Last week we told you about the latest reports on DHA, the ingredient in sunless tanners that we have championed in the past (it’s natural! it’s a sugar!). Now the new science is saying that it may cause DNA damage. As always, more research is needed for anything conclusive, but we can no longer recommend that you use this stuff in good conscience.
I don’t know about you, but in recent summers I’ve loved using a little self-tanner on my face to up my glow. I’ve always enjoyed getting some sun on my arms and legs, but while I’m not a big sunscreen user, I still tend to be careful with exposure on my face. That’s where the lotion came in handy.
So what are the options for your face if, like me, you’re ditching the sunless stuff?
1. Stay pale, use blush.
Pale skin with a fresh pink cheek is never out of season. But if you want to mix it up for the summer go with something a little peachier. Peach says sun-kissed without looking garish on super fair skin.
2. Fake it carefully with some bronzer.
If you are very pale, bronzer does run the risk of looking a little silly. But if your skin’s not of the translucent variety—and bless you girls who needn’t worry about this at all—a nice clean bronzer may just do the trick. Here’s a good tip to avoid looking clownish, especially for daytime wear: mix a little bit into your moisturizer or favorite oil when you apply it instead of using a brush. It’ll be more subtle and dewy like that.
3. Get a little sun.
There’s not a dermatologist in the free world that will recommend you get any unprotected sun exposure on your face, but I’m a believer that anything in moderation can’t be that bad. Am I encouraging you to sit out and cook your mug? Heck no. Do I think ten minutes here and there is going to turn you into a leather-faced old hag. Neither.
At the end of the day, we all just need to work with the skin we have and find the subtle compliments that make us look (and feel) healthiest. So while I’m sad to see sunless tanners go, at least until more is known, I’m up for finding more great natural bronzers and blushes. So please post your favorites!
Did you use sunless tanners in the past, and will this new science deter you now? If so, what are your plans for getting your glow on this summer?
UPDATE! I can’t believe I forgot this tip. Eat more veggies! They’re proven to give skin a tan-like glow. See?
Fans of fake tans may want to sit down for this.
Dihydroxyacetone—that’s DHA to you— which is the active ingredient in self-tanners (even clean ones) and spray tans (none of which are clean) “has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage,” according to a panel of scientists in an investigation done by ABC News.
Now before you run to the bathroom and ditch your Chocolate Sun, let’s take a closer look at what we know so far.
What are the news reports saying?
That DHA has the potential to cause genetic alterations, DNA damage, and cancer.
What’s DHA anyway?
DHA is a sugar that interacts with amino acids in the top layer of your skin to produce pigment called melanoidins; that’s the brownish tanned look these products achieve. DHA can be manufactured synthetically, or it can be derived from natural things, like beet sugar or cane sugar. It was approved by the FDA for topical use in 1977 (and many orange tans ensued!) and is widely accepted as nontoxic when applied to the skin.
So is it toxic?
Some research showed that when it’s applied in the form of a lotion, DHA does not migrate past the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of skin that’s also sometimes called the “dead skin layer.” Which sounds gross, but it’s good news, we thought, for your organs and your blood if you’re applying it in a cream as opposed inhaling it in the form of a spray tan or a spray-on self tanner.
Up until now, there’s been the most concern about spray tans, because the application method means you might inhale the stuff. Even the FDA, which is typically mum about all things cosmetics-related, has a warning on its website about them. Which means that for the love of all things good (and good looking) you should not be getting a spray tan!
Fine. But I’m good to go with a self tanner, right?
Not so fast.
FDA reports dating back to the 1990s, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, cited research that some DHA can migrate to the living layers of the skin after all. How much of it—and where it goes from there—is anybody’s guess.
And I dug up some research from 1962 showing that DHA turned up in blood samples after topical application as well. Dr. Darrell Rigel, an NYU professor of dermatology, told ABC News: “What you showed me certainly leads me to say I have to rethink what I’m doing and what I’m saying because there’s … a real potential problem there.” I’ll say. Every dermatologist I’ve ever been to has told me that if I want to tan, which thank goodness I do not, that I should use a self tanner.
So what’s the bottom line?
As always, it’s up to you. But because the research that’s just now getting attention—even though it’s by no means new—shows that when DHA gets into your blood or migrates to your organs through inhalation, it can cause DNA damage and possibly cancer…
I’ll keep digging into it, but for now, DHA is out for me.
If you decide to continue to use self-tanner, some words of advice: First, treat it like you treat your favorite conventional going-out lipstick and use it only for special occasions, like a wedding, a job interview or a hot date. I’m pretty bruisey on my legs, so I may keep mine around and use it before weddings or something. I’m on the fence about that right now.
And if you are going to use a self-tanner, use a cleaner formula. Most conventional ones are filled with dyes, synthetic preservatives, fragrance and all of that other stuff we generally try to avoid putting on our and in bodies. If you’re not sure if yours has dye in it, you can do one of two things: read the ingredient label (harder) or look at it and see if it’s brown (easy).
We’ll continue to look into this, but we want to know So what are you going to do with this news? To self tan or not to self tan?
You can read more about ABC’s investigation here. It’s long but good. The section called “DHA: A Health Hazard” is where the research is cited.
