Wait, Does Self-Tanner Screw With Your Hormones? The Viral Claims, Explained


As someone with the pallor of a Victorian child who has never stepped outdoors, I understand the appeal of a good fake tan. But as someone who also has allergies to every skincare ingredient under the sun (pardon my bad puns), I’m not about to risk an allergic reaction in the pursuit of a faux sunkissed summer glow.

So, if you’re anything like me and have seen people on TikTok talking about how self-tanners disrupt your hormones or even that your hormones can actually impact your faux glow, you might be wondering if it’s safe to use your favorite self-tanning product. After all, you’re no one’s trying to look like a long-lost cousin of Casper the Friendly Ghost in the warm weather months.

Here’s what an actual expert (not just the social media kind) has to say on the subject.

How do self-tanners work?

First, a quick refresher on how gradual at-home self-tanners work. According to Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology, the active ingredient in your go-to spray, lotion, oil, foam, or drops is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). “It works by creating a reaction with the amino acids in your skin cells known as the Maillard reaction. Chefs will recognize this term as it’s what occurs when a steak forms a brown crust in a hot pan. Similarly, DHA causes skin to turn brown.” (Lovely!)

She notes that instant formulas, like bronzers, are similar to other cosmetic products, sitting atop the skin like your eyeshadow or blush might. “The DHA in gradual self-tanners only affects the stratum corneum — the very top layer of the epidermis,” she says.

Is your fake-bake safer than the sun?

From the jump, I’d be remiss not to mention that skin cancers like melanoma remain among the most common types of cancers, and that wearing sunscreen every single day is a must. It’s simply not worth the risk to spend time in the sun unprotected, nor to step foot in a tanning bed. (Pssst… Even Jersey Shore’s bronzed queen Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi has given up tanning irresponsibly, which means there’s no excuse for you, babe.)

But messing with your hormones doesn’t sound great either, so what’s the deal? “There are plenty of ingredients found in skincare products, including self-tanners, that could potentially mess with hormones — they’re called endocrine disruptors,” Yadav explains.

“Your endocrine system is responsible for your hormonal function,” she notes. “Some ingredients are shown to interfere with the normal function of the endocrine system. These ingredients can include parabens and phthalates. [But] there is no evidence that DHA, the active ingredient in self-tanners, is an endocrine disruptor.”

She notes that even the amount of endocrine disruptors used in beauty and skincare products is far too small to have a measurable impact on your hormones.

“It’s worth noting that the majority of ingredients used in beauty products that are known endocrine disruptors, like parabens and phthalates, are shown to potentially cause risk to the endocrine system when used in concentrations that dramatically exceed those that could ever be used in a lifetime,” she explains.

Back to that DHA, though, because Yadav notes that the browning process that occurs (the Maillard reaction) “does produce free radicals. We know that free radicals can accelerate the skin aging process. It’s worth noting that DHA wouldn’t damage the skin to the degree that unprotected sun exposure would, but there is a heightened risk of cell death when inhaling DHA or applying it to broken skin.” She says more research is needed on the link between DHA and skin damage.

Blame it on the hormones?

As Yadav reminds us, “Hormones don’t just play a role in our reproductive system — they affect everything from our mental health to our blood sugar.” And there actually is some truth to the belief that your hormones can affect your fake tan.

“Hormones and their frequent changes can certainly affect the skin,” she says. “In the first few days of the menstrual cycle, skin tends to be drier, which can make it harder for a tan to adhere and look even. It’s always important to spend time exfoliating and moisturizing ahead of your self-tanner application, but it may be especially important when applying tanner during this period.”

And if you’re pregnant or postpartum, Yadav notes that while self-tanner is “generally regarded as safe, it’s absolutely best to seek guidance from your OB-GYN, especially if you are breastfeeding and applying a full-body tan.

Product Recs from a Pro

Yadav offers up a few product recs for those who want to get their glow on without worry.

She likes Luna Bronze’s Glow Gradual Tanning Moisturizer, noting that the formula “is a great way to ease into self-tanner application as it is very gradual and won’t appear orange on light skin. It also features predominantly organic and natural ingredients.”

She’s also a fan of Isle of Paradise’s Self-Tanning Oil Mist. “This formula comes in three different shades to suit a range of skin tones and is formulated with hydrating and nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalane, and argan oil, making it ideal for those prone to dry skin,” she says.

Finally, she likes Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s Alpha Beta Glow Pad self-tanner towels, which are sold for the face and/or body. “I love that it has skin-resurfacing ingredients like salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids to help exfoliate skin while treating it with self-tanner,” she notes. “They’re also not messy like other products can be.”

As with any new product, patch testing before applying it over large swaths of skin is always a good idea, but especially for those that, you know, turn you into a human turkey. (Kidding, promise!)

Of course, there’s also no harm in embracing your natural skin tone, however translucent it might be. At the risk of sounding soapbox-y, all skin tones are gorgeous just as they are, and there’s no shame in skipping that self-tanner game. Healthy, safe skin is always in style, no matter the season.





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