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HomeAnswersDermatologytanning bedAre self-tanning creams linked to cancer?

Is it true that self-tanning creams lead to cancer?

Is it true that self-tanning creams lead to cancer?

The following is an actual conversation between an iCliniq user and a doctor that has been reviewed and published as a Premium Q&A.

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At June 14, 2018
Reviewed AtMay 29, 2024

Patient's Query

Hello doctor,

I am 32 years old. I have been using self-tanning creams for around seven years all year long. I have stopped for the last two years. I am worried because I have read that self-tanning creams are causing cancer and tumors. Is it true? Are they out of my system, or will it take years to appear if they caused me cancer?

Hello,

Welcome to icliniq.com.

I understand your concern.

Yes, self-tanning lotions are known to cause skin cancer. Please stop using it and avoid exposure to sunlight without sunscreen. Use sunscreen with SPF 50 or more, and apply every fourth hour. Look for any changes in the skin, any bumps that look different, and any changes in moles. Seven years is too long. I would suggest you visit a dermatologist for a full skin examination so that any abnormal skin lesion, if present, can be picked up early.

Hope this has answered your query.

Kind regards.

Patient's Query

Hi doctor,

Thanks for the reply.

I went to a dermatologist, and I am alright. Do they go into my system to cause breast cancer? Do they cause other cancers? Please advise.

Hello,

Welcome back to icliniq.com.

I thoroughly read your query and understand your concern.

When tanning lotions are inhaled during application onto the skin, they can go into the blood and trigger the cancer process. There is not much evidence to say that it can cause other internal cancers. If your skin is fine, then there is no need to worry about other cancers from self-tanning lotions because they would not go deep enough to reach blood when applied to the skin.

Hope this has answered your query.

Kind regards.

Patient's Query

Hello doctor,

Thank you for your reply.

I forgot to mention that I was using them only for my face, not for my body, and I was not using spray tanning, only lotions. So should I forget about them? Do they not cause cancer? I mean, they do not go into my skin or into my blood when I apply them? I have not used them for about two years. If they did any damage, it would have appeared by now. Sorry for all these questions, but I am trying to take them out of my mind. Please help.

Hello,

Welcome back to icliniq.com.

I can totally sense your concern.

The self-tanning lotion contains DHA (dihydroxyacetone). When it is applied to the skin, it stains the outer dead layer of the skin, giving it a tan color. The outer dead layer of skin sheds every four weeks. So, the tan will last for somewhere around that duration. You mentioned that you stopped using it two years back. So, this should have already gone from your skin long ago. Internal cancer (lung cancer) risk from this DHA arises when fumes are inhaled during the application of lotion. This is a chemical. When inhaled, it can trigger cancer process, asthma, and obstructive pulmonary disease, as shown by a few studies. DHA does not penetrate the normal skin beyond the stratum corneum, which is the most superficial layer of skin, also called the dead layer, where it stains. It can reach the blood when it is applied to damaged skin, like any wound. There are hypothetical data regarding this, and not much practical evidence of internal cancer from absorption through the skin. Self-tanning lotions may not have adequate sunscreen in them. So, the risk of sun exposure and sun damage remains the same for people who use tanning lotion and who do not. I mean to say self-tanning lotion does not give you protection against the UV (ultraviolet) rays. It just gives a tan color, which is not a real tan and not protective as a real tan. Sunscreens are to be applied after tanning to protect the skin from UV rays. People think that self-tanning lotions protect against UV rays. I just wanted to clear up that aspect. On the other hand, tanning beds are known to increase the chance of melanoma by 30 %. Tanning sprays are safe in this regard. I feel you should stop worrying about the self-tanning lotion being in your system and causing cancer, as you stopped it two years ago.

Hope this has addressed your concern.

Kind regards.

Patient's Query

Hello doctor,

Thank you for your detailed answer.

In summary, I should not worry about it, but what about lung cancer that they might cause? Is it proven or just theories? Should I test my lungs?

Hello,

Welcome back to icliniq.com.

I understand your concern.

The risk of lung cancer risk is more of a hypothetical issue. You can mention this to your primary care doctor when you visit for your physical examination. If they feel there is a need for further evaluation, then they may work on that.

Hope this helps.

Kind regards.

Patient's Query

Hello doctor,

Thanks for the reply.

In my country, doctors are not familiar with these creams. That is why I have requested help and advice from you. In summary, should I forget about these creams and move on?

Hello,

Welcome back to icliniq.com.

I understand your concern.

Yes, you should stop worrying about this cream. I am sure you would have done a huge research on the internet about this cream. They say it is safer than a tanning booth or beds, which increase the chance of melanoma when started early during teenage. Yes, it is safer. Only minute chances of lung abnormalities eventually leading to cancer have been seen if there is the inhalation of cream. Again, it depends on the number of chemicals inhaled and other triggering factors that determine the risk. Watch for any symptoms like cough or pain. If any, meet your primary care doctor; I hope this does not happen at all. With your height and weight, I can say you are a pretty healthy and active person. This cream should not affect you in any way. Eat healthily, exercise regularly, and keep yourself hydrated with two to three liters of water per day. You should be totally fine. Stop worrying too much about it, and stress is not a good thing.

Hope this addresses your concern.

Kind regards.

Patient's Query

Hello doctor,

Thank you for the answer.

I will try not to stress about the creams.

Hello,

Welcome back to icliniq.com.

This came up as a follow-up query, but I do not see any questions here.

Hope I have answered all your concerns.

Follow back if you have any queries.

Kind regards.

Patient's Query

Hello doctor,

Again I wanted to ask you something else. I have used almost three bottles of a spray tan. I have seen now that it is only for the body. Is it dangerous? I have attached the product. Please check and advise regarding that.

Hi,

Welcome back to iclniq.com.

I understand your concern.

Though it says self-tan for the body, the content inside is the same, dihydroxyacetone, which reacts with the outer skin layer and produces pigment. I do not see any danger from the product (the attachment is hidden to protect the patient's identity) as you have used it on your face. Just keep in mind those side effects that I mentioned above. Since you have stopped it, you also visited the dermatologist you mentioned, so you should be fine. I really feel you should stop worrying about this anymore.

Hope this helps.

Kind regards.

Same symptoms don't mean you have the same problem. Consult a doctor now!

Dr. Ashwini. V. Swamy
Dr. Ashwini. V. Swamy

Venereology

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