As Australians, we've known for years that tanning in the sun is a no-no. It leads to skin cancers and premature aging. Despite this, having a tan is still seen as healthy and attractive. Which is where fake tans come in. Fake tans are definitely safer than sunbaking, but as with all cosmetics, you need to know that you're not applying toxic chemicals to your skin.
So what's in fake tans?
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the magic ingredient that makes fake tan turn your skin brown. One of my nerdy favourite websites, Compound Interest, explains that DHA reacts with amino acids in the dead layer of skin on the skin's surface. This reaction leads to the production of melanoidins, which are the chemicals that cause the appearance of a tan.
DHA is considered to be low toxicity, depending on how it's used. It's better if you apply fake tans as a cream, rather than as a spray. One study found that inhaling DHA at high concentrations can lead to DNA damage, so stick with the lotions. If you must go with a spray tan, make sure that you don't inhale it. Call the salon and find out whether they offer protection from inhalation.
DHA in fake tans is usually used at less than 10%, so what about the rest of the cream? This is where you've got to do your research and read the ingredients.
As usual, you'll want to avoid petrochemicals, parabens, PEGs, perfumes and, as this is a colouring product, artificial dyes.
For this smackdown, we've taken a mainstream product from Fake Bake, a product from Mine Tan claiming to have natural ingredients and botanicals, and a certified organic product from Eco Tan.
Fake Bake Original Self Tan Lotion
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Dihydroxyacetone, Ethoxydiglycol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Octyl Palmitate, Neopentyl Glycol Diheptanoate, Propylene Glycol, Diethylhexyl Maleate, Canola Oil, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Erythrulose, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 100 Stearate, PPG-5 Ceteth-10 Phosphate, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Chondroitin, Glucosamine, Polysorbate 80, Magnesium Aluminium Silicate, Xanthan Gum, VP/Eicosene Copolymer, Dimethicone, Panthenol, Phenoxyethanol, Benzoic Acid, Sorbic Acid, Sodium Bisulfate, Parfum(Fragrance), Red 40 (CI 16035), Blue 1 (CI 42090), Yellow 5 (CI 19140), Alpha Isomethyl Ionone, Butylphenyl Methylpropianol,Citronellol, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Limonene, Linalool.
Although the Fake Bake isn't in the EWG Skindeep Database, we've run it through with the ingredients, and it's come up at around a 5.
The problematic ingredients are perfume, diethylhexyl maleate (this is a concern, as it's pretty close to the top of the ingredients list, so there's a fair bit of it in there), phenoxyethanol, silicones (dimethicone), PEGs, propylene glycol and F&DC colours (yellow, blue and red).
It's safer than a sunbed, or sunbaking on the beach, sure, but there's better options out there.
Mine Tan One Hour Brazilian Onyx Foam
Mine Tan has a range of fake tans that sounds better than the Fake Bake. Here's what they say on their website:
"Naturally derived DHA Tan Actives are combined with powerful antioxidants, including botanical fruit extracts and silky amino acids to help the tan develop faster, absorb deeper into the skin and create a dark natural colour that lasts longer. The combination of natural ingredients and nutrient botanicals provide multiple benefits for the skin including moisturising antioxidants to boost the skin's glow."
Sounds great, right? But when you dig a little deeper, here's the ingredients list:
Purified and Deionized Water (Aqua), Dihydroxyacetone (Eco-Cert Approved DHA), Caramel (Cosmetic Bronzer), Glyceryl Cocoate (derived from Coconut), Acetyl Tyrosine, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Adenosine Triphosphate, Hydrolyzed Beta-Glucan, Hydrolyzed Cornstarch, Beta Vulgaris Root (Beet) Extract, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), L-Ascorbic (Vitamin C), Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Lycopersicum Esculentum (Tomato) Seed Extract, Panthenol (Vitamin B5 Complex), Caffeine, Microencapsulated Ascorbyl Acid (Vitamin C), Natural L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Ordenone (Parfum), Dimethicone, Copper, FD&C Blue 1 (CI42090), FD&C Yellow 5 (CI19140), FD&C Red 40 (CI6035), D&C Green 5 (CI61570)and Natural Essential Oils as Fragrance (Parfum).
Hmm. We've got silicones (dimethicone), artificial FD&C colours (blue, yellow, red and green), and ordenone (which I couldn't find out much about, except what's here). There's also lemon peel extract, which is photosensitizing, and retinyl palmitate. Retinyl palmitate is a big issue when combined with sunshine, as it can speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions. This is perhaps not such an issue if you've had the fake tan on for a few days. But given that this is a 'one hour' product, and many people forget to apply sunscreen when they're wearing fake tan, I think the retinyl palmitate is a cause for concern in this product.
It's better than the Fake Bake, but it's still not great.
Eco Tan Invisible Tan
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Dihydroxyacetone, Glyceryl Stearate, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate, Xanthan Gum, Lecithin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract, Pelargonium Graveolens (Rose Geranium) Oil, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract.
Eco Tan, by comparison, comes in at a 1 or a 2 on EWG. The lecithin and tocopherol acetate can have contamination concerns (which pushes the score towards a 2), but Eco Tan is certified organic by ACO and both of these ingredients have to be processed cleanly to get certification, so it's not a concern.
The verdict? Eco Tan fake tan is a much better product, really nothing to be concerned about at all. Isn't it nice to know that you can look bronzed and glowing without the chemical nasties this summer?
One final comment: fake tan gives you no sun protection. Make sure that you slip, slop and slap and be sunsmart this summer. No point getting all worked up about toxic chemicals and then getting sunburnt!
Do you fake it over summer? Which is your favourite fake tan? Share below!