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Is There A Safe Tan?

Skin Conditions | November 7, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Skin conditions

Is There A Safe Tan?

With summertime comes lazy days on the beach, holidays, barbeques with friends and swimming in the pool. As we start to shed our winter layers to reveal more skin, many people are in search of a safe way to sport that summer glow. We all know the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure and its link to skin cancer, but is there such a thing as a safe tan? The answer is yes…if we’re talking about fake tan that is!

Harmful ways to tan

Sun tanning

On exposure to sunlight, melanocytes (cells just below the skin’s surface) produce a pigment called melanin which darkens the skin. Melanin absorbs the UV light and helps to protect the skin from burning. But excessive UV light can do some serious damage and lead to premature ageing of the skin, wrinkles, sun spots, freckles and eye damage.

Harmful ways to tanEven more damaging is the effect on the DNA of skin cells which can lead to basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas—the two most common forms of skin cancer. Damaged melanocytes can also develop into melanoma which accounts for 2% of all skin cancers and more than 90% of all skin cancer deaths.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a safe suntan. In fact, a suntan is a sign of skin damage and is far from healthy.

But that shouldn’t stop you from going outdoors and doing the things you love. It’s all a matter of incorporating some strategies to reduce your risk of sun damage.

There is no such thing as a safe suntan


Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world and with this shocking information, commercial solariums are banned in all states and territories.

Studies have found that people who use solariums before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 59%.  Regardless of age, the risk of squamous cell carcinoma is twice that of non-users. Each year in Australia, 2,500 new squamous cell carcinomas and over 40 melanoma related deaths are attributed to solarium use.

Tanning injections

Tanning injections or tanning peptides, provide a direct source of melanocyte-stimulating hormone that enters the bloodstream upon administration. The message communicated upon entry is to increase the production of melanin to darken the skin. Tanning injections are banned from commercial sale in Australia and the Therapeutic Goods Administration last year made it illegal for Australians to purchase these products from overseas unless their for personal use with a prescription from a medical practitioner in Australia. Unfortunately, this hasn’t prevented the tide of sales from illegally imported products such as Melanotan-I and Melanotan-II which are still freely available and promoted online.

Reported side effects include hypertension, spontaneous penile erections, darkened skin, moles, and freckles, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, flushing of the face and involuntary stretching and yawning.

Being sun safe

Being sun safeSometimes it is hard to completely avoid UV rays. They have the ability to bounce off sand, water and snow and penetrate windows and clothing. To protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV light, Cancer Council Australia recommends the following:

  • Slip on clothing that covers your shoulders, arms and legs
  • Slop on SPF 30+ or higher before going outdoors and reapply as needed
  • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears and neck
  • Seek shade—especially when UV rays are at their highest
  • Slide on sunglasses that meet Australian standards

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Be especially vigilant in protecting yourself from sun damage between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is often strongest. Examine your skin for suspicious spots every month and see a dermatologist for skin checks once a year.

Safe alternatives to a suntan

While the dangers of sun tanning are evident, there’s other options which are much safer. Even if you select one of the below methods still make sure you slip, slip, slap when outdoors.

Tanning pills

Prepare your skin for the sun with natural ingredients which optimise a tan by stimulating the skin’s natural production of melanin. Carotenoids such as lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, vitamins E and C work together to protect your skin cells from UV-induced oxidative stress.

The most popular ingredient in tanning pills is beta carotene which is obtained naturally in the diet from fruits and vegetables. Beta carotene contributes to the yellow pigment found in human skin. It has been found that individuals who have a higher daily intake of beta carotene have yellower skin.

Tanning pills that contain high amounts of beta carotene and/or a chemical called canthaxanthin have been linked with dangerous side effects and should be avoided.

Fake tan

Safe alternatives to a suntanTopical sunless tanners are products that are applied to the skin to give the appearance of a tan. These products come in many forms including lotions, gels, mousses, sprays, wipes, creams, and powders.

A chemical called DHA is a common ingredient in self tanners and works by binding to your dead skin cells darkening the colour. Within a few days after application the colour starts to fade and is usually completely gone after a week. DHA is safe on your skin but needs to be avoided around your mouth and eyes.
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Spray tans

Spray tanning is another way to administer a fake tan and is normally performed in beauty salons. Misters are used to apply an even coat on the skin. These are generally safe but may cause sensitivities in people with skin disorders or asthma.

Just make sure that when selecting a product it contains natural and safe ingredients and no hidden nasties such as parabens and synthetic fragrances.


Temporary bronzers are one type of topical self-tanner that come in creams, lotions, and powders. When a bronzer is applied to the skin, it coats the outer layers of the epidermis but is easily washed off by normal soap and water. The use of a bronzer is similar to putting on make-up every day and is considered a safe way to give the skin a golden hue.
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Tanning facts

  • The only way to have a safe tan is to fake it
  • Excessive sun exposure, solariums and tanning injectables are dangerous ways to achieve a tan
  • Beta carotene in safe doses, bronzers and fake tanning lotions are recommended alternatives  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Garone M, Howard J, Fabrikant J. A Review of Common Tanning Methods. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2015;8(2):43-47.

Pezdirc K, et al. Fruit, Vegetable and Dietary Carotenoid Intakes Explain Variation in Skin-Color in Young Caucasian Women: A Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients. 2015 Jul 15;7(7):5800-15

Lee J, et al. Carotenoid supplementation reduces erythema in human skin after simulated solar radiation exposure. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 2000 Feb;223(2):170-4

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