Tanning Lotion

Tanning lotion Many people feel that a tan is attractive and conveys a "healthy" appearance. In reality, a tan actually reflects injury to the skin and is the body’s response to ultraviolet skin damage. Those who desire a "cosmetic" tan can obtain one by using "sunless" or "self-tanning" lotions. However, it is important to remember that self-tanning lotions do not protect the skin, so you can burn just as easily as if she had no pain. While there are a variety of products available, only 2 types of tanning lotions-"Bronzers" and "Self-tanning" lotions-should be used. Tan accelerators are a group of products which contain a natural enzyme that stimulates production of melanin, the body’s natural pigment. They are not effective. Tanning promoters are groups of products which contain 5-Methoxypsorsalen. These products have been reported to cause cancer in mice and severe skin reactions in humans. Tanning promoters are not available in the United States. Tanning pills have been banned by the FDA because of life threatening side effects and blindness. They contain the drug canthaxanthrin and promote deposition of carotenoid in the skin. Bronzers are gel formulations that produce a darker skin color by means of water-soluble dyes. Bronzers color the skin immediately, but the color fades with the first wash. Sunless or self-tanning lotions were approved by the FDA in 1997 and can produce an aesthetically pleasing tan. The active ingredient in these products is dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which interacts with the dead surface cells in the outermost layer of the skin to darken the skin. DHA gives color to the skin through a "browning reaction". When applied to the skin, DHA changes into a sugar that combines with amino acids in the skin to form chemical compounds known as known “melaninoids” which are brown in color. Application of self-tanning lotions is fairly simple. It is best to look for products that have a DHA concentration of 3% to 5%. These will give slower "tans", but will not cause the skin to turn an orange shade as some stronger products do. Self-tanning lotions work best for people with medium complexions. They are less effective in people with very fair or very dark skin. For those with sun damaged skin, self tanning lotions produce an uneven color-so do not use if you have a sunburn! Also, in people with older skin or mottled or freckled skin, these lotions can produce an uneven effect. Hair and nails may color, but not lips. Scars will color poorly. You can improve the tan by buffing or rubbing the skin lightly with a towel, then showering immediately before applying. Be sure to wash your hands immediately after applying to avoid staining your palms. Self-tanning lotions produce a color change within an hour. Best results are obtained with 2-4 applications several hours apart on the same day, with repeated use every few days. The face usually requires fewer initial applications, but more frequent re-applications to achieve the desired appearance.

Tanning Agents

Product Advantage Disadvantage
Bronzers color skin immediately gel formulations color fades with first wash
Sunless or Self-tanning lotion FDA approved provide same-day tan requiers frequent re-application
Tanning pills not aviable in the United States can cause blindness / life threatnine reactions
Tanning promoters not aviable in the United States can cause severe skin reactions / may cause cancer
Tanning accelerators not effective not effective

Some patients have asked about a medication called “Melanotan” being used in Europe and by some people on the West Coast to obtain a quick tan. Melanotan II was developed in Australia about 6-7 years ago and has been used frequently in Europe where it is not legal, but is readily available on the “black market”. It appears to be very effective in stimulating a tan and also has been noted to have significant stimulation of penile erection and sexual stimulation –much greater than Viagra. The short term side effects appear to be only facial flushing and nausea and vomiting. The long term side effects are not known. There are reports in the July 2009 British Journal of Dermatology regarding the fact that the drug stimulates melanocytic nevi and some that are “dysplastic”, which means they are starting to form skin cancers such as Melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. As recently as January 9, 2009 the FDA took action against a firm selling Melanotan II on their web site. Bottom line :

  • Appears to be effective in stimulating both tan and sexual drive and performance
  • Short term adverse effects minimal / long term not known but could significantly increase risk for malignant melanoma and for that reason most doctors would not recommend taking
  • Drug is illegal to sell in United States – what is being sold is sold under the label “for non-human experimental use” to avoid FDA prosecution. What that means is that it is essentially being sold on the Black Market and that there is no FDA oversight for quality control in manufacturing