Tanning Safely


Do you prefer the sun-kissed look of a year-round tan? Many people do. But with the well-publicized dangers of too much direct sun-exposure and over-use of tanning beds, ‘tanorexics’ are increasingly turning to ‘self-tanning’ products to keep that sun-kissed glow. But are these products really safe, or are they just as dangerous as the sun itself?


Melanotan has been around since the 1980s, although the popularity of tanning salons and ignorance surrounding the dangers of too much sun meant that it was little-used back then.

Melanotan is a synthetic product that’s designed to mimic a natural hormone produced by your body that increases the amount of melanin found in your skin. Melanin is what causes your skin to tan. The drug is administered in small amounts by injection or nasal spray. On the face of it, this sounds great. However, the drug is not legally available through your doctor or pharmacy as it is still undergoing clinical trials and testing. Melanotan is unregulated. This means that there’s no information as to what constitutes a safe dose, or what the long-term side effects may be.

The primary concern of doctors is that the main ingredient of the product activates melanocytes in the skin. Melanocytes cause malignant melanoma, or skin cancer.

In addition to the potentially fatal long-term side effects of using Melanotan, there are some pretty unpleasant short-term ones. Users have reported depression, high blood pressure, panic attacks, nausea, suppressed appetite, headaches and hot flushes. As the drug is usually administered by injection into the stomach, there’s also the risk of infection.

Worryingly, Melanotan can readily be purchased online. A quick Google search will throw up plenty of websites willing to sell you a month’s supply in kit form for around $30. However, this Cougar advises that you don’t even go there!

Sunless tanning pills

Sunless tanning pills appeared some years ago as a ‘safe’ alternative to direct sun-exposure and tanning beds. You simply take a pill every day, and turn a delicious, golden brown in less than a week.

Unfortunately, the simple truth is that tanning pills either don’t work, or can be very harmful. The safer ones generally contain only vitamins and minerals with a small amount of Beta Carotene colourant. Although they’re safe enough, they don’t give you the golden tan they promise. In fact, they don’t work at all on many people, and are just a waste of money.

The ones to really avoid are those containing a nasty colour additive called, canthaxanthin. When taken regularly or to excess, canthaxanthin causes your skin to turn a horrible bright orange, not a sexy golden brown! In addition, you could suffer hives, impaired vision, vomiting and, in severe cases, liver damage.

Sunless tanning sprays and lotions

The safest way to achieve that sun-kissed look is by using a self-tanning spray or lotion. You can either take the DIY route, or visit a professional spray-tanning salon.

Most sunless tanning products contain the colour additive, dihydroxyacetone. The substance reacts with the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin and temporarily darkens it. You’ll have to regularly reapply the product, as the effects usually wear off within a few days.

Dihydroxyacetone is approved for safe use by the medical profession. The only side-effect you’ll experience is that the product tends to wear off onto your clothing, bed linen and towels, although it does wash off.

It’s important to note that sunless tanning products don’t generally contain sunscreen, so you will need to protect yourself from harmful UV rays if you spend time outside in the sun.

Suntan lotions and sunscreens

If you do prefer natural tanning, it’s vital that you know what to look for when choosing sunscreens. Sunscreens use special filters to absorb or reflect harmful UV rays. There are two types of UV rays; UVA and UVB. UVB rays are the ones that cause skin cancer.

When choosing a sunscreen, there are two things to look for on the packaging: the SPF (Sun   Protection Factor) and the UVA star rating. The SPF refers to the product’s ability to protect your skin from cancer-causing UVB rays. This means that, the higher the SPF number, the greater the protection the product offers. For example, SPF 50 is usually used for children, or people with very sensitive or fair skin. Doctors recommend an SPF of 30 for general outdoor activities.

UVA rays, although not as dangerous, are the ones that cause your skin to wrinkle and age prematurely. Look at the back of the sunscreen bottle for the UVA star rating. Three stars offers minimal protection from UVA rays, whereas a five star rating will give you much more of a barrier again the ageing effects of the sun.

Despite claims on some products that they are waterproof, you’ll still to reapply every hour or so, especially in very hot weather if you’re perspiring, or if you’ve been swimming.

In conclusion

It’s possible to enjoy a golden glow all year round. Just be aware of what you’re putting into and onto your body, and thrive safely in the summer sunshine!

If you’ve any sun-tanning tips or stories you’d like to share with other Thriving Cougars, please feel free to comment below.

  1. Karen November 21, 2015
    • Alison Page November 22, 2015
  2. Nicole April 4, 2016

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