Right now is about the time you may be glancing in the mirror and thinking to yourself, “Gee I’m starting to look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Note to self- go to the tanning salon or get a spray tan or do something this weekend!” 

I’m a big advocate of getting  moderate amounts of natural sunlight on your skin every day, if possible. The sun stimulates vitamin D production in your body and other health benefits. But as the days grow shorter and sunlight becomes scarcer, many people turn to artificial means to get a little color- not for “health” benefits, but to get a tanned look. The three most popular options are tanning beds, spray tans, and self-tanning lotion. But is getting an artificial sun-kissed glow healthy? Hmm. Nothin’ wrong with wanting to look good, but some options sound a bit shady. Let’s take a look:

Tanning Beds

tanning bed dangersA recent meta-analysis conducted by scientists at University of California San Francisco found that the use of indoor tanning beds is responsible for about 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States every single year. Likewise, in 2009 the World Health Organization’s Internal Agency for Research on Cancer classified indoor ultraviolet tanning devices as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans). This ruling was based on 20 studies that showed risk of cutaneous melanoma increases by 75 percent when one starts indoor tanning before the age of 30.

While this increased risk of skin cancer is reason enough to avoid any type of UV sunlamps, there are other reasons, as well. The September 2009 issue of Harvard Women’s Health  also warned that tanning beds significantly increased photoaging and other types of skin damage. Photoaging contributes to poorer skin quality, loss of elasticity, wrinkles, and dark spots, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This occurs when UVA rays penetrate your epidermis, causing increased elastin production, which degrades your body’s ability to generate collagen. This results in poor skin quality because the skin is no longer able to repair damage without sufficient collagen.

Many tanning salons advertise “safe” tanning beds that use only UVA rays. These tanning beds are no safer than those with UVB rays, according to some experts.  While the UVB rays do cause more cases of skin cancer, UVA rays increase the damaging effects of UVB, and are therefore no more “safe” for tanning. Likewise, The Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute cautions that exposure UVA rays also increase the risk of developing cataracts.

So, in other words, it’s best to skip the tanning beds.

dangerous spray tanningSpray Tanning

Spray tanning is extremely popular, especially in the winter months. An ABC News investigative report looked into the health risks associated with spray tanning in June of 2012 and raised concerns about one of the key chemicals used in spray tanning formulations: dihydroxyacetone (DHA). According to the ABC report, which was generated by a panel of experts, DHA has the potential to cause genetic alterations.

DHA works by interacting with amino acids to produce melanoidin pigments in your skin. The result is a tan. While the FDA has approved DHA for topical application, it restricts it to external use only. When you receive a spray tan, you inhale some of this harmful chemical. Further research is required, but the FDA does not approve the use of DHA in spray tans or for use in areas near mucous membranes including the nose, mouth, and eyes. The organization states this specifically in the aforementioned report, and they list reported adverse effects of spray tanning that include rashes, dizziness, coughing, and fainting.

The bottom line: There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done on spray tanning; however, I don’t recommend it because of the danger of inhaled chemicals, which may cause inflammation in the body. I’ve never gotten one personally, and to me, it’s just not worth it.

self tanning lotionSelf-Tanning Lotion

Like spray tanners, self-tanning lotions use DHA to stimulate the production of melanoidin pigments. While the FDA does approve DHA for this use, some studies show that skin, does indeed absorb DHA molecules, allowing it entry into the body. This increases based on the level of DHA in the product used. Sunless tanning creams may also cause contact dermatitis and similar reactions.

The bottom line: Self-tanning lotions are probably the safest of the above three options, although those self-tanners with concentrations of DHA above 10 percent pose higher risks. Still, many self-tanning lotions contain petroleum products and chemicals that contribute to your body’s toxicity, and DHA still poses risks. In light of how difficult it is to achieve an even, attractive tan from a self-tanning lotion (along with that self-tanner smell, which many people find extremely unpleasant), it’s not steller either.

Safe way to get tanA Better Alternative

First, I’ll say that untanned skin is not unattractive. If you are following the Beauty Detox lifestyle, your skin will start glowing and looking radiant, no matter what the shade, and that is beautiful.

Still, if you want a little color, I have a healthy alternative that I love! One of my favorite cosmetic companies, Vapour Beauty, makes a great bronzer that you can use to give yourself a little glow. Vapour’s Solar Translucent Bronzer is made with 70 percent organic and 30 percent natural ingredients, including antioxidants that actually make your skin healthier. It comes in three shades, and just a small amount creates a beautiful glow.

You don’t need to get a fake tan this winter.  For times you want to appear just a bit sun kissed, even in the winter, try Vapour’s Solar Translucent Bronzer, a natural and healthy way to get a little color.

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New York Times Bestseller and Nutritionist