Sunless Tanning: Safe Alternative to Tanning Beds or Dangerous Habit?


Spray Tanning can cause allergic reactions, is unsafe for people with asthma, and is not approved by the FDA for inhalation.

It is no secret that tanning beds are dangerous to your health and can cause skin cancer.  Less well-known are the side effects that can be caused through sunless tanning methods such as lotions, spray tans, and sunless tanning pills. This would be less upsetting if these techniques weren’t advertised as healthy alternatives to tanning beds or regular old sunbathing.  Consumers have been becoming more aware of the dangers of tanning and are using these sunless tanners to avoid skin cancer while still maintaining that bronzed, beachy glow all year round.

Spray Tans:

Spray tans are probably the most popular form of sunless tanning.  You can get them in nearly every tanning salon and are even advocated by health websites.  However, they can have a variety of side effects.  The main ingredient used in spray tans to turn your skin that bronzed glow is dihydroxyacetone or DHA.  DHA works by dyeing your skin cells darker and can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin that result in an itchy, painful rash.

People with asthma should steer clear of spray tanning because the form of DHA in spray tanning (tiny liquid particles) can make it hard to get oxygen.  Spray tanners with asthma can often feel out of breath and some even faint.  Anyone with severe asthma should steer clear of spray tanning.

You also need to watch out for your eyes while you step into the tanning booth.  The solution can get into your eyes, causing pain, itching, and redness.
Tanning goggles are recommended but salons are not required to give warnings of any of the side effects or to provide goggles.

DHA was approved in the 1980’s in a cream form and was found to be safe on the skin.  But it was never actually approved for inhalation, which is what happens when you step into the spray tanning booth.  You should not spray tan unless your nose and mouth are protected since it is not safe to inhale.

Sunless Tanning Pills:

Sunless tanning pills are a less common form of sunless tanning but still exist on the market.  The main ingredient is the color additive canthaxanthin.  When taken in large doses your skin can turn orange with hives.  These pills can also lead to severe liver damage and the “formation of crystals in the retina of the eye.”


Even with these side effects sunless tanning is probably safer than the ultraviolet in tanning beds.  Out of sunless tanners, the topical creams are safest for your skin and the sunless tanning pills can do the most damage to your body. But the safest way to look good is to just be proud of your natural beauty! You don’t need to look like you just walked off the beach in January to look hot. Embrace the pale!

Feel free to comment with suggestions or advice about tanning!

Kelly Kemmerle


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