There is no doubt that self-tanners are better for your skin than sitting in the sun baking away and risking sunburn. You might turn to self-tanners to develop a bronzed glow, but is it really the best option?
There are chemical reactions that happen when you apply self-tanner to your skin, which is what gives you a sunless tan, and this might have some negative side effects.
Is self-tanner bad for your skin? Self-tanner is fairly safe to use on your skin, but there are some precautions you need to take. The active ingredient in self-tanner, DHA, can be drying on the skin and can cause irritation to sensitive skin.
If you are thinking of using self-tanner to give yourself a sunless bronzed tan, then read on to find out whether self-tanner is bad for your skin and all the other information you need.
How Does Self-Tanner Work?
To understand why self-tanners might be bad for your skin, you need to understand how they work.
Self-tanners work to darken your skin without needing any time spent in the sun. The active ingredient in self-tanning products is dihydroxyacetone, DHA. DHA can be derived naturally from sources such as beets and cane sugar or derived chemically.
When applied to the skin, DHA reacts with the amino acids found in the top layer of your skin, increasing the melanin found in the skin, and therefore darkening the appearance of the skin.
DHA is an FDA-approved ingredient to be used in externally applied cosmetics, so it isn’t considered too harmful.
This reaction does not happen instantly and will start within two hours, and it can last up to three days after the application. This means that the color will develop slowly, and it will only fully develop after two days.
This reaction, along with the DHA, has a very signature odor, and this is often hidden with added fragrances. However, there are self tanners that are DHA-free, if you’re looking for alternatives.
If you’re curious about trying self tanner but don’t know where to start, take a look at this video from Sylvia Gani on YouTube.
The Negative Side Effects Of Self-Tanner
Self-tanners are not considered to be harmful, and they are definitely better than sitting in the sun or in a tanning bed. However, there are some possible negative side effects of self-tanner that you should know about.
Those who experience skin sensitivity might find that the DHA in self-tanner causes irritation on their skin.
This might not happen straight away, but continued use of self-tanning products, especially those which do not contain naturally-derived DHA, could cause skin conditions over time (see our article for the best DHA-free self tanners).
Other chemicals found in self-tanners, such as bronzers, might also cause irritation and sensitivity.
DHA is also known to be drying on the skin. Most self-tanning products contain hydrating ingredients, such as vitamin E, shea butter, and coconut oil, which hydrate the skin, but this sometimes is not enough.
As the DHA reaction takes hours and hours to happen, it could cause extended drying of your skin. If you already experience dry skin, then this could have quite a damaging effect.
There are certain self-tanning products that are better suited for dry skin, but this might not be enough to counteract the drying effect that the DHA reaction will have.
The odor that DHA releases when on your skin is quite obvious, and it isn’t a good smell. To counteract this, self-tanners include added fragrances.
If these are natural fragrances, there should not be much of a problem. However, if these fragrances contain alcohol and other chemicals, they can irritate and dry the skin.
The fragrances also do not always do a good job of hiding the DHA odor, and you will be left with a self-tanner smell on your skin for a good few hours!
Which Self-Tanner Ingredients Are Best?
If you are looking to reduce the negative side effects that self-tanner might have on your skin, you could opt for a self-tanner that has skin-friendly ingredients.
One of the best ways to do this is to choose a self-tanner with naturally derived DHA. Naturally derived DHA can be sourced from beets or cane sugar, and work just as well as chemical DHA to give the skin a golden brown color.
Naturally-derived DHA is not as drying or irritating on the skin, and the added benefit is that it does not contain that fake tan smell.
More and more self-tanners are being made with naturally derived DHA, along with nourishing natural ingredients, meaning you have more than enough options when picking out the one that would be best for your skin, and less drying or damaging over time.
Does Fake Tan Age Your Skin?
Fake tans and self-tanners do not necessarily age your skin, and they probably age your skin the least out of all the tanning options out there – especially tanning in the sun.
There is some concern that self-tanning products, especially those that contain DHA, cause oxidative stress to the skin. This damage can be similar to the damage done to your skin from tanning or from environmental pollution, and this can lead to wrinkles or fine lines.
However, this oxidative stress caused by the chemical reaction that self-tanners have with your skin is much smaller than that caused by sun tanning, so the chances that using self-tanner every now and then might cause wrinkles is very small.
If you use self-tanning products often, and if you use products with chemically derived DHA, it might dry your skin out and lead to fine lines and wrinkles, and other signs of premature aging.
For this reason, it is so important to use natural self-tanners where possible, and those that are packed with nourishing ingredients.
How To Make Self-Tanner Safer To Use
Self-tanner can be safe to use if you follow some precautions, and care for your skin properly when applying the self-tanner.
Aside from choosing self-tanners with naturally-derived DHA and natural ingredients, here are some other things that you can do to ensure that your skin is not affected as much when using a fake tan:
Use Sun Protection
It is so important to remember that self-tanners offer no sun protection to your skin. You will be using a self-tanner to avoid sitting in the sun, so not using sunscreen really makes this process pointless.
Apply a sunscreen, at least an SPF 30 (we love this one from Hawaiian Tropic on Amazon), over the self-tanner once it has developed, every time you go into the sun. The higher the SPF, the better, as your skin would be protected more.
By using sunscreen, you will be giving your skin added protection, and you will be preventing any premature aging or damage done by the sun.
Use Self-Tanner At Night
There is a worry that DHA and the reaction it has to your skin can cause oxidative stress, and this can be emphasized if you expose your skin to UV rays while the self-tanner is developing on your skin.
To avoid this, you can apply the self-tanner in the evening, and allow it to develop overnight as you sleep, so there is little chance it will be exposed to damaging UV rays.
The UV rays and oxidative stress can increase the free radicals found on your skin, which could lead to skin aging and damage over time.
Use An Antioxidant
It can help to use an antioxidant treatment on your skin before and after using self-tanning products. These can help to minimize free radical damage, even though it might be minimal with self-tanning products.
Good options include vitamin A, vitamin B, C, and E. These also have some other skin benefits and are wonderful to include in your skincare routine anyways.
Make sure to moisturize your skin before and after applying self-tanning products. A self-tanner might have a drying effect on your skin, so making sure your skin is kept hydrated is the best way to keep it nourished.
Is Self-Tanner Bad For Your Skin?
Self-tanner might have certain negative side effects on your skin, but these are not nearly as bad as the damage done to your skin by sitting out in the sun or in a tanning bed.
To avoid self-tanner drying or irritating your skin, you should opt for one that contains naturally derived DHA and natural ingredients which nourish and hydrate your skin.
Apply sunscreen over your self-tan whenever you go out into the sun, to reduce the chance of sun damage, and to keep your tan looking glowing and gorgeous!
Is it bad to use self-tanner every week?
You can use self-tanner often to maintain a deep bronze glow, but it is best to only self-tan every two weeks. This gives your skin time to recover from the application, and for it to naturally exfoliate to create a good base for the new tan to form on.
How long should you leave self-tanner on?
You should read the instructions on the bottle of the self-tanner you are using, but generally, you should leave the self-tanner on for at least six hours, and up to a maximum of ten hours.
This gives the color enough time to develop. The longer you leave the self-tanner on, the darker your tan will be, but the color will stop developing after some time.