Sunless Tanning Lotions

All the scariness surrounding skin cancer is enough to make you want to hide under a rock this summer! But that sun-kissed look is so appealing. Many of us are turning to sunless tanning lotions to give us that golden glow, but are commercial sunless tanners safe? How do they work? Is there such a thing as a natural sunless tanner? What to do?

The only active ingredient approved by the FDA for use in sunless tanning products is DHA (dihydroxyacetone). This is a colorless sugar that reacts with the dead cells located in the upper layer of the skin. As the sugar interacts with the dead skin cells, a color change occurs. The effect is temporary, because as the dead cells naturally slough off, the color fades, disappearing within a week unless the lotion has been reapplied.

Is DHA safe to use? The Environmental Working Group lists “0” health concerns on their website. The MSDS sheet for this ingredient also lists no health effects beyond the possibility of mild irritation.

If you would like to give your skin a darker color naturally without going out in the sun, try this concoction. It doesn’t contain any sugar, but it works beautifully:

Natural Sunless Tanning Lotion
3/4 cup pure water
3 black tea bags
1/4 cup lanolin
1/4 cup sesame oil

1. Boil the water and use it to brew the teabags until the mixture is strong.

2. Put 1/4 cup of this strong tea in a blender along with the lanolin and sesame oil and blend at low speed. Add remaining tea gradually, with motor running.

3. Try this mixture on a hidden spot first to test. Use sparingly.

Adapted from Debra’s Guide to Choosing Natural Sun Protection, by Debra Lynn Dadd (an e-book available here).


Chris Cole
Chris C5 years ago

Well, I would pick the tanning lotions etc over tanning beds. I used "Tan Towels", "St.Tropez Tan" lotion and "Faux Tan" (from Bare Minerals). Love them. Also, another option for an instant tan is get a great big brush and a good bronzer...use it on face, chest, arms, hands, feet and legs if you want to wear shorts. Much healthier than a tanning bed or lying in the sun without sunscreen.

Rebecca Willis-watkins

awesome idea; I'm going to try it!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

Oops, I'm allergic to sesame too...

Arch Stanton
Arch Stanton6 years ago

Just as an FYI for everybody, dihydroxyacetone is not acetone! If you drink wine, even the "organic" stuff you make yourself (without FDA approval), you're consuming dihydroxyacetone, which "includes acetone"!!! Sorry to tell you that.

Did you know that the chemical name for water is dihydrogen oxide? Scary!! It "includes hydrogen"!! Stop drinking water, you might explode!!!

Angelica S.
Angelica S6 years ago

lovely recipe! I must try!

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

kenneth m.
kenneth m6 years ago

Stain your self with tea?? Great now some nut is going to sue the tea company for another ridicules idea gone wrong it won't look good being orange like a carrot

Jacque B.
JB Bovee6 years ago

Parents: please teach your kids not to use tanning beds or sunscreens unless they are pure ingredients from a health store! As a teen, I used a heatlamp for tans for the proms. 10 yrs. later malignant cancer showed up on my legs & into the lymph nodes! I had no idea how dangerous unnatural tanning was.
I since learned: olive oil is the best product to use. Sophia Loren has always stated this. My skin burns easily, but not w/ olive oil. Apply all over before sunbathing, as after a shower. Sunblock lotions have also been found to be a big cause of skin cancers, they have chemicals (allowed by the FDA) in them which cause skin cancer! Do not use. Its a money market racket, as most pharmaceuticals. AM natural sunlight is very healthy for us, in fact 2 hrs./day is recommended daily. If no sun, take vit D.
G.B. RN for 40 yrs.

Marian D.
Marian D7 years ago


Ann J.
Ann J.7 years ago

There's a new product that's just starting to come out called 100% Herbal Instant Tan and it uses only herbal ingredients, not even the DHA (dihydroxyacetone) which is still a synthetic ingredient since you can see it includes 'acetone' in the name. The reason why the FDA approves some synthetic ingredients as natural is because it's next to impossible for companies to come up with a truly 100% organic based tanners and they feel this ingredient may not be harmful in comparison to others (but it does include acetone). However the product I've mentioned does not include that or any other, only 100% herbal ingredients. You can check it out at where they give out a free sample per customer as long as you cover the shipping/handling which is not much. It gives a great over all instant tanned look for any skin tone regardless of how fair to medium you are and the color is there as soon as you rub it on, you don't have to wait for it to work with your skin cells like the DHA products you find on the store shelves now.