Skin, Lip and Body Care

Sunless Tanning-Watch out for Toxic Ingredients

+ CV Skinlabs Team

Whether you’re after a healthy glow in the winter months or want to erase unsightly tan lines in the summer, self-tanners can be life savers for your best look. However, did you know that many contain chemicals that could be harmful to your health?

Lots of people choose self-tanners hoping to lower their exposure to UV rays and thereby reduce their risk of skin cancer. However, it doesn’t pay to exchange one cancer risk for another, so let’s look at some of the things you want to avoid when purchasing these golden goodies.

The main ingredient in self-tanners-DHA or “dihydroxyacetone”-is a non-toxic type of sugar that reacts with skin proteins to create brown or golden-brown compounds. DHA doesn’t penetrate the skin, but remains on the top layer (which is why the tan wears off within a few days, with the sloughing off of dead skin cells). For more details on how DHA works, see Chemical & Engineering News.

So if DHA is safe, where is the danger? Answer: In the other ingredients manufacturers include in tanners. Like in moisturizers, many self-tanners contain parabens (toxic preservatives), 1,4 dioxane (by-product of manufacturing), and synthetic fragrances. These chemicals have all been linked with cancer, so it’s best to avoid them in products that you apply to your skin. While the DHA tanning ingredient may not penetrate below the top layer of the skin, other ingredients might.

Another ingredient to watch out for-oxybenzone. A chemical sunscreen, it’s included in some self-tanning formulas to promote absorption of the lotion. However, laboratory studies have shown that it may contribute to cancer growth, and it’s also been connected to developmental and reproductive problems. In fact, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone as it is a hormone-disrupting chemical readily absorbed by the skin.

Are there better alternatives that don’t use these dangerous ingredients? You bet. You can even find some that are good for your skin! Alba Botanica Golden Tan Sunless Tanning Lotion, for example, contains green tea, ginkgo biloba, and aloe vera, with no parabens, no synthetic colors, and no animal testing. Lavera’s Self Tanner is an organic certified, award-winning product free of parabens and other synthetic ingredients.

Have you found a great toxin-free sunless tanner? Let us know.

Photo courtesy Shai Coggins via