Self-tanning creams, what are the risks?

Self-tanning creams are offered as a much healthier alternative to sunbathing or UV booths

When summer leaves, the tan that has been obtained during the months when the sun shines brightest and during more hours of the day is also usually lost. There are, however, ways to keep the tan on your skin without the need for sun exposure.

These are self-tanning creams, whose presence in the market has increased significantly in recent years. In fact, a  study published in 2018 by scientists from Italy and Portugal estimated that the annual production of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) – the main active ingredient in self-tanning creams – had more than doubled in relation to what was manufactured a decade earlier.

The main reason for this increase is the greater awareness in society about the  risks of being exposed to UVA rays , whether you sunbathe or through  tanning booths . Risks include an increased chance of  melanoma , cancer and other eye problems, possible burns and allergic reactions, and problems with the immune system, as well as premature aging of the skin.

Self-tanners represent  “a fantastic solution with a great future” , because “they provide a tanned tone in record time and without damaging the skin”, states the Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (AEDV) in a   prevention document . He explains that, when in contact with the skin, DHA “produces a chemical oxidation reaction”, which stains the dead cells of the outermost layer of the skin. These cells are eliminated from the body in two to three days, due to the natural process of desquamation.

Possible risks of using self tanners

The Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety of the European Union, in a   2010 statement , expressed its opinion that, based on the data available up to that time, the use of DHA “as a self-tanning ingredient in cosmetic formulas, provided that  does not exceed 10% of its concentration , it does not pose a risk to consumers “.

However,  the most recent studies raise some doubts . The chemical process that occurs when DHA meets amino acids in the skin – known as the Maillard reaction – generates “highly reactive free radicals, which can attack cell structures and degrade collagen and elastin fibers, favoring premature aging of the skin and the formation of wrinkles “. This is explained by the aforementioned study by Italian and Portuguese scientists, published two years ago in the specialized journal  Chemistry Open .

This process is also accelerated by solar radiation. The same researchers explain that on a skin on which a self-tanner has been applied, when exposed to the sun’s rays, the number of free radicals that are generated can  increase by more than 180%  compared to another that has not received any. treatment.

Another negative effect – add the authors of the work – is that the use of a typical cream based on DHA ” attenuates the formation of vitamin D  induced by sunlight”. And there is still more: the aforementioned free radicals could induce DNA damage. This is due to a significant alteration of the cellular microenvironment, due not so much to the application of the creams on the skin, but to possible inhalations, application on mucous membranes or through small wounds.

Therefore, the greatest risk would be given not so much by creams as by  aerosol self-tanners , which can reach those sensitive areas much more easily. Still,  specialists  emphasize that further research is needed to understand the “complex metabolic events” that exposure to DHA can induce.

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