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Is self-tanner safer than the sun?

How safe is sunless tanner? By now you know it’s important to avoid sun exposure, but perhaps you still want a tan. Sunless tanners are a popular option and come in many forms: sprays, foams, lotions and oils. But are they a better option than sun exposure?

“When you expose your skin to the sun, your skin experiences damage, which leads to cellular changes that can turn malignant or cancerous,” explains Sarah Beer, M.D., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. “Sunless tanners are a safer option because they tint the top layer of the skin that sloughs off in two to three weeks.”

She adds that sunless tanners are deemed safe if their main ingredient is DHA, or dihydroxyacetone. DHA is derived from plant sources and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for skin tanning purposes.

Does self-tanner protect your skin from the sun?

If you use sunless tanner to achieve a glow, don’t forget to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 when you go outside.

“Self-tanner provides no protection from the harmful rays of the sun,” says Dr. Beer. “It is just a superficial tinting of the skin and has no protective properties from the damaging UVA/UVB rays.”

Are spray tans safe?

If you are new to sunless tanning, you might consider visiting a spray tan booth or having an aesthetician apply your spray tan. If you do, be sure to protect your mouth, lips, nose and eyes.

“The active ingredient in self-tanner [DHA] is approved by the FDA for external use on the skin,” she says. “However, we still do not know if the inhalation of DHA can lead to long-term lung damage. It is important to avoid chemical inhalation at all times.”

During a spray tan, protect yourself by:

  • Closing your eyes and holding your breath while the spray is applied.

  • Ensuring the room is well-ventilated (ask your aesthetician or a staff member).

  • Wearing lip balm, goggles and nose plugs.

While self-tanner can be a safer alternative than the sun, it won’t protect you from the sun’s rays and you should take extra care when using spray formulas.

Dr. Beer practices at Piedmont Physicians Fayette South, located at 730 Glynn Street South, Fayetteville, GA, 30214. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Beer online