I love my daily dose of sun and I definitely love the beach. Summer is my favorite time of the year and there’s nothing that can stop me from getting my surf on. There’s also something about tans that make you feel like it’s really summer because of that sun-kissed glow. I love taking my bikinis out and I’m just so excited for that tan line to show up after a few hours of bathing under the sun.
I’m guilty, yes. Most of us are.
Tans can become an obsession, others even need a little boost— like self-tanners and tanning sprays. Some of us could really use some golden glow, even with the help of these canned or tubed formulas.
First and foremost, let’s discuss how self-tanners, including spray tans, work.
How do self-tanners work?
The active ingredient in tanning products is dihydroxyacetone or also known as DHA. It is a simple carbohydrate that can be derived chemically or from natural resources. Once DHA is applied, it causes a reaction with the amino acids in your skin’s top layer, which generates compounds called melanoidins. This helps in creating the brown color because it absorbs certain wavelengths of light. This is called the “Maillard Reaction”. The reaction starts within two to four hours and may continue up to 72 hours until the dead cells shed and causes the tan to fade.
Are they safe?
Let’s say that these products can give you a temporary tanned glowing look. However, it can also increase your free radical exposure. The issue with self-tanners is that the DHA reaction or Maillard Reaction is synonymous to what happens when you caramelize sugar or grill meat. Picture that reaction on your skin and it’s pretty much clear that it’s not as safe as we thought it would be.
Lately, there’s a rise in DHA-free tanning products, mainly because of these reasons:
- Oxidative Stress – The reaction triggered by DHA generates free radicals. Free radicals are known to be highly reactive chemical byproducts that attack cell structures and damage collagen and elastin fibers– which is linked to wrinkles, premature aging and sagging skin.
- Increased Sun Damage – Oxidative stress worsens once you go out in the sun after applying tanning products with DHA.
- DNA Damage – Long-term use of DHA can produce consequences to the genotoxic capacity of DHA and have been found to induce DNA damage. DNA damage leads to cancer, and about 20% of Americans will get skin cancer.
- Less Vitamin D Production – Using DHA can disrupt the body’s process of producing vitamin D.
- Contact Dermatitis – Prolonged use of DHA can lead to irritation and inflammation which can cause contact dermatitis.
I think I really need my tan despite all these, what do I do?
Choose your self-tanner wisely. Be mindful of checking the labels for ingredients that could possibly harm your health. If by any chance that you still choose to use a self-tanner, consider skipping spray altogether and opt for creams instead. This doesn’t mean that you should regularly use it too, you might want to just use it on special occasions that you feel like you need it most.
There are cleaner formulas out there and you just have to find your perfect fit. Most drugstore and department store brands mostly have toxic ingredients such as dyes, synthetics, fragrance in addition to DHA may cause reactions. Others even include carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Look for brands that are made with natural and simple botanical ingredients.
For something that is more natural, you can try smoothies that can give your skin a golden glow. While I still recommend that you stop using self-tanners overall, I know that others may feel like they simply need these formulas for a bigger cause.
I know people who have skin discolorations that they want to hide on certain occasions, so they choose to use tanning creams in order to create an illusion of an even skin tone. This is acceptable, I understand completely.
However, some of you might want to consider that loving your skin as it is may be a better option than risking your health over beauty standards. I think all of you are beautiful and that’s what matters most.