Are sunless tanners safe?

Can tanning lotions give you a bronze glow without boosting your risk of skin cancer and wrinkles?

The active ingredient in most sunless tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It makes you look tanned by reacting with amino acids in your skin.

The European Union considers DHA safe, based on studies (mostly in animals) that evaluated DHA’s ability to be absorbed through the skin or cause skin irritation, toxicity to the reproductive system, cancer, and more.

But sunless tanners won’t protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, so wear sunscreen if you use them. And avoid getting them in your mouth, eyes, or any other area covered by a mucous membrane. (The risks of possible DHA absorption through mucous membranes aren’t known.)

Bottom Line: Sunless tanners are a safer bet than sunbathing or tanning salons.

The information in this post first appeared in the March 2020 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

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