Fact: there’s nothing like a fake tan to make you look and feel like a total bronzed babe. Instantly dialling up your radiance, a good self-tanning sesh gives you that just-back-from-Bali glow – without the risk of painful sunburn, peeling skin or awkward natural tan lines.
But have you ever wondered whether your weekly self-tanning ritual is all that much safer than spending time in the sun? Have you asked yourself, “is fake tan safe?” Or whether you should be taking any precautions when using it?
To answer your questions (and set your mind at ease), we sat down with leading British Cosmetic Dermatologist, Dr Simon Zokaie. Here’s what he had to say about self-tanning the safe way.
Let’s get straight to the point. Is self-tanning safe?
If you’re a fan of fake tanning, we come bearing good news. The common consensus among dermatologists is that self-tanners are a safe way to achieve a golden glow. Particularly when compared with the very real risk of unprotected sun exposure.
“Fake tanning is safer than using sun beds or sunbathing which has the risk of sunburns and premature photo ageing and risk of developing skin cancer in the future,” says Dr Zokaie.
And, as long as you patch test and avoid known irritants and allergens, fake tan can be used by all skin types. Including sensitive skins.
In fact, the only real danger of fake tanning is ending up with an orange tint or uneven, patchy tan. But don’t worry, honeys – if you follow our tanning commandments, your glow will be uniform and golden ☺.
What about DHA? Does it have any side effects?
Most sunless tanners and spray tans use the same active ingredient to give your skin its darkened hue: DHA. Short for dihydroxyacetone, DHA is a simple sugar that reacts with amino acids in dead skin cells to get you glowing.
Sounds safe enough, but is DHA harmful to the skin? Or to your health in general? So long as you’re using it correctly and at the right concentration, it’s considered low risk. While some concerns have been raised in the past over toxicity from highly concentrated DHA, the use of DHA in self-tan has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
At-home tanning products generally contain DHA at levels between 3-5% – levels deemed to be non-toxic and non-carcinogenic1. However, it’s always a good idea to follow product directions, apply self-tan in a ventilated area, and avoid ingesting any lotion or getting it in your eyes.
Another tip? Use a self-tanning product (such as our Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam) that’s been formulated with natural DHA.
“Some studies have shown DHA in fake tans can cause DNA damage,” says Dr Zokaie. “DHA can be manufactured synthetically, or it can be derived from natural things, like beet sugar or cane sugar. It’s better to use natural DHAs if possible.”
How can you safely (fake) tan your face?
What about tanning your face – should you use a different kind of product on delicate facial skin?
According to Dr Zokaie, it may be beneficial to use dedicated facial tanning products with lower concentrations of tanning actives. He also prefers more natural formulas. Designed specifically for the face, our non-drying, alcohol-free Bronzing Face Drops are formulated with all-natural DHA. Made to be mixed into your moisturiser for a customisable glow, they’re packed with five types of hyaluronic acid to plump, smooth and hydrate skin.
Are there any fake tanning ingredients you should avoid?
While fake tan is considered safe, self-tanners are definitely not created equal. Some contain harsh ingredients, cheap chemicals and allergens which can irritate the skin.
According to Dr Zokaie, the main tanning ingredients to avoid are:
- Mineral oil – a derivative of petroleum, mineral oil is comedogenic* and can be carcinogenic. It's used because it's a cheap carrier, creates slip and assists with spreadability. However, it’s best avoided.
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate – this mouthful of as ingredient 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. Need we say more?
- Octyl stearate – another irritant, this ingredient is also comedogenic.
- Isopropyl myristate – also comedogenic, isopropyl myristate 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).
*Which means it can clog pores and trigger breakouts.
How can you take extra care of your skin while self-tanning?
When it comes to the importance of taking care of the skin while tanning, we’re singing from Dr Zokaie’s songbook.
“Before applying fake a tan on to the skin, it’s advisable to prep the skin by applying a gentle exfoliator or scrub,” he says. This creates a smooth base for applying the tan and ensures it sits on the skin uniformly, for even results.
Post-tanning, Dr Zokaie also recommends regular moisturising to extend the life of your faux glow. However, he’s left his most crucial self-tanning tip for last.
“Remember that 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.”
You heard the good doctor – don’t be fooled into thinking fake tan offers sun protection. Minimise sun exposure when the UV Index is above 3, and don’t think you can skip the broad-spectrum SPF!
@coco_and_eve Finally - a self tan that’s safe for pregnant mommas! 🤰👏 Just like @maureenalexandranaudts #cocoandeve #mom #tanningroutine #selftan ♬ original sound - veggibeats
Is fake tan safe during pregnancy?
Are you an expectant mama, wondering if it’s still safe to tan? While most experts agree fake tanning’s fine, spray tanning is best avoided – due to the chance of breathing in some tanning mist. For more information and mum-to-be tanning tips, check out our article on self-tanning while pregnant.
Written By: Pip Jarvis
Edited by: Vidhya