You may think a golden-brown tan looks attractive, but the tanning process doesn't do the body any favors. Too much sun exposure can cause skin damage and promote the development of cancer. Sunless tanning options, such as self-tanning lotion or salon spray-on tans, give skin a golden glow without exposing it to the sun. However, most sunless solutions have their own share of possible health risks.
Tanning Beds and Lamps
Tanning beds and sun lamps mimic the sun's rays by exposing the skin to ultraviolet radiation. People assume that lying in a tanning bed is safer than sunbathing, but it's actually just as harmful. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, UV rays from tanning beds can cause allergic reactions, immune suppression, premature aging and irreversible eye damage. Some types of medications make skin particularly sensitive and susceptible to UV damage. Over time, people with excessive UV exposure may develop squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.
Spray Tans and DHA
Salon spray tans and store-bought topical tanning products contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone. DHA is a color additive that binds to the top layer of skin and causes it to darken. The FDA has approved DHA only for use in tanning creams and lotions, but not in the all-over spray tans offered by salons and retail outlets. During a spray session, salon customers may inhale the chemical if they don't properly cover their nose and mouth. According to toxicologist and lung specialist Dr. Rey Panettieri, inhaling the chemical may damage DNA or promote cancer development when it enters the bloodstream.
Tanning pills work by darkening skin from the inside out. These pills typically contain a food-coloring additive called canthaxanthin. After the pill is swallowed, the additive turns the skin an orange color. According to the American Cancer Society, canthaxanthin may cause yellow crystals to develop in the eyes. These crystals can injure eyes and harm vision. Skin and liver damage is another possible concern. The additive may also cause nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea. The FDA has not approved any type or brand of tanning pills.
Some tanning products contain chemical accelerators, namely tyrosine and psoralen. The chemicals sensitize melanin cells and boost melanin production, which is thought to prompt faster tanning. No evidence proves that tanning accelerators are effective, however. Topical application of these products can cause blistering and other painful skin conditions. Tan-accelerator pills have several side effects, including headaches, itchy skin and nausea. According to the American Cancer Society, the FDA does not consider these products safe.