Tanning beds still popular despite dangers; is sunless tanning an alternative?

A recent survey confirmed that 32% of respondents  (3800 white, non-hispanic females ages 14-22) reported using a tanning bed in the past year .   These results are pretty alarming since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s International  panel have declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial light sources such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen.  Studies show indoor tanning increases a person’s risk of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer,  by 75%.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sunless tanning products are  a practical alternative to sunbathing, but they have to be used carefully.   They have been around for years and continue to improve (remember the earlier versions that streaked your legs and colored the palms of your hands orange!).    Sunless tanner are products that provide a tanned appearance without exposure to the sun or a tanning booth.   The active compound is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive that temporarily darkens the skin by reacting with amino acids in the skin surface.   The coloring does not wash off (like it does with cosmetic bronzers) but it fades as the top layer of skin sloughs off, typically in a few days.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate sunless tanners but it does regulate color additives which includes DHA.  However, its use is restricted to external use only which by the FDA definition excludes applying to the eye area (lids, lashes, skin below the eyebrow and skin below the eye)  or any body surface covered by mucous membrane such as the lips.   The FDA has not issued any safety data on the misting action of tanning booths.

If you are getting a sunless tan spray, it is important that you take adequate precautions to cover your eye area and lips.   DHA is not approved for internal use so take care not to inhale or ingest the product.  Also, most sunless tanning products do NOT contain sunscreen so if you go out in the sun, be sure to lather up with sunscreen.

On a final note, tanning pills generally contain the pigment, canthaxanthin.   While this chemical has been approved as a food additive, it is not approved as a tanning agent.  The amount of canthaxanthin in tanning pills is much more concentrated than what is used as a food coloring additive, and serious side effects such as liver disease have been reported.   Avoid the tanning pills.

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Karen
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this info. I have always shied away from tanning beds, being long aware of the dangers. I had been considering the tanning pills though, as I am cursed/blessed with ivory skin and am getting slightly tired of being referred to as “that really pale girl”!! I think I’ll give these a miss and try the tanning sprays instead. As long as they don’t streak in the rain like the old ones!

  2. My Vogue
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I have never heard of tanning pills, but they are probably not so safe since it’s mostly chemicals. I agree tanning lamps are dangerous so I gave up those two years ago. I still like laying by the pool, though. Although I always try to use good protective sun lotions, I think soon we won’t be able to stay out for too long as the sun is getting stronger and stronger – scary stuff!

  3. Carole Book
    Posted June 8, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    I was so suprised that the use of a sunbed can increase risk of melanoma by 75%! Why are these places still given licenses to open when they are so harmful.
    I haven’t used them before but I know alot of teenage girls are obsessed by them. Stick to natural tans using sun protection cream and spray tans for special occasions.

  4. Charmaine Welks
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Research show this kind of treatment to your body is harmful. So I was wondering why this kind of business got permits to operate? Natural way is always better and safer if you manage it well.

  5. Lily
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    oh the many hoops we women jump through just to keep our tan. it’s such a catch 22 … being tan makes you feel confident and beautiful, but it is deadly!! I guess we run into this conundrum with many other vices.

  6. Zeolite
    Posted October 16, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the article. I am still not convinced that tanning beds are dangerous. We’ve been told for years that sun causes cancer, and now we are finding an epidemic of vitamin D deficiencies, which also cause cancer.

    Is it possible that there is a moderate approach, as with other things?

  7. Simone's Airbrush Tanning
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    While sunless tanners or Airbrush Tanning is a safe alternative, I agree with the FDA to cover any open areas that expose the mucus membranes. I think it’s important to ask for nose filters, cotton for the ears and close your eyes and mouth when getting a spray tan done. When using the self tanning creams you don’t need to worry much about protections but definitely wear protection when getting a spray tan done.

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