self-tanners… friend or foe? (plus: homemade tanner options)


and lemme tell ya, it sucks for us pale people.

so what’s the usual solution for those who don’t want to be in the sun? self tanners! (we’ll discuss actual sun exposure towards the end). however, as you probably expected if you follow my blog, i’m here to tell you exactly what you’re doing when you slather on that self-tanner (don’t even get me started on tanning beds. i wish i could smash them all with a sledge hammer. a team of sledge hammers.)

yes, it’s a long post. but it’s all informative; promise!!

if you’re a sunless tanner, you might wanna sit down…


with all these sunless options floating around to give you a tan, don’t you wanna know what you’re really putting on your skin?


if you ever wonder what you’re putting on your skin, like i have, here’s a rundown of what’s common in self-tanners:

  • sodium hydroxymethyl glycinate – in high concentrations it’s a skin and eye irritant;  also may contain formaldehyde (added during processing) and may break down into formaldehyde once it has permeated the skin… GROSS
  • mineral oil – derivative of petroleum, carcinogenic and a comedogenic
  • oxybenzone (benzophenon-3) – hormone disruption, cancer, affects the cardiovascular system, developmental and reproductive problems, interferes with cellular communication, leading to cellular mutations
  • octyl stearate – irritant and comedogenic
  • methylparaben – may contribute to allergies, immunotoxity, cancer, neurotoxicity & irritation
  • isopropyl myristate –  comedogenic and may bind to nitrates in the body… nitrates are carcinogenic
  • “fragrance” and “colors” – many fragrances used in tanning products are created from petrochemicals and many chemicals used to create scents are known carcinogens
  • DHA (dihydroxyacetone) – do we really need to go over the dangers of dha? okay – genetic alternations, DNA damage, cancer…no thanks!

and you think you’re doing yourself a favor by going to those fancy spray tan booths? think again! check out what the FDA warned: “When using DHA-containing products as an all-over spray or mist in a commercial spray “tanning” booth, it may be difficult to avoid exposure in a manner for which DHA is not approved, including the area of the eyes, lips, or mucous membrane, or even internally… Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation.”


for some examples, i’ve chosen some popular self-tanners to show you their EWG ratings:
Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 10.22.45 PM

  • jergen’s natural glow –    lotion: 6      foam: 7
  • l’oreal sublime bronze/glow – 5 & 6    mist: 7
  • l’oreal daily moisturizer/skin tone enhancer – 8
  • alba botanica natural sunless tanner – 7. yup.
  • coppertone sunless tanning – 4   (with their fragrance ingredient an 8)
  • banana boat self tanning mist – 5
  • banana boat sunless summer- 7
  • olay touch of sun – 5
  • sally hansen airbrush legs – 6
  • palmer’s cocoa butter natural bronze lotion – 7
  • hawaiian tropic island
  • neutrogena build a tan – 6
  • nivea sun-kissed gradual tan – 6
  • australian gold lock tan extender – 6
  • cvs fine mist sunless tanning spray- 6

>> check out your self-tanners toxicity rating HERE.

“okay. mine’s a 4 or 5. that’s not bad.”

okay. and that’s only ONE product you’re using. now compound its toxins with how often you use it, the other products you use, and how long you use them all for. you’re making your body a TOXIC WASTELAND. i know most people love a good tan; but if it comes at the price of your health, WHY risk it?? it’s not necessary!

if you KNOW you WON’T give up self-tanners, despite this information, check out SwissClinical Self-Tanner. it’s rated a 1 by the EWG…and the only one rated remotely that low. it’s also pretty darn expensive!

“okay, okay, i get it! so what do i do NOW?!”

1. embrace your skin color (that was really difficult for me because i think i’m snow white’s cousin).
2. look into homemade self-tanners. and of course i wouldn’t leave you hangin, so here ya go:

(these didn’t really work for me, but every one is different!!)

