Are self tanners safe?

Self-tanners are increasingly used. Celebrities like Kate Moss, Jeniffer Aniston, Elle Macpherson swear by it. But is it safe to tan without sun? More and more studies doubt this. Time to dive into the matter.

Which self-tanners are there?
Broadly speaking, you can divide the self-tanners into two categories: self-tanners with dyes and self-tanners that let your skin color itself. As a spray, cream, mousse or lotion. For home use, or applied in a professional tanning salon.

Dye-based self-tanners
These have the disadvantage that they give off. In addition, the dyes that are used are often not very healthy.

Self-tanners that let your skin color itself
The active substance in this type of self-tanner is dyhydroxyacetone (DHA) . A triple sugar that occurs naturally in your body. DHA reacts with the proteins (amino acids) in your top skin layer (dead skin cells). The proteins color brown and thus provide a complexion. DHA continues to work for 8-24 hours. The higher the concentration of DHA, the more intense the tan. In most cosmetic products the percentage of DHA is 3-5%, in professional products between 5-15%. Compared to a dye-based self-tanner, it takes a little longer for your skin to tan, but the result is longer-lasting. And your skin doesn't give off.

    Sun tan or DHA brown, what's the difference?
    Your skin protects itself against the UV radiation of the sun, because skin cells in your skin - melanocytes - produce pigment and send it from the inside to your skin surface as a kind of defense army. These pigments block UV radiation. Since they are colored brown, you get a tint. Which is basically a kind of natural sunscreen. DHA works from the outside, it gives a tan through a reaction with the skin cells in your top layer of skin. Because the colored skin cells slowly leave your skin, your tan will disappear after about five to eight days.

    Is DHA safe?
    DHA is a body's own substance, a triple sugar, that occurs naturally in your body. So in fact it should be safe for your body. Yet lately you increasingly read that DHA can harm your health (1), (2), (3). Is this so?

    Asthma or lung cancer due to DHA?
    In spray tanners, DHA can pose a risk to your health. If you inhale DHA, it can enter your bloodstream and potentially cause asthma, lung cancer, or other illnesses. Spray tanners are often used in tanning salons. Avoid inhaling when you go to a tanning booth and don't go that often. To prevent harmful effects in the long term. Never go if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

    Skin damage from DHA?
    DHA in self-tanner lotions, creams or mousse that you use at home cannot do this damage. It reacts very quickly with the proteins on your top layer of skin (a non-toxic reaction), making it almost impossible for your body to absorb. The reaction of DHA and proteins on your skin is an oxidation process in which some free radicals are released during the first few hours after application. You can prevent this by using a cream with anti-oxidants. For example, the skin's own Dr. Baumann Vitamin Cream or Body Lotion Vitamin .

    To test the effects of regular use of DHA on the skin, a study was conducted in 2009 on Mexican crested dogs (5). 5% DHA was applied to the skin daily. After 21 days, the dogs' skin appeared to be irritated and slightly inflamed. After 42 days, the inflammation had worsened and the skin was damaged. Now we are not dogs, but based on this research I advise not to use self-tanners with DHA continuously. Even though DHA is a skin's own substance. In principle, you only have to apply the organically certified self-tanning products from EcoTan once for a tan for a few days.

    Which is safer? Sun or DHA?
    It is difficult to answer this. In fact, both are okay when used sparingly!

    You need sunlight for the production of vitamin D and immune-boosting nitrogen dioxide . As long as you don't burn, the risk of skin cancer from sun damage is relatively small. But the ultraviolet light from the sun also damages collagen and elastin. Which promotes wrinkle formation. Sunlight in combination with air pollution is even worse for our skin. This combination ensures the production of free radicals, which cause DNA damage. Which in turn can lead to, among other things, premature wrinkle formation.

    For a tan without sun, a self-tanner based on skin's own DHA is the best option. Provided it does not contain skin-irritating preservatives, fragrances or dyes. And as long as you don't use the self-tanner for too long in a row. Preferably not in the form of a spray.

    Does a self-tanner protect against the sun?
    No! Only your top layer of skin is colored. No sun is needed for this. Your skin's natural defense mechanism to protect you from the sun is not activated. If you use a product with 5% DHA or more, your skin is even more sensitive to free radical damage from the sun up to 24 hours after application. So protect it well!

    Do not use (spray) self-tanner before an operation
    A case study showed that the substance from the self-tanner reacted with a number of products required for the operation (3). Which made the operation more complex. This is just one case, but it's better to be on the safe side.

    Do you want a tanned tan, but prevent premature wrinkle formation due to UV radiation from the sun? Then a self-tanner based on skin's own DHA is the best option. Provided it does not contain skin-irritating preservatives, fragrances or dyes. But don't exaggerate. Even though DHA is a skin substance, too much DHA in the body can also damage or destroy your skin cells.

    Sources: (1); (2); (3) (4) (5)