Self-Tanners and Spray Tan: Not That Green, Not That Natural
Do you want a healthy glow but don’t want the messy bronzer or a cancerous tanning booth? Consider a self-tanner or a spray tan. Here’s a quick recipe: mix some drying solvents (glycerin, alcohol), synthetic colorant dihydroxyacetone with unconfirmed safety record, estrogen-mimicking preservative methylparaben and throw in some synthetic ingredients perfume. Polymers help ingredients stick to the skin surface while penetration enhancer alpha-hydroxy acid pushes toxins deeper.
I have just listed some of the ingredients listed on a bottle of the most popular self-tanner out there. St Moriz to St Tropez to L’Oreal, every single self-tanner on a drugstore shelf is made of virtually same ingredients, give or take. Spray tanners are no better – ingredients are still the same.
This leaves us with organic, natural self-tanners which are vitamin-rich body lotions blended with a hefty dose of plant-derived dihydroxyacetic acid (dixydroxyacetone). Green beauty manufacturers derive this dye from sugar beets and sugar cane by the fermentation of glycerin.
Dixydroxyacetone (DHA) may be prepared, along with glyceraldehyde, by the mild oxidation of glycerol, for example with hydrogen peroxide and a ferrous salt as catalystâ?¦. DHA reacts chemically with the amino acid groups, which are part of the protein containing keratin layer on the skin surface. Various amino acids react differently to DHA, producing different tones of coloration from yellow to brown. The resulting pigments are called melanoidins. These are similar in coloration to melanin, the natural substance in the deeper skin layers which brown or “tan”, from exposure to UV rays. (Wikipedia)
DHA is approved by FDA and is considered a safe skin coloring agent and nutritional supplement. Contact dermatitis to dixydroxyacetone is rarely reported. Most cases of sensitivity are due to other ingredients in the skin product preparation, such as preservatives, plant extracts, other dyes or fragrances. In other words, the perfect dose of sun in a bottle, sans sunburn.
Dihydroxyacetone seems to increase the free-radical damage from sunlight, according to the recent study led by Katinka Jung of the Gematria Test Lab in Berlin in 2007. Forty minutes after the researchers treated skin samples with dihydroxyacetone in same concentration as in self-tanners, they found that more than 180 percent additional free radicals formed during sun exposure compared with untreated skin. (UV-generated free radicals (FR) in skin: Their prevention by sunscreens and their induction by self-tanning agents. Jung K, Seifert M, Herrling T, Fuchs J. Gematria Test Lab, Berlin, Germany. Spectrochim Acta A Mol Biomol Spectrosc. 2008 May;69(5):1423-8. )
The increased damage to self-tanned skin with UV light overloads the skin’s free-radical defense system, according to Jung and her colleagues. Scientists recommend to avoid sun exposure for at least 24 hours after self-tanner application. After then, excessive sun exposure should be avoided and sunscreen should be worn outdoors. A topical antioxidant preparation could also minimize free radical damage. Please keep in mind that fake tan itself will not protect the skin from UV exposure but in fact accelerates photoaging processes.
Where does it leave us, the green beauties? Until science knows more, I’d rather apply some mineral sunscreen and let my skin acquire a natural golden glow. And self-tanners are a mess to apply and they rub off unevenly, anyway.