Salons are magical places where women get to forget their woes, read trashy magazines, and come out feeling like movie stars. But as many of you know, for a clean girl, the beauty parlor is a place shrouded in dangerous mysteries, where products and treatments are pumped out of big unmarked bottles and toxins waft through the air. And where there is no legal requirement to reveal ingredients.
As it so happens, S and I are currently doing a little research on some of the more nefarious treatments happening in salons these days. But no research is complete without you guys, our fingers on the pulse.
What treatments are you (or your not-so-clean friends) getting these days? Some we’re looking at are: gel nails, Brazilian blowouts (yep, still popular), and these new eyelash growth potions. But are people also still getting perms, going to tanning beds, and using hair relaxers? Have you heard of anything else creeping on the scene?
As you guys know, in these parts, the salon is no longer our main hangout. Sure, we’re getting occasional manicures but even the so-called natural polishes are hotly debated (see comments). We also both go for occasional highlights. It’s been about a year since I got mine, and yes, I’m currently debating a spring pick-me-up (and I dreamt I dyed my hair red last night!). But, while far from clean, these treatments are pretty vanilla compared to some others.
Help your girls out here, and tell us what you—or your friends and colleagues—are getting done.
One of my favorite discoveries while researching the book was finding out that the active ingredient in tanning lotion isn’t actually all that bad. Total shocker! The other ingredients in there, though? Take a guess. Here’s a great post from our friends at Well&Good who went on an ingredient hunt to find out what’s really in spray tans. Enjoy, and let us know in the comments: Did you ever get your Jersey Shore on? (I did it once to pretty disastrous results, but I’m a big fan of clean tanning creams.)
Spray tanning—a temporary bronzing service offered at salons and spas—owes its success to the finding that ultraviolet rays cause not just a summery glow, but serious skin cancer.
Not surprisingly, many spas and salons market them as a safer alternative to sunning (or tanning beds). But then these spas don’t provide a list of ingredients for what’s in a spray tan. So how do you know what your skin is soaking up?
We set out to determine what magic potion could turn people varying shades of bronze (or occasionally orange-ish), and it was more difficult than we imagined. Here’s what we were able to learn.
What we know
Nearly every product contains Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, a carbohydrate that can be derived from glycerin or plant sources such as sugar cane or beets. DHA reacts with the amino acids in the surface layer of the skin, and is generally safe for external use.
The key word here is “external.” Most spray tans coat your face with the formula, and the FDA actually warns against inhaling DHA, saying it should not touch the lips or any area around the eyes, including eyebrows or eyelids.
What we don’t know
So what else in a typical spray-tan cocktail? Who knows? “Salon products are exempt from labeling,” explains Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face. “This makes no sense, since salon products are typically more potent than at-home versions.”
When we asked a handful of spas and salons for a list of ingredients in their spray tan, most weren’t able to provide it. That’s partly because many salons use mass-produced formulas, and may not know—or ask—what’s actually in them, says Susie Hatton, the founder of Chocolate Sun, a California-based company that uses a 100 percent natural (and mostly organic) formula and is offered at the Mandarin Oriental Spa in New York.
After leaving two unreturned messages atPortofino’s corporate offices (the Starbucks of tanning), a receptionist finally answered on the third try. “We don’t manufacture it—it’s not our formula, ”she said. She took a message, but no one got back to me. (Not surprising for a company that calls the link between UV exposure and melanoma a myth on their website, I guess.)
You’ll have to wait for the book to get the full scoop on sunless tanning, but the short story is this: Most of them suck. The upshot? A (very) few don’t! We’re going to take it for granted that girls born with darker olive or brown complexions just aren’t as hungry for that perfect bottled glow as their pastier counterparts. In the book we talk about some good ones for your body and a great one for paler legs. But since then we’ve made a delicious discover for our mugs too: Lavera’s FACES Summer Glow. Chances are you can also find this item at your local Target.
Among the reasons we like it? The ingredients are super clean. It smells lovely, and feels equally good. It’s incredibly subtle—which means you really have control over results, depending on what’s right for your skin tone and how often you apply it. With that in mind, onto the tips!
- You don’t have to worry too much about overdoing it with this product, but if you are extremely pale (and a little nervous) we suggest you use a light touch the first time. You can even mix a tiny bit into your favorite clean moisturizer or friendly face oil (like coconut or argan) to further dilute it, and help spread the product evenly if you’re only using a smidgen.
- Whether or not you mix, the first few times you use the product, cover your entire face (save under your eyes, and not right to your hairline). As with your liquid foundation, it’s best to move from the center of your face outwards—that way it will get lighter towards the edge of your face.
- Here’s the best part. Once you have a subtle base start thinking of your face tanner more like a bronzer. For those of you who remember the days of real tanning, recall that the parts of our faces which protrude get the most attention: freckly noses, tanned cheekbones, chins and the middle of foreheads. Just as you would highlight some of those spots with a bronzer, you can do the same thing with your Lavera FACES cream. This will be the difference between a natural looking bottled tan, and a too-even giveaway.
As an aside: We’ve heard good things about a clean California brand called Chocolate Sun, but we’re waiting for it to land at our new favorite beauty store in L.A., Evolue. We’ll get back to you once we’ve tried it!