It’s a fact that excessive sun tanning is bad for your skin and health, but self tanners are the perfect, completely safe alternative, aren’t they? Maybe not. Why does everything good have to be bad for you??? I guess self tanners aren’t that great since they smell bad, they’re hard to apply, and they can turn you orange and streaky, but still…
So it turns out that DHA (Dihydroxyacetone), the ingredient in self tanners that gives you color, also creates free radicals, which ironically age the skin:( This information comes from one study out of Germany that showed a 180% increase in free radical formation during sun exposure after using a product with a 5% level of DHA. The increase in free radicals from the sun lasts for about 24 hours. Most drugstore sunless tanning products contain 3-5% DHA. Professional products can contain up to 15% DHA. I have a feeling spray tans are pretty high in DHA since they can produce such dramatic results.
How to keep your skin safe when wearing self tanner
Essentially, don’t go in the sun if you’re wearing a self tanner! Luckily, that’s the point of self tanners – to avoid the need for sun exposure to get tan. Of course it’s impossible to totally avoid the sun, so wear lots of sunscreen, plus put on a topical product with antioxidants to neutralize the extra free radicals. And it’s only the first 24 hours that produces the extra free radicals, and most people only apply self tanner every few days.
Erythulose, which is another self tanner ingredient, also causes a similar increase in free radicals. I’ve only heard of this one particular German study on sunless tanning ingredients, so maybe other studies would show different results, but I sort of doubt it. The study goes on to say “…dihydroxyacetone also has an effect on the amino acids and nucleic acids which is bad for the skin.” This is what scares me the most, because I don’t know what exactly that means, and does that mean DHA is bad for your skin even if you don’t go in the sun? UGH. Leslie Baumann, a Dermatologist who wrote one of my favorite books “The Skin Type Solution” also reports on whether self tanner ingredients are dangerous.
Will this information have any impact on how much you use self tanners? Usually I am too lazy to apply self tanner regularly, but now that spring is here, I am self-conscious about my big pasty arms, and in fact I just slathered on some self tanner on them this morning. I will definitely skip applying self tanner on days I know I will be outside, but I don’t see myself giving up on them completely. I haven’t used many bronzers, but maybe I will look into those for my face as an alternative.