1. chocolate –  mix 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with 1/2 cup cocoa butter (or unscented white lotion….please make sure it doesn’t have toxic ingredients in it!). exfoliate & apply to dry skin. stay nakey and let it dry for 30-45 minutes, or until it’s not sticky anymore. it’ll wash off almost completely the next time you shower (or sweat) but it’d be a good option for the day!

2. black tea – boil 5 black tea bags in 2 cups water. sponge/spray on dry, exfoliated skin. let dry. again, it’ll wash off with sweat or in the shower.

3. brown sugar & carrots – check out this gal. looks a bit orange, but it’s pretty interesting!

sun exposure is not as bad as we’ve been led to believe. it has been proven (as in, with research) that RESPONSIBLE sunlight exposure can PREVENT cancer. please keep reading –

“Insufficient exposure to ultraviolet radiation may be an important risk factor for cancer in Western Europe and North America, according to a new study published in the prominent Cancer journal that directly contradicts official advice about sunlight. The research examined cancer mortality in the United States. Deaths from a range of cancers of the reproductive and digestive systems were approximately twice as high in New England as in the southwest, despite a diet that varies little between regions. An examination of 506 regions found a close inverse correlation between cancer mortality and levels of ultraviolet B light. The likeliest mechanism for a protective effect of sunlight is vitamin D, which is synthesized by the body in the presence of ultraviolet B.” – Cancer Journal, 94:1867-75

sunlight reduced the instance of some of the deadliest cancers, such as breast, colon and prostate. in another study, clinical laboratory scientist Dennis Mangan concluded “this is like the Holy Grail of cancer medicine; vitamin D produced a drop in cancer rates greater than that for quitting smoking, or indeed any other countermeasure in existence.”

what are your thoughts? did your self-tanner’s toxicity surprise you? are you going to look into alternatives??

best believe i’ll be tackling sunscreen and its dangers next!!!! egh, the cosmetic industry disgusts me.


(i am not making any statements to hurt those affected by skin cancers. i believe Mommypotamus said it best: “i realize that some people who read this have experienced the pain and difficulty of skin cancer, either personally or with a loved one. i would never dare to invalidate these experiences or to treat them lightly. it is my hope that by providing this research, which is based off the work of a senior MIT scientist and a former cancer and DNA research scientist, i will make a compelling case for re-examining our cultural attitudes about sunlight. i am not a doctor and i do not advocate sunburns at all, but it is my opinion that responsible sunlight exposure positively affects our health when a good diet with plenty of healthy fats/antioxidants are present. my writing reflects a commitment to that lifestyle.” all i ask is there be intelligible, data-based discussion and that everyone is kind.)

10 thoughts on “self-tanners… friend or foe? (plus: homemade tanner options)

  1. This is one cosmetic I won’t be making. I love my fair English rose skin and wouldn’t change it for anything.

  2. Hi Alex,
    I love your writing and appreciate the work you do for all of us….I’ve been making my own stuff forever….organic beeswax,organic coconut oil, argan oil (questioning the organic validity of that after reading some of the research from your site) and delicious organic oils – vanilla, mint, rose etc.
    My question: I’ve been using plain old iron oxides (rust) mixed with the above for a rub on tanner, is there anything unsafe or toxic in rubbing rust on our legs?

  3. The last paragraph is very important. People think that avoiding the sun will help but you need around 20 minutes of sun a day for vitamin d for healthily absorbed skin. People usually overdo it or underdo it

  4. I love the idea of the cocoa powder and lotion!! I’m also extremely pale and burn in the sun after about 10 minutes but I’ve always been afraid of self tanners turning me orange. The cocoa powder is good if I’m going to an event or something and want to have a little bit of a tan without having to commit (with different colored foundation and everything.) I love it!!

  5. In Australia we have a wonderful product called EcoTan totally natural, certified organic ingredients and works brilliantly!

  6. I soaked coffee grounds in water and the placed in a spray bottle, misted myself outside, and let dry. Didn’t. Shower tip later that day. He Colorado seemed to stick for a few days and works better if you exfoliate first.

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