How safe is your favorite self tanner or self tanning product? The best self-tanners are ones that can give you that natural glow without use of hormone-disrupting chemicals and have added natural ingredients like aloe vera and shea butter that are also safe for sensitive skin. So where are all the non-toxic self-tanners that can help you become a shade darker? You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like green beauty makeup tested for PFAS “forever chemicals,” best non-toxic deodorants, & period underwear tested for PFAS “forever chemicals.” Now join us for our latest investigation on self-tanning products.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post also contains affiliate links.
How Tanning Products Work
Are you looking to have that sun-kissed glow making it appear as if you just came back from a tropical vacation? I bet you also want something that keeps your skin glowing but without all the hormone-disrupting chemicals to go with it.
The active ingredient we found in most self-tanning products was dihydroxyacetone or DHA. Brands that are using safer ingredients use dihydroxyacetone derived from sugar beets or cane sugar. DHA works to temporarily tint the skin or darken dead surface cells in the epidermis within a few moments or a few hours. The chemical lasts for up to a week if your skin is prepared beforehand and then moisturized every day. The following ingredients are also known as DHA.
- 1,3-DIHYDROXYDIMETHYL KETONE,
The Food & Drug Administration says DHA is okay to be “externally applied” for skin coloring, but there are restrictions on its use. DHA should never be inhaled, ingested, or exposed to mucous membranes like your eyes, mouth, nose, or vagina. The same should go with DHA which is made from natural sugar beets or sugar cane.
Problematic Ingredients to Avoid in Self Tanners
Mamavation evaluated the ingredients of about 80 different self-tanner & self-tanning products. We found some troubling ingredients in some brands that are listed below.
- Parabens: One problematic ingredient inside self-tanners is parabens. Parabens are linked to cancer, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. In fact, they are typically found inside breast cancer tumors. Parabens are used in cosmetics to prevent mold, yeast, and bacteria from forming. And they are used in cosmetics to give the product a longer shelf life. Are there alternatives? Yes. But parabens are cheaper to use and allow the product to stay on the shelves for years and years and years…until it’s sold. So this is why cosmetic companies use them.
- Ethoxylated Ingredients: Ethoxylated ingredients on their own are not of concern, but they could contain trace amounts of ingredients that are linked with cancer–1,4-dioxane & ethylene oxide. That’s because carcinogenic ethylene oxide is part of the manufacturing process. You can spot ethoxylated ingredients because most of them end with -eth.
- Polysorbates: Polysorbates are another type of ethoxylated ingredient we wanted to tell you about. They are widely used surfactants in biopharmaceutical formulations and also used as an emulsifier in cosmetic creams, lotions, etc. In other words, it is used to help mix oil and water. Polysorbates are not problematic on their own, but when they used for cosmetic reasons, they are treated with ethylene oxide. Products treated with ethylene oxide frequently have traces of 1,4 dioxane which is a carcinogen.
- Formaldehyde Releasers: In personal care products, formaldehyde can be added directly to the product OR it can be released from preservatives inside the product. Chemicals that release formaldehyde over time are referred to as formaldehyde releasers. These chemicals prevent microbes from growing in water-based or aloe vera-based products, but are also linked to cancer and allergic skin reactions. Formaldehyde releasers are chemicals like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol) and glyoxal.
- Fragrance: “Fragrance” is either made from petroleum or botanical raw materials or both. It also contains ingredients like solvents, stabilizers, UV absorbers, preservatives, phthalates, and dyes. These types of chemicals vary in toxicity. But there is lots of mystery surrounding “fragrance” in personal care products. Companies that make perfume buy chemicals from other companies called “fragrance houses.” This means it is possible for a brand to not even know the fragrance chemicals inside their own product. However, as companies and states are moving toward fragrance ingredient disclosure, this is slowly starting to change. Most self-tanner products we found had a mysterious tropical scent with added orange, mango, & coconut nodes.
- Phthalates: Phthalates are another class of ingredient that is also hormone-disrupting and found in most conventional self-tanners. Phthalates are commonly used as a solvent (a liquid that can dissolve other substances) and fixative (a substance that can help the fragrance last longer on the skin) inside fragrances. The most common phthalate inside fragrance is diethyl phthalate (DEP) and it’s considered toxic by the Toxic Substances Portal of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The trade name of this chemical is also known as neantine, peilatinol A, and solvanol. Phthalates are lined to health impacts like obesity, hyperactivity in children, and the kicker is infertility in men by degrading sperm quality. In fact, phthalates are so problematic to male fertility, they are being restricted in places like China. Phthalates, although worse for men, is also problematic to women.
- Polyethylene glycol (PEGs): PEGs are used as penetration enhancers. PEGs are typically followed by a number. The lower the number, the easier the penetration of other chemicals. However, contaminants can be released during the manufacturing process of PEGs. This may expose consumers to ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, which are known human carcinogens that may interfere with human development and can harm the nervous system.
- Synthetic Colorants & Dyes: Synthetic colorants and dyes are made of petroleum and sometimes coal tar. They are also sometimes linked to cancer, organ toxicity, & aquatic destruction.
- Butane: Butane is a hydrocarbon and colorless gas with a faint petroleum-like odor that you’ll find inside lighters and some cosmetic products. This known carcinogen is especially problematic when it’s inhaled, like when it’s sprayed on the skin with a self-tanner. Butane can also be abused as a drug by sniffing and is linked to “Sudden sniffing death” when that happens. Many products containing butane in dry shampoos were recalled this year.
- Isobutane: Isobutane is a simple asphyxiant and should never be inhaled. Acute exposure may cause tachypnea and tachycardia, with severe cases causing hypotension, apnea, and cardiac arrest develop. A case of ventricular fibrillation due to isobutane toxicity after unintentional inhalation of air freshener has been reported, which means even “safe” levels used by personal care products can be problematic.
Chemicals That Enhance Other Chemicals
These chemicals are not necessarily problematic UNLESS you see other ingredients that are problematic.
- Disodium EDTA: This chemical is not problematic on its own, but it’s important to know that it will increase the effect of other chemicals inside the formula. Disodium EDTA acts as a booster to enhance the absorption of the product. Therefore, when you see this chemical, look around at what else is inside the bottle. Disodium EDTA will make other chemicals absorb more efficiently into the skin.
- Alcohols: Alcohols are also another booster to enhance the absorption of the other chemicals in the products. So again, when you see alcohol, make sure you are also okay with the other ingredients. Alcohol will make the other chemicals absorb more efficiently into the skin.
How To Tan Without The Toxins
No matter your skin tone, you can find a safer self-tanning formula that will give you that natural-looking tan without all the mystery. But there are a couple of tips to follow before applying your non-toxic self-tanning lotion. Here is what we recommend to do.
- Make sure you use a loofah and scrub all your dead skin cells off in the bath or shower before applying.
- Protect or cover your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears when applying.
- Do not use products that can be inhaled through the nose or mouth.
- For ease of application and to prevent streaks, use an applicator mitt (or tanning mitt) when applying.
- Use sparingly around elbows and knees so the staining doesn’t concentrate there.
- You may need to do another layer to get the desired effect.
Mamavation’s Investigation on Self-Tanning Products
Mamavation looked at about 80 self-tanning products and ranked them for carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals. We were able to create three levels based on what we found prevalent in the industry: not our favorite, better, & best.
- Not Our Favorite Self-Tanning Products: Represents self-tanning products that had unidentified “fragrance” and at least 2+ other problematic ingredients.
- Better Self-Tanning Products: These products had at least 1 problematic ingredient, containing excessive amounts of “light” preservatives, not identifying the “natural fragrance” it contains, etc.
- Best Self-Tanning Products: These products contain the least amount of problematic ingredients. However, please note that we did not test these products in a lab.
Not Our Favorite Self-Tanning Products
These products contained unidentified “fragrance” and at least 2+ other problematic ingredients that were discussed above in this post.
- Australian Glow One Hour Express Self Tan Mousse
- Bali Body Self-Tanning Mousse
- Bondi Sands Pure Self Tan Water
- Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel
- Coco & Eve Bronzing Face Drops Medium
- Coco & Eve Bronzing Face Drops Dark
- Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bronzing Foam
- COOLA Sunless Tan Express Sculpting Mousse
- Endless LUXE Self Tanner Towelettes
- Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Drops
- Isle of Paradise Glow Clear Self-Tanning Mousse
- Jergens SOL by Jergens Sunless Tanning Water Mousse
- Jergens Natural Glow Instant Sun Sunless Tanning Moisturizer + Bronzer
- Jergens SOL by Jergens Sunless Tanning Serum
- Kiss My Face Self-Tanning Mousse
- Loreal Self-Tanning Water Mousse
- Loving Tan Platinum Ultimate Self-Tanning Mousse
- Maui Babe Sunless Tanner
- Miami Gorgeous Self-Tanning Mousse
- Miami Gorgeous Glow Clear Tanning Water
- MineTan Olive Self Tan Foam
- Olehenriksen Banana Bright Sun-Kissed Self-Tanning Face Primer
- PetaJane Self-Tanning Mousse
- Sephora Self-Tanning Body Mousse
- Skin Authority Sunless Tanner
- Skinerals Onyx Sunless Bronzer
- St. Moriz Clear Spray Tan In A Can
- St. Tropez Gradual Tan in Shower Lotion
- St. Tropez Self Tan Express Advanced Bronzing Mousse
- Tan-Luxe The Face Illuminating Self-Tan Drops
- Tanologist Self Tan Mousse
- The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan
- The Organic Pharmacy Self Tan Autobronzant
- Vita Liberata Ten Minute Tan
- Vita Liberata Fabulous Self-Tanning Gradual Lotion
- Vita Liberata Fabulous Self-Tanning Tinted Lotion
- Whish Coconut Milk & Verbena Self Tanner Lotion
Better Self-Tanning Products
This is a better product, but we did find some issues. This is the middle of the road where you may find a better balance between the use of chemicals and effectiveness. However, we did find some issues like the following: having at least 1 problematic ingredient as mentioned above, containing excessive amounts of “light” preservatives, not identifying the “natural fragrance” it contains, etc.
- Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner
- Bahama Tan Control Your Glow Gradual Self Tanning Lotion
- Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Intense Glow Pad Self-Tanner for Face
- Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops
- Eco Tan Hempitan Body Tan Water
- Eco Tan Cacao Tanning Mousse
- GLOW ALIFE Color Enhancer
- Josie Maran Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil
- Just Nutritive Sunless Tanning Lotion Anti-Aging
- Just Nutritive Sunless Tanning Daily Facial Cream
- Just Nutritive Sunless Tanning Lotion Dark Tones
- Just Nutritive Sunless Tanning Lotion Light to Medium Tones
- Lavera Self Tanning Lotion
- Suntegrity Natural Self Tanner
- Suntegrity 5-In-1 Natural Self-Tanner
- Supergoop Healthy Glow Sunless Tan SPF 40 Sunscreen
- Vita Liberata Invis Foaming Tan Water
- Vita Liberata Fabulous Self Tanning Tinted Mousse
- Vita Liberata Fabulous Self Tanning Mist
- Vita Liberata pHenomenal Tan Mousse
- Whish Coconut Milk & Verbena Self Tanning Drops
Best Self-Tanning Products
This category of products does not contain any ingredients that are concerning based on public information. However, we wanted to make sure you were aware that we have not tested any of these products in a lab. Our recommendations at this time are based on ingredients.
- Arcona Bronze Tinted Self Tanner
- Bahama Tan Self-Tanning Lotion
- Bahama Tan Self-Tanning Spray
- Beauty By Earth Self Tanner Tanning Lotion
- Beauty By Earth Face Self Tanner
- Beauty By Earth Self Tanner Body Tanning Spray
- Beauty By Earth Self Tanner Mousse
- Beauty By Earth Self Tanning Water Bronzing Face Mist
- Beauty By Earth Self Tanner Face Serum
- Beauty By Earth Self Tanner Drops
- Botanic Tree Self Tanner
- Botanic Tree Self Tanner Best Bronzer + Gold Tan
- Chocolate Sun ENHANCE Light Tanning Cream
- Chocolate Sun GLOW Medium Tanning Cream Face + Body (Cocoa)
- Chocolate Sun ABSOLUTE Dark Tanning Mist
- Chocolate Sun ILLUMINATE Medium to Dark Tanning Gel
- Eco Tan Face Tan Water
- Eco Tan Invisible Tan
- Eco Tan Winter Skin
- Kora Organics Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion
- Naru Organics Self Tanner
- Typology Progressive Self-Tanning Serum
- Zuii Organics Self-Tanning Foam
More Consumer Studies on Mamavation
Mamavation has been working hard to discover where to find PFAS “forever chemicals” inside food & other products we purchase and bring inside our homes. This is why we have decided to commission our own consumer studies on indications of PFAS in different consumer categories and share that information with you. Here is what we can offer you today!
- Pasta & Tomato Sauces
- Nut Butters (Peanut butter, etc.)
- Cooking Oils (olive oil, almond oil, canola oil, etc)
- Activewear (Yoga Pants)
- Sports Bras
- Green Beauty Makeup
- Dental Floss
- Toilet Paper
- Period Underwear
- Parchment Paper
- Bamboo Flooring
- Baby Strollers
- Sanitary Pads & Incontinence Pads
We also have other non-toxic investigations on products for your children or the rest of your family. Here are some that we thought you may like.
- Best Yoga mats
- Best Infrared Saunas
- Best Organic Mattresses
- Best Air purifiers
- Best Cookware
- Best Plant-Based Milks
- Best Water Filters for PFAS Filtration
- Best Collagen
- Best Electrolyte Replacement Drinks, Sports Drinks, & Coconut Water
- Best Infrared Saunas
- Best Bubble Bath
Click here for a complete list of product investigations.
I know you cannot test or research all products, but I would imagine Suzanne Sommers line, including tanning, would be top of list for healthy ingredients.
Sensitive skin is difficult to take care of, I have been suffering for years now
Because of my extremely sensitive skin, I had problems using any major brands. About ten years ago, my dermatologist discovered that I was extremely sensitive to the topical use of aloe and vitamin E. He suggested Aveeno, which was my only hope at the time. The item has altered, though. Does Big Pharma own this, or what?
Amazing blogs keep up the good work 🙂
I’m interested to know how the Three Warriors natural & organic tanning products rank? Thanks!