The Safety of Self-Tanning Products: Do They Cause Premature Aging?

Self-tanning products have become increasingly popular in recent years, providing a safer alternative to tanning in the sun or tanning beds. While they offer a way to achieve a sun-kissed glow without exposing the skin to harmful UV rays, some people are concerned about their safety and potential to cause premature aging. In this blog post, we will explore the science behind self-tanning products, their safety profile, and whether they can cause aging.
You can also watch my video on Youtube where I discuss this topic and where I also go over the history of the tanned skin beauty ideal.

The History of Self-Tanning Products

Self-tanning products have been around for decades, with the first product introduced in the 1950s by Coppertone. The product was called “Quick Tan” and was advertised as a lotion that could make you “tan overnight”.

An advertisement of Quick Tan selftanner from Coppertone in 1967.

In the 1980s, self-tanning products became more widely available, and companies such as L’Oreal and Estee Lauder began to introduce their own versions of the product. These early self-tanners often produced an orange or streaky appearance and had an unpleasant odor, but advancements in technology and formulation have led to improved products that produce a more natural-looking tan.

Early self-tanners often produced an orange appearance, creating an unnatural look.

Today, there are many types of self-tanning products available, including lotions, sprays, mousses, and wipes. According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Academy of Dermatology, 36% of women in the US use self-tanner regularly.

36% of women use self-tanner regularly.

How Self-Tanners Work and the Brown Pigment Formation

Self-tanner is a product that gives you a fake tan without having to expose your skin to UV rays. The active ingredient in most self-tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). When you apply self-tanner to your skin, the DHA molecules interact with the amino acids in the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin, producing a brown pigment called melanoidins.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the active ingredient in most self-tanners.

This reaction occurs through a chemical process called the Maillard reaction, which creates a range of different pigments and compounds, including melanoidins, which give the skin its brown color. The Maillard reaction is also responsible for the browning of food during cooking, such as when bread is toasted or meat is grilled.

The Maillard reaction is a chemical process responsible for the brown color of the skin after the use of self-tanner, which is also responsible for the browning of food during cooking.

Real Tan vs. Fake Tan

The difference between a real tan and a fake tan is how they are created. A real tan is caused by exposure to UV rays, which stimulate the production of melanin in the skin.

Melanin is a pigment that gives the skin its color and helps protect it from further damage from the sun. In contrast, a fake tan created by DHA only colors the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and does not provide any protection from the sun.

The Safety of Self-Tanning Products

The safety of self-tanning products has been a topic of concern for many people. Some have questioned whether the active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), is safe for use on the skin.

The good news is that numerous studies have shown that DHA is safe when used externally on the skin in cosmetic products. DHA has been used in self-tanning products for decades, and there have been no reported cases of serious adverse effects.

Moreover, DHA is not known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic to humans. In fact, DHA has been approved by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Commission as a safe cosmetic ingredient.

However, it is important to note that DHA can cause an allergic reaction in some people, leading to redness, itching, and rash. Therefore, it is recommended to do a patch test before applying self-tanning products to the entire body. If you experience any signs of an allergic reaction, stop using the product immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

Can Self-Tanning Products Cause Premature Aging?

There is no clear evidence that self-tanning products cause premature aging in humans. While some studies have raised concerns about the potential for the Maillard reaction, which creates the brown pigment in self-tanners, to generate free radicals that could cause skin damage, these studies were conducted in vitro or in animal models and have not been replicated in human studies. Additionally, studies have shown that the active ingredient in most self-tanners, DHA, does not penetrate beyond the outermost layer of the skin, which suggests that it does not pose a significant risk to deeper layers of the skin and would not cause premature aging or skin damage.
However, it is still important to wear sunscreen in addition to using self-tanners to protect against harmful UV rays, which are the primary cause of premature aging and skin damage.

There is currently no clear evidence that self-tanning products cause premature aging or DNA damage in humans.


In conclusion, there is currently no clear evidence that self-tanning products cause premature aging or DNA damage in humans. While some studies have suggested that self-tanners could potentially protect the skin from aging, more research is needed to confirm these findings. Nevertheless, self-tanners are generally considered safe to use in the small amounts found in cosmetic products and are a safer alternative to sun exposure or tanning beds, which can significantly increase the risk of skin cancer and accelerate skin aging.

Remember to always use self-tanners as directed, exfoliate well before use, and never forget to use sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. With proper use and precautions, self-tanning products can help you achieve a healthy, sun-kissed glow without exposing your skin to the harmful effects of UV radiation.

So, go ahead and enjoy your self-tanner, but always remember to take care of your skin and protect it from the sun!


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Hi there! I am Dr. Kim Detollenaere, aesthetic doctor and owner of 'Doctor Contour' aesthetic guide and clinic. I have been a content creator for several years, next to my busy medical life. Get to know more about me on Instagram, Youtube or check out the 'About me' page on this blog for more info!

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