Is Sunless Tanning Safe?

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having tan skin during the summer. Something about it just gives you an extra boost of confidence... Is Sunless Tanning Safe?

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having tan skin during the summer. Something about it just gives you an extra boost of confidence and sets a positive tone for your whole day. While there are a variety of ways to achieve that sun-kissed glow, sunless tanning has become a popular option. Why?

While tanning methods like sunbathing and tanning beds now come with warnings for risk of cancer, sunless tanning has been touted as a healthier option. Is sunless tanning safe?

How do sunless tanners work?

Sunless tanners are products that give your skin a tan appearance without requiring you to expose yourself to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunless tanners, also called self-tanners, come in a variety of forms, including sprays, lotions, drops, creams, and more.

The main active ingredient in most sunless tanning products is dihydroxyacetone or DHA. It’s a color additive that reacts to the dead skin cells on the surface layer of your skin and temporarily darkens the appearance of your skin.[i] Typically, the color will last for a few days and then begin to fade as dead skin cells fall away.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved DHA for use in externally applied cosmetics[ii]; this includes sunless tanners.


Sunless tanners work through a three-step process: apply, develop, and reapply.  Sunless tanning lotions, gels, and creams are applied by massing into the skin until it’s been absorbed. Sunless tanning drops are used by mixing them with a lotion, cream or serum, and then applying to the skin. Once your skin has absorbed the product, you will need to allow about 6-8 hours for the color to develop. After a few days, the self-tanner will begin to fade. You will need to reapply the sunless tanner in order to keep a consistent tan. Then, the process starts over again.

What are the DHA tanning side effects?

DHA occasionally comes with a few minor side effects. When self-tanning products use relatively high levels of DHA, it can cause the skin to develop a fake-looking orange hue as well as a splotchy appearance and skin dryness. Sunless tanners also have a reputation for a not-so-great odor, a burnt biscuit smell caused by the DHA, and the Maillard reaction it’s having on the skin.[iii]

The extent to which these side effects are noticeable depends largely on the specific sunless tanner being used. Some products have developed a formula that creates a golden brown tan rather than a fake orange color, and some companies have found ways to significantly mask the smell of DHA.

Is sunless tanning safe?

Yes, sunless tanning is safe when done correctly. While the FDA approves DHA for external application to the skin, it also states that DHA should not be inhaled or applied to areas like the nose, lips, or around the eyes. If you plan on getting a professional spray tan, be sure to ask how these areas of your face will be protected, as well as what you can do to ensure you don’t inhale the tanning spray.[iv]

If you want to avoid these risks, it may be easier to opt for do-it-yourself options like sunless tanning lotions, drops, or creams. Remember to avoid getting the product near your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Sunless tanning products are also considered safer than alternatives that rely on UV light to create a tan, such as sunbathing. UVA and UVB – two types of ultraviolet rays – can damage your skin. Short-term overexposure can lead to sunburn, and prolonged exposure can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.[v] While these rays can be absorbed while out in the sun, most UV tanning beds are also a source of UVA rays.[vi] Skip the sunbathing and tanning beds and try a sunless tanner instead – your skin will thank you!

Is sunless tanning safe while you’re pregnant?

While studies don’t confirm that DHA can penetrate the skin, some health care providers suggest that women wait until after the first trimester to use sunless tanning products, just in case.[vii] 

How else can I stay safe while getting a tan?

Self-tanners provide a great alternative to sunbathing and tanning beds, but they don’t protect you against harmful UV rays, and many do not contain an SPF rating. If you will be spending time in the sun, be sure to apply sunscreen. It can also be helpful to wear clothing that covers your skin, such as pants or long sleeves, and a hat or sunglasses to help cover your face. 


CLEANTAN is a non-toxic, plant-based tanning concentrate. Simply add a few drops to your favorite lotion, cream or serum, then apply to your skin for a gorgeous glow. With CLEANTAN, you can customize your tan to the shade that’s just right for you.

Our sunless tanning concentrate drops are formulated with our TEATAN Complex, which includes green tea, black tea, rooibos tea, and more for a healthy dose of antioxidants. TEATAN also provides a temporary chai tea scent. At CLEANTAN, we’re committed to refraining from synthetic fragrance while providing a product that has no horrendous odor.

 CLEANTAN also uses DHA, cocoa extract, caramel, blue-green algae, and more for a gorgeous golden shade - no fake orange tans here! CLEANTAN is also paraben-, sulfate- and phthalate-free, and is free of dyes. 

We all want a gorgeous tan we can be proud of. While there are many ways to achieve this tan, they’re not all safe and healthy. Sunbathing and using tanning beds may be effective, but they can cause cancer and for your skin to age prematurely. Instead, skip the UV rays and give sunless tanners a try. Safer than sunbathing and tanning beds, sunless tanners are easy to apply and some even allow you to customize your level of tan.

CLEANTAN is one such product. We know you’re going to love your golden tan and enjoy the benefits of a plant-based, odor-free formula. Visit to learn more.












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