Sunless tanners, also called self-tanning or ultraviolet (UV)-free tanning, are products applied to the skin to mimic a traditional suntan without UV light exposure.
The term “sunless tanners,” also known as self-tanning or ultraviolet (UV)-free tanning, refers to products applied to the skin to achieve a tan-like effect without exposure to UV light. There are various methods to achieve a sunless tan. Dihydroxyacetone-based (DHA) products, which are U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved lotions, create a brownish color similar to a suntan when applied to the skin. The color results from a chemical reaction between DHA and amino acids in the outer skin layer, not from a dye, stain, or paint. The FDA categorizes DHA as a color additive for imparting color to the human body. However, its use in cosmetics, including sunless tanning products, is limited to external application and not permitted on the lips or any body surface covered by mucous membranes. The FDA has not approved DHA for these exposure routes, including from tanning booths. Additionally, no color additive is allowed to be used in cosmetics intended for use in the eye area unless the color additive is permitted specifically for such use. DHA is not permitted for such use.
The Canadian Health Ministry and the European Commission have also approved DHA for cosmetics use in sunless tanning products. The term “bronzer” refers to products intended to achieve a temporary tanned appearance, such as tinted moisturizers and brush-on powders. These products provide a temporary color, similar to other types of makeup, and wash off over time. Sunless tanners and bronzers may or may not provide UV protection. Only sunless tanners that include approved sunscreen active ingredients and are labeled with sun protection factor (SPF) numbers provide sun protection.
According to FDA regulation, all sun tanning preparations without sunscreen ingredients must carry the following warning statement on the label:
“Warning: This product does not contain sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn. Repeated exposure of unprotected skin while tanning may increase the risk of skin aging, skin cancer and other harmful effects to the skin even if you do not burn.”
Learn more about FDA regulation of sunless tanning products.