Can fake tan be harmful?


Q: Is it safe to top up my fading summer tan with a fake tan product? I have seen some rather scary headlines recently.

A: The problem centres on the skin-colouring compound DHA (dihydroxyacetone). If this gets into the bloodstream, it could theoretically alter and damage DNA, which could in turn lead to the development of cancers and malignancies. ‘We simply don’t know the relative risk but it is a concern,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe (

The danger is principally linked to spray tanning booths, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA;, which has not licensed them. If users are not properly protected, spray tan may get into the body via exposed mucous membrane – in the eyes, nose, lips and mouth – or inhalation. If you use a booth, ensure you are properly protected, including your entire eye area.

Regular fake tanning by any method (spray, cream or lotion) may allow a small amount of DHA to get through the skin barrier into your bloodstream. ‘Regular “tanorexics” are more at risk than the occasional user where the risk is zero to minimal,’ says Dr Lowe, adding that, as well as skin problems such as eczema, over-exfoliating beforehand for a smoother finish will make the skin barrier more vulnerable.

Follow the directions carefully, advises the FDA , and don’t get the self-tanner in your eyes, nose or mouth. Pharmacist Shabir Daya recommends creams and lotions rather than mists or sprays.

Organic products are not potentially less harmful. Although the DHA in these products is usually derived from organic beetroot or sugar cane, it is identical in chemical formula – a three-carbon sugar – to synthetic or non-organic versions. (Organic products, of course, omit other synthetic chemicals.)

Always wear sunscreen over a self-tanner. In one study, DHA -covered skin had more free radical damage during sun exposure than bare skin.


Stressed friends recommend calming Bach Rescue Pastilles, £4.59 from Boots, which contain the original Rescue Remedy. ‘I have no idea how they work, but I instantly feel I can cope,’ says one fan. They’re great for offices, and in the car too. Rescue Gummy Stars – the children’s version, £6.99 – can be used for two-year-olds and up.

MY HEALTH Jane Lauder
cosmetics CEO

  • I have chicken soup for lunch every day, year round. It has lots of nutrients, so I never get coughs and colds. And it’s very comforting!
  • My husband has asthma and other allergies so we eat a gluten-free diet. It’s helped him to breathe much better, and me too, so I can run faster and easier. He’s allergic to corn as well, so we don’t have anything with corn syrup, which means very little processed food.
  • I have almond milk in my espresso every morning: it feels like dairy and gives you protein.
  • When I wake exhausted, I go for a run. It’s the hardest thing to do but it makes a big difference. I love yoga too – it’s the perfect counterbalance to running.
  • Massage calms me down. A good therapist works every bit of stress, mostly in my neck and back from hunching over a keyboard or sitting on a plane.
  • I sleep through plane journeys. I take my own small pillow, wrap up because the air-con makes it so cold and use an eye mask and earplugs. I drink
    lots of very hot water to keep hydrated – I do that at work too – and just eat a fruit and nut Kind bar, which is all-natural and gluten-free.
  • Reading novels turns my mind off. I love watching cooking shows, too: there’s something soothing about seeing people take ordinary ingredients
    and make something fabulous. That’s why I love cosmetics.
  • My perfect vacation is going to our beach house and reading in the shade, having the food we want and leaving things messy. And taking my watch off – I am trying to do that more.

Jane is global president of Origins. Its Make A Difference Plus range for dehydrated skin launches in October at selected department stores and at

Website of the week:

Micro-volunteering is a genius idea for time-poor people of all ages who want to do something charitable. The award-winning site Help From Home offers links to over 800 different micro-volunteering activities, which take under half an hour and you can do from your own home, when you want, with no specialised skills required. You could, for instance, send a message to a sick child, be an English ‘tutor’ by chatting on Skype, help to beat bullying or send a pre-written email for Human Rights Watch.

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