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Pregnancy May 24, 2019
4 Minutes

Self tanning products: safe to use during pregnancy??

We know the cosmetic industry is a minefield and largely unregulated. We also know that your skin absorbs as much as 60-70% of what you put on it so you have to be mindful particularly when you’re trying to concieve, during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Many of us now like to stay out of the sun, so is self tanning ok to do, particularly if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant? We take a look at the research:

So we know that too much sun exposure isn’t great for our health overall, we also know that we don’t want the wrong type of sunscreen (beware of sunscreen full of Oxybenzone or Benzophenone-3 as it’s known in Europe: click here for more) its a minefield out there! We cant win!?!

So are we destined to be pasty skinned?

Many of us have turned to sunless tanning, particularly as the days of the orange streak are thankfully behind us. However, if you’re pregnant is it safe to self-tan?

Here’s what you need to know:

Firstly, self tanners are like any other cosmetic or personal care item. There are the good guys and the bad guys in terms of the common culprits you want to avoid in any of these products that you’re putting on your skin. Commonly things like added fragrance (phthalates: known hormone disruptors), Parabens which are a form of preservative (also known hormone disruptors) etc are always things to avoid and can be found in pretty much any product of this type. So always first port of call to check the presence of these ingredients particularly if you’re trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or putting a product on a small and developing person. Click here for a full run down of what to watch for in your personal care/cosmetics items.

Now, for self tan specifically – here’s what you need to know:

The key ingredient when it comes to self tan is something known as Dihydroxyacetone or DHA (although not the fish oil DHA which is good for the brain… the biscuit smell is bad enough without adding fish into the equation here!).

So, what’s the deal with DHA?

Essentially this compound ‘works’ ie. gives us that lovely bronzed glow by reacting with amino acids which are present in the keratinous later of the skin’s surface. This is important:

’the reaction is limited to the stratum corneum (the outer layer of human skin comprised of dead skin cells) and in vitro skin absorption studied have found no significant systemic absorption of DHA when applied topically to the skin.’ (Chemistry paper)

Translation: we know that a great deal of what we apply to our skin can be absorbed and get into our bodies and blood stream hence the caution needed. However, research shows that most DHA (given the nature of how it works) does not pose too much risk of actually penetrating the skin and therefore it is low risk.

However, there are a few products out there that use ureas which allows certain chemicals to penetrate deeper into the skin and these are products to avoid. Two to watch out for on ingredients lists: Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea.

As usual it also depends on how much DHA is used and how it is used:

DHA has been approved and not just by the FDA (who seem a bit more liberal than the Europeans). In Europe The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety evaluated the safety of DHA as a self-tanning ingredient and in 2010 concluded that the use of it in concentrations up to 10% ‘will not pose a risk to the health of the consumer.’

Translation: pretty simply; make sure the one you use is not at a concentration of above 10%

It is also approved for use topically on the skin however other forms of application (ie a spray) is technically ‘unapproved use’. As above, this ingredient when applied on to the skin should not be absorbed into the skin. However if you’re inhaling it that is another story. Effects relating to inhalation have not been tested properly or approved. (1)

Translation: it appears much safer to avoid spray application entirely, particularly if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or hoping to be pregnant. Just stick to standard application to the skin.

When using self tanner you should also avoid the sun:

Some research has suggested that the chemical reaction that occurs to give you this brown glow can cause free radical formation – click here why this is something you don’t want – when sun radiation is added in:

’with more than 180% additional radicals generated during sun exposure [vs untreated] skin…thus requiring short or no sun exposure when self-tanners are used’. (2)

The study argues that more testing needs to be done looking at this specific issue.

So which ones are good to use?

Well – as above a good place to start is looking for ones that tick the following boxes:

  • Are not a spray application

  • Are free from added fragrance (no thanks phthalates)

  • free from preservatives like parabens

  • free from ureas which can cause DHA to penetrate more deeply into the skin

  • Use a DHA that is EcoCert. This means that there is no GMO, no synthetic perfumes and no synthetic perfumes in the DHA itself (you still need to check the rest of the product however)

A couple of our favourite brands that tick these boxes:

Kora Oragnics: Gradual Self-Tan:

  • No artificial or synthetic fragrances/colours

  • EcoCert

  • No Parabens/sulphates

  • The downside here is the price tag…. ouch!

Green People: Organic Self-Tan:

  • No Parabens

  • No synthetic fragrance

  • no phthalates

  • No colourants or urea

Vita Liberata: Self Tanning Products:

  • No Parabens

  • No Perfume/Fragrance

  • No sulphates/silicones

So – with a bit of digging you can absolutely find some decent brands that won’t pose too much risk. As with anything in life, it’s always prudent to practise a bit of moderation and probably not for every day use while you’re pregnant, but no harm in treating yourself now and again with a bit of awareness around the product you choose.


(1) BRAUNBERGER TL, NAHHAS AF, KATZ LM, SADRIEH N, LIM HW: Dihydroxyacetone: A Review: Journal of Drugs Dermatol. 2018 Apr 1: 17(4): 387-391

(2) CIRIMINNA R, FIDALGO R, PAGLIARO M: Dihydroxyacetone: An Updated Insight into an Important Bioproduct: Chemistry Open: 2018: Mar; 7(3): 233-236


This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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