Are Sunless Tanners Safe?


Fall is sweeping across the Northern Hemisphere, and many of us are starting to bundle up against the cold. For the lighter skinned lots, this means a loss of that summer glow. And when you spent the summer months alternating between organic sun blocks and healthy doses of Vitamin D through sunbeams, it can seem like a loss. So some turn to self tanners. But can a product that literally turns your skin a different color be safe?

Sunless tanners contain a sugar that reacts with the skin’s proteins to create the golden hue so coveted by tanners. Called Dihydroxyaceton (DHA), it works on the top layer of skin cells and does not penetrate the deeper layers of skin. This is why the tan fades so easily in a few days. DHA often comes from plant sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane. The Skin Deep database gives the ingredient a low to moderate hazard rating depending on how much you use the product. (It gets a 2 if you use it relatively infrequently, but can go as high as 5 if you use it daily.)

So if DHA is okay in moderation, then why do traditional self tanning products rate so poorly when it comes to product safety? Basically, it’s the reason that many traditional cosmetics can rate so toxic, and that is due to the presence of a baddie of fragrance. Most of the chemicals used in fragrance are petroleum derivative. Further, they contain chemicals that are connected to cancer, allergies and more. Other sunless tanners contain the toxic preservatives otherwise known as parabens.


Your best bet? If you’re going to use self-tanner, make sure the product is as clean as possible – aka free of fragrance, parabens and more. One of the more well-known green self tanners on the market is Lavera’s Self Tanner ($26.00). Winner of several eco accolades, the product claims to give a safe, natural tan with organic soy extracts. Containing organic ingredients, it is certified natural by the BDIH guidelines of Germany. It is also free of parabens, SLS and synthetic preservatives.

But how does it work? After a hop in the shower, I slathered some on my gams. The fragrance is light but noticeable. It does give you a nice, overall glow after a few hours, and it’s a great option for a last-minute color. It goes on a bit like a moisturizer and isn’t too heavy. Is it perfectly clean? Not quite, as Skin Deep rates it at a moderate hazard (the presence of fragrance does it again!). But if you’re okay with that and looking for a little color, it’s not a bad option – and it is certainly better than many of the traditional self tanners on the drugstore market.

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Image: evilerin

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.