Newsletter, Skin Cancer, Wellbeing

Are fake tanning products safe for your skin?

Fake tan, your skin, and skin cancer safety.

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Team MoleMap Creator
Posted 04/12/19
Can Fake Tans Damage Your Skin 1000

There’s a plethora of fake tanning products on the market these days, all promising varying shades of bronzed, shimmering or sun-kissed skin. For a while now, self-tanning or gradual-tanning products have been touted as safer alternatives to sunbathing and tanning beds (and yes, we agree they definitely reduce your skin cancer risk!).

But are fake tanning products safe to use? Can they cause skin problems? And is it safe to put fake tan on your face or use it if you’re pregnant?

Well, actually, on that front, the news looks pretty good. Dermotologists agree that as long as they’re used as directed (i.e. topically), there is no indication that self-tanning products are harmful.1

The consensus: ‘fake it, don’t bake it’.

The consensus from dermatologists and other experts seems to be that fake tanning products won’t harm your skin (as long as you take care not to inhale or ingest the spray).

And the good news is that fake tans have come a long way since the streaky orange shins of the 90’s! These days, most of the products are very sophisticated, with a wide range of shades available for different skin colours – and offer great results as long as you apply them as directed.

At MoleMap, we definitely recommend ‘faking it’ over baking in the sun, because we see the results of sun-damaged skin, every day.

“Using a fake tan is considerably safer than lying in the sun or using a tanning bed,” says MoleMap Clinical Manager, Gill Rolfe. “Sunbathing exposes you to UV radiation that damages your skin and increases the risk of skin cancer including melanoma. Unlike sunbathing, there's no direct evidence that DHA increases the risk of cancer.

In fact, the World Health Organization has identified solar UV radiation as a proven carcinogen, with studies linking it to about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas, as well as premature skin aging.2

Are Fake Tans Safer Than Sunbeds 1000

DHA – your secret, ‘glowy’ ingredient

Most fake tan products contain an additive called DHA (dihydroxyacetone) as their active ingredient, and this is what temporarily darkens the skin. DHA reacts with the topmost layer of dead skin cells, which is why fake tans only last between around seven to ten days, as your skin cells shed naturally.

DHA is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. In the past, there were some concerns over toxicity from highly concentrated DHA, but self-tanning lotions, sprays and creams generally only contain DHA at levels between 3-5%. ( levels considered non-toxic and non-carcinogenic).3

However, there are some concerns that inhaling or ingesting DHA can be harmful, particularly when applying fake tanning product in aerosol form – or when having it professionally sprayed at a beauty clinic or tanning salon.4

To avoid any risks, always apply fake tan in a well-ventilated area, protecting the eyes, nose and mouth. This is particularly important if you’re getting a spray tan in a clinic – ask if you can have a mask to protect your face and ensure the room is well ventilated.

Does fake tan offer sun protection?

It’s a common misconception that fake tans offer some sort of sun protection, but they’re cosmetic only and shouldn’t replace sunscreen and other sun-safety measures. While some fake tanning products claim to include an SPF, this can be misleading as it usually wears off within a couple of hours after application.

It’s important to apply a SPF30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen as well to completely protect yourself from our harmful UV rays, especially during the summer months. Just wait until your fake tan has dried completely, then layer on the sunscreen.

Fake Tan Products Are They Safe 1000

How do you apply fake tanning products?

To avoid those tell-tale streaks if you’re applying it yourself, it’s essential follow the directions to the letter. Here’s a general guide:

  1. If you haven’t used fake tan before, patch test a small amount behind your ear 24 hours beforehand.
  2. Exfoliate first to remove the build-up of dead skin cells, paying special attention to your knees, elbows and ankles. Some people like to moisturise dry areas such as legs, knees and elbows first, but let it soak in for at least ten minutes before applying fake tan.
  3. Apply the tanning lotion or spray in sections, and massage it into the skin in circular motions. To avoid a build-up of colour on your palms, wash your hands thoroughly after each section.
  4. Wipe joint areas such as knees and elbows with a damp towel or face cloth, as these areas tend to absorb more product.
  5. Make sure you give your skin enough time to dry. Wait at least ten minutes before dressing, and wear loose clothing.
  6. Once the fake tan is completely dry, add sunscreen if you’re going out in the sun.
  7. Remember to apply it in a room with plenty of ventilation and avoid breathing in any fumes.
  8. Remember to wash your hands.

Can you put fake tanning products on your face?

Yes, you can, but again, there are some basic rules to follow to ensure you don’t look like an Oompa Loompa. The safest option here is to find a fake tan that’s specifically targeted for the face – then patch test behind your ear first, to ensure you don’t have a reaction to it (see the steps above).

If you’re feeling nervous about fake tanning your face, try adding a pea-sized amount of tanning lotion with your moisturiser and apply it to your face as usual – this will help you build up your tan slowly and look more natural. For a more polished finish, apply your usual moisturizer to your skin first to ‘plump’ any lines or wrinkles – but wait at least half an hour for it to soak in before applying your tanning product. And make sure you add a touch of moisturiser or Vaseline to your brows so they don’t turn orange!

Above: Using a fake tan is considerably safer than lying in the sun or using a tanning bed.

Can you use fake tan if you’re pregnant?

Keen to make that pregnancy glow a little more golden? There’s no evidence that fake tanning creams and lotions are harmful during pregnancy, but as with any product, always do a small patch test first. The active ingredient of DHA reacts with the cells in the outermost layer of your skin, producing a brown pigment, but the DHA isn’t absorbed into the blood stream. Fake tan can dry out your skin, so ensure you use plenty of moisturiser – and if you get a rash, don’t use the product again.

However, experts recommend avoiding having a salon-administered spray tan during pregnancy, for the same reasons mentioned above – it’s possible to inhale some of the DHA during the spraying process.

What if you have sensitive skin - can you use fake tanning products?

Most people don't have a reaction to fake tanning products, but as anyone with sensitive skin knows, the perfume or alcohol in a product can cause a flare up – especially if you've never used a product containing DHA before.

That’s why it’s recommended that you always patch test any new self-tanning product before lathering it on to the rest of your body - to ensure you don’t have an adverse reaction right before the big event for which you were getting that ‘golden glow’!

Fake tanning? Check your skin while you're there.

Applying fake tan is the perfect time to self-check your skin for any early signs of skin cancers, such as melanoma. “The ideal time to apply fake tan is usually after a bath or shower, so use the time to give your body a once-over before you apply the tan,” says Gill.

“Check your whole body in a well-lit room with the aid of a mirror, looking closely at the entire body - including your scalp, buttocks and genitals, palms and soles, and between your fingers and toes. And if you see anything that concerns you, see your GP or book a Full Body MoleMap as soon as possible.”

Sources: 1,3,4. Huffington Post: 2. World Health Organisation: 5.

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