Sunless tanning, also called self-tanning, can make your skin look as if you have spent hours in the sun, but without the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Products sold for sunless tanning may be creams, lotions or sprays, and are readily available over the counter. You can also get a professional spray tan.
Most sunless tanners contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive, as their active ingredient. The DHA enters the dead skin cells at the surface of your skin. DHA temporarily darkens the appearance of your skin, but the tan wears off after a few days as you shed the tinted dead skin cells.
Generally these products are considered safe when applied externally according to directions. For instance, avoid getting the tanning product in your eyes, nose or mouth. Avoid inhaling spray-on tanning products.
Sunless tanning pills are available, but should NOT be used. They contain a different color additive, canthaxanthin. If you ingest too much canthaxanthin, your skin will turn orange or brown from the inside. Canthaxanthin can also cause hives, impair your vision, and damage your liver. Avoid this product!
A warning: Most self-tanning products do not contain a sunscreen. If you spend time in the sun after self-tanning, using sunscreen is imperative. While a normal suntan provides some protection against sunburn, a self-tan does not. Using a sunscreen on self-tanned skin is important for your health.
For more information on sunless tanning: