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Are Self Tanners Safe?

Self tanners have made their mark on the cosmetic industry. Are they a safe alternative to sun exposure?

Before modern cosmetic technology introduced the ubiquitous self-tanner you had to spend hours lying in the sun to look good in that strapless yellow dress. Not to mention the damage you inflicted upon your skin in terms of aging and skin cancer risk. All of that changed when the new and improved self-tanner hit the shelves. No more QT orange tone! These tanners actually gave a realistic looking tan. But, have you ever stopped to wonder about the safety of applying self tanner products to your skin? Are self-tanners safe?

What is it that causes self-tanners products to give skin that bronze glow? The active ingredient in self-tanning products is a natural chemical, dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA. This ingredient is derived from raw sugar cane and has been deemed to be relatively harmless, although there have been some reported allergic reactions. In some cases, dihydroxyacetone is combined with erythrulose, a carbohydrate that turns the skin a pleasing tan color. These simple ingredients work their magic by interacting with cells in the outer layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum. When this interaction takes place, a color change occurs, resulting in the impressive tan color you see when you look in the mirror.

Because DHA and erythrulose only act on the outer layers of the skin, absorption into the body doesn’t occur to any significant degree which limits its toxicity. There is, however, the potential for a local allergic reaction. These are not common, but when they occur they manifest as red, itchy skin and irritation. 

There is one area of concern when it comes to the issue of whether or not self-tanners are safe. A study showed that immediately after applying self-tanners, the skin is more susceptible to damage from the sun for the first twenty-four hours after application. For this reason, sun exposure should be avoided for a day after applying self-tanner products. Keep in mind that most self-tanner products contain no sunscreen so you have no ultraviolet light protection.

Although self-tanners appear to be safe in terms of their primary ingredients, read the bottle carefully before purchasing since many contain parabens and dyes which may be unhealthy. There are now organic self-tanners available which can be ordered from the internet. These may be difficult to find locally, although some health food stores and natural food markets carry them. Organic self-tanning products use soy extracts and essential oils in addition to DHA to turn the skin a golden brown.

Self-tanning products, if carefully selected to avoid added dyes, parabens, and other questionable chemicals, appear to be safe. When you consider the alternative of sun exposure, you can even argue that they provide the benefit of helping you reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. Self-tanning products are a safer way to get the warm glow of summer without lying in the sun.

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