Tan in a bottle

Photo: istockphoto.com/Diego Alvarez de Toledo

So it's the beginning of summer and you're pale from spending too much time at the office. Those self-tanning lotions probably look fairly tempting right now.

Sun kissed without the UV
We've all heard about the dangers of extended outdoor sunning and how self tanning lotions are being touted as the safest alternative to baking under the sun's UV ray. But what are the concerns connected with a suntan in a bottle?

The key ingredient in most tanning creams is dihydroxyacetone(DHA), the only color additive approved by the United States Federal Food and Drug Administration for these potions. According to the Mayo Clinic's website, spray-on sunless tans are of more concern than creams. The possibility for a spray-on product to get into your eyes and nose during application is high and the risks of inhaling or ingesting DHA have not been extensively tested.

Know your products
The Skin Cancer Foundation's article Tan in a Can cautions against products listed as "tanning amplifiers, accelerators, promoters, enhancers and worst of all, tanning pills." These products actually interact with the sun to create the tan so actually accelerae UV damage. The pills should be avoided altogether (they are currently banned in the U.S.) since they contain the chemical carotenoid canthaxanthin. This pigment (also found in carrots) is associated with blindness, hepatitis and painful skin eruptions.

In addition to not knowing about the long-term effects of DHA, you should also be concerned about other ingredients from sunless tanners made by big beauty companies. They often use petrochemicals, artificial colors, preservatives, fragrances and aluminum in their blends, none of which are good for you.

Organic tans
But as summer draws to a close and overcast days become the norm, you can still add a hint of tint to you skin using a organic tanning product from a natural brands.

  • Alba Golden Tan Sunless Tanning Lotion: made with a soothing and protective infusion of aloe vera, chamomile, ginkgo biloba, and green tea.
  • Nature's Gate Happy Glow Lucky Bronzing Crème: available in two different scents, this paraben-free bronzer is great for both your face and body.
  • Kiss My Face Instant Sunless Tanner with Walnut Shell Extract: known for being streak-free, this lotion has no animal ingredients, artificial colors, or unnecessary chemicals and was not tested on animals.
  • Lavera Sunless Tan Self Tanning Lotion: from one of Europe's most popular eco-beauty brands, organic soy extract acts as the active ingredient in this lotion.
  • Lavera Faces Summer Glow Face Self-Tanner: contains a slightly lower dose of the active soy extracts than the previously mentioned Self Tanning Lotion, making it easy to avoid uneven color on the delicate facial skin.
  • Green People Self Tan Lotion: from a newer UK brand, this certified organic crème is lightly scented with essential oils sandalwood, vetivert and rose geranium.
  • Zia Ultimate Age-Defying Sunless Tanner: uses natural sugars to deliver a long-lasting and slowly fading tan. Vitamins A and E, along with essential oils, soothe and nourish to improve the softness and texture of your skin.
  • Aveda Sun Source: though a widely debated "sustainable" brand, you'll get a safe, sun-free bronzing from this product with anti-oxidant vitamins A, C and E, along with skin-conditioning aloe, almond, avocado and sesame oil extracts.
  • Final note: no matter the season or sky clarity, make sure to wear sun protection of at least SPF 15 everyday. Studies have shown that people who use self-tanners often forget to protect their skin on a daily basis.
    Victoria Everman is a freelance writer, model, on-camera personality and founder of the San Francisco Craft Mafia.