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Sunless tanning products – a safe alternative to a tan

Want to get that sun-kissed look without the risk of skin cancer? There are lots of sunless tanning products that will give you a summer glow.

Are sunless tanning products safe?

image of a person getting a spray tan

Bronzers, self-tanners and spray tanners have not been shown to pose a health risk and are considered safe to use – if they’re applied correctly and carefully. They should only be applied externally to the skin and should not be used near your lips, mouth and nose or around your eyes. Be sure to protect those areas even if the sunless tanning product is being sprayed or airbrushed on professionally.

You should also be careful not to breathe in or swallow any of the products. If you’re applying the product yourself, follow the same precautions and follow the directions on the label.

Do I still need to wear sunscreen and protect my skin from the sun?

Yes. Sunless tanning products do not protect your skin from sun damage. Some self-tanning products contain sunscreen, but their sun protection factor (SPF) is generally low. Your tan will not protect you from exposure to harmful UV rays.

What are bronzers?

Bronzers are cosmetics that temporarily tint the skin’s surface a golden brown to give it a tanned look and can easily be washed off with soap and water. Tinted moisturizers and brush-on powders are bronzers. Bronzers are generally considered to be safe to use.

What are self-tanners?

Self-tanners that you apply to your skin are available in many forms, including lotions, creams, gels, mousses, cosmetic wipes and sprays. The most common ingredient used in self-tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is a sugar compound that comes from plant sources and is a colour additive. When absorbed, DHA reacts with the top layer of the skin and darkens or stains it, giving the skin a bronzed colour and the appearance of a tan. The “tan” is temporary and fades when you stop using the product and as the skin cells slough off. It usually disappears within about a week unless the product is reapplied.

What are spray tanners?

Spray tanners are like self-tanners, but they can be applied professionally by airbrushing or in spray tanning booths, which use sprays or misters to apply a solution to the body in a very short time. The most common ingredient in these solutions is DHA.

What are tanning pills and injectables? Are they safe?

Health Canada has not approved the use of oral tanning products (also known as tanning pills) or injectable tanning products for tanning purposes. Until they have been reviewed and experts believe they are safe, these products should not be used.