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Cancer Risk and Prevention

Tanning Pills and Other Tanning Products

Some people look for spray tans, tanning pills, and other products that can help them get a “fake tan” without exposing them to UV (ultraviolet) radiation. Some of these products may be safe and effective, but others might not work, and some could even be harmful. Many are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Tanning pills

Tanning pills claim to tint the skin by using color additives, such as canthaxanthin. Once swallowed, the additives in the pills travel through the body and typically turn the skin an orange-like color. It’s important to know there are no pills approved for the purpose of tanning by the FDA. The color additives may be harmful at the high levels used in tanning pills. For example, canthaxanthin can show up in your eyes as yellow crystals, which may cause injury and impair vision. There have also been reports of liver and skin problems.

Tanning shots

Tanning shots (injections under the skin) are not approved by the FDA and are not safe to use. These shots are sometimes called a “tan jab.” Most contain chemicals such as melanotan, an artificial (lab-made) substance. Melanotan is related to melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), which helps skin cells make more melanin (the brown pigment that gives the skin its tan or brown color). These shots may cause nausea, vomiting, sexual side effects, or other side effects. Some reports have also suggested they might increase the risk of premature aging of the skin and skin cancers.

Tanning nasal sprays

Tanning nasal sprays are also not approved by the FDA. Since these products aren’t regulated, it’s not always clear what they contain. Like tanning shots, most contain melanotan and possibly other chemicals. They can have the same side effects as tanning shots and are not considered safe to use.

Tanning accelerators

Tanning accelerators might come in the form of lotions or pills. They might contain the amino acid tyrosine or its derivatives. These have not been shown to work and may be dangerous. Marketers say these products stimulate the body’s own tanning process, but most evidence suggests they don’t work. The FDA considers them unapproved new drugs that have not been shown to be safe and effective.

Spray tans and tanning lotions

Other types of sunless tanning products include spray tans, tanning lotions, and bronzing lotions for the entire body or parts of the body, such as the face and neck. These are also known as self-tanners or extenders. Some companies offer sunless tanning through the use of moisturizers, makeup products, brush-on powders, and wipe-on towels. These are considered cosmetics for use on the skin.

Sunless tanning products applied to the skin interact with proteins on the surface of the skin to produce a darker color. Like a tan, the color tends to wear off after a few days. Many of these products use an FDA-approved color additive for sunless tanners called dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

These products are not thought to be harmful when used properly, however DHA is approved for external use only. These products should not be:

  • Breathed in through the nose or mouth
  • Swallowed
  • Sprayed or applied in areas that have mucous membranes (eyes, nose, lips)

If you are considering a sunless tanning product, talk to your doctor. Keep in mind that most sunless tanning products do not contain sunscreen. Because of this, they may not offer protection against UV rays. Even if they do contain sunscreen, the protection is only effective for a couple of hours. Read the label carefully to know if a product provides any UV protection. As always, it’s safest to continue to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing when going outside.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Cancer Research UK. Tanning, Fake Tan and Melanotan. 2023. Accessed at on June 26, 2024.

Lyons S, Lorigan P, Green AC, Ferguson A, Epton T. Reasons for indoor tanning use and the acceptability of alternatives: A qualitative study. Social Science & Medicine. 2021;286:114331. Accessed at on June 26, 2024.

Petrou I. Say no to nasal tanning sprays. Dermatology Times. 2023;44:01. Accessed at on June 26, 2024.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Sunless Tanners & Bronzers. 2022. Accessed at on June 26, 2024.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tanning Pills. 2022. Accessed at on June 26, 2024.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tanning Products: Tanning Lamps, Booths, and Beds. 2019. Accessed at on June 26, 2024.

Last Revised: June 26, 2024

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