineral oil – a derivative of petroleum, it can be carcinogenic, is comedogenic (blocks your pores). It's used because it's a cheap carrier, creates slip and assists with spreadability.
Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate – this masquerades as a ‘natural preservative’ and in high concentrations is a skin and eye irritant. It's also been found to contain formaldehyde (added during processing) and may break down into formaldehyde once it has permeated the skin.
Amyl acetate – an ingredient used in the dry cleaning business. Ahh no thanks.
Octyl stearate – an irritant and also comedogenic (blocks pores).
Isopropyl myristate – also comedogenic and may bind to nitrates in the body... nitrates are carcinogenic.
Artificial fragrances and colours – many fragrances used in tanning products are created from petrochemicals and many chemicals used to create scents are known carcinogens (e.g. methylene chloride).sunless tanners are not a substitute for sunscreen, so if you put them on and are going outside, you must use a sunscreen as well.
I know people love the look and feel of a tan, so if you’re going to buy a tanning product, just make sure you scrutinise the label and investigate any ingredient you’re not sure about. No tan is worth risking your health over.
Also remember that sunless tanners are not a substitute for sunscreen, so if you put them on and you're heading outdoors, remember your skin is still unprotected so you're going to need a sunscreen as well.