Earlier this week, everyone was getting all bajiggity about the hazards of spray tanning and the inhalation of DHA. Which, as I noted, is not quite so scary as you may think. However, if you’ve decided to forgo the booths and try to get your bronze on in the comfort of your own bathroom, there are a few things you should know about self-tanner–specifically, what other nefarious chemicals may be lurking in it, and how you can avoid them.
First, you should know that self-tanning products like lotions, gels, and sprays, almost always contain DHA, the plant derivative that interacts with your dead skin cells and make you look like you’ve been out in the sun. However, that’s a.) basically non-toxic and thus, not really as scary as it sounds, and b.) not all they contain. And that’s the real concern.
Many sunless tanning products also employ known toxins, like parabens (potentially toxic chemicals that are banned in some countries, but permitted here), 1,4-dioxane (a contaminent that isn’t required to be listed as an ingredient, because it’s basically a by-product), and a bunch of artificial fragrances that are considered volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The DHA is the least of your worries.
The second thing you should know is that you actually could, if you wanted to, make your own self-tanner. There are about a billion YouTube tutorials, plus several on Pinterest about how to use teabags and other find-at-home stuff (sesame oil is a popular ingredient) to slightly darken your skin for a few days. I’ve never tried one of these before, but it is possible and, if you’re very concerned about chemicals, this may be a good way to go. Maybe I’ll try it in the future and let you know how it goes.
The third thing you should know is that, if you don’t feel like Googling for tea bag recipes (Safe Search “on”–just a suggestion), there are products out there that don’t contain those crappy chemicals–but you have to be a bit of a sleuth to find them. Probably the easiest way is to look for a self-tanner that’s USDA Organic. A fairly meaningful label that limits the amount of crud a product can contain, certified USDA Organic tanners are less likely to contain high levels of the kinds of chemicals that you probably don’t want on your skin.
Another good way to ensure that your self-tanner isn’t loaded with carcinogens is to look for brands that you already know have your best interest in mind. The companies who make great sunscreens (Nature’s Gate, Aveda, etc.) also tend to make the best sunless tanners–and they’re usually available right in your drugstore.
Like I’ve noted before, spray tanning is probably not going to be the next big health scare–but if you know what to look for when you buy self-tanner, you should be able to avoid questionable chemicals.