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Choose a natural self-tanner

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Swap the synthetics with a bronzer that’s brimming with plant-based ingredients. Natural self-tanners, with fewer chemicals and earth- and health-friendly ingredients, help turn that golden glow green.

What to look for when choosing a natural self-tanner

  1. Look for paraben-free self-tanners: Parabens (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butyl-parabens) are a family of preservatives which can affect the endocrine system that produces the body's hormones. Studies have shown that some parabens can mimic estrogen in the body, though the FDA asserts that parabens are safe because their estrogenic activity is much lower than the body’s own estrogen.
  2. Avoid 1,4 Dioxane: Since 1,4-dioxane is used in a chemical conversion in the manufacture of products, it's not listed as an ingredient. To avoid it, watch out for ingredients such as sodium laureth sulfate and those that have "PEG", "xynol", "ceteareth," and "oleth" in their name. In scientific studies, 1,4-Dioxane has caused cancer in animals; scientists have not yet confirmed the long-term effects on humans. The FDA says current levels do not pose a hazard to consumers but they have advised manufacturers to lower amounts in cosmetics as much as possible.
  3. Choose self-tanners scented with plant-based oils rather than chemical fragrances: Fragrances are volatile organic compounds (VOC), which add to air pollution, are persistent in the environment and contaminate waterways and aquatic wildlife. An estimated 5.72 million Americans have skin allergies to fragrance, while around 72 percent of those suffering from asthma claim that their condition can be triggered by synthetic fragrance.[1]
  4. Go organic: Because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spends only a tiny portion of its budget investigating the chemical composition and toxins in skin care products, self-tanners can tout their use of organic ingredients and still have up to 30 percent synthetic materials, even the ones labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients." USDA OrganicThe only way to be sure that the product you are purchasing is, in fact, organic is to look for the USDA Organic Seal on the label. This seal guarantees that every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board, which bans the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering.
  5. Look for self-tanners that do not employ animal testing: While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. Leaping BunnySo stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.

Find it! Natural self-tanners

How to make your own self-tanner

Eco-author, Debra Lynn Dadd, proclaimed the “Queen of Green” by the New York Times has an e-book called Debra’s Guide to Choosing Natural Sun Protection with a recipe for concocting a DIY sunless tanner. For adventurous souls, here it is:

3/4 cup water
3 tea bags
1/4 cup lanolin
1/4 cup sesame seed oil

1. Boil the water and brew a strong tea.
2. Pour 1/4 cup tea into a blender with the other ingredients and blend at a low speed. Slowly add the rest of the tea while blending.
3. Test out your results on a small, not usually visible spot on your body. Don’t glop it on; use sparingly.[2]

Using natural self-tanner helps you go green because…

  • They use water- and plant-based ingredients in lieu of combinations of chemicals that are harmful to the environment and pose various health risks.
  • Many makers of natural sunscreens also follow green business practices, such as using recycled packaging and supporting organic agriculture.

When you spray or smooth on a conventional self-tanner, the chemicals can enter your body through your skin and can also pollute the environment through use or through the manufacturing process. By using sunless tanners made from natural ingredients, the manufacturing process and end result are more environmentally friendly overall. Many companies that make natural self-tanners are also more eco-friendly and socially conscious, so they tend to use recycled and recyclable plastics in their packaging, and help their communities and employees. Many brands also use organic ingredients, which reduces the impact of pesticides on our environment.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

The prime ingredient that both conventional and natural tan in a cans (or bottles or tubes) have in common—and the one that makes your skin turn temporarily darker without getting crispy—is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It’s a sugar derived from plants like beets and sugarcane whose bronzing effects were discovered by accident in the 1950s. DHA basically stains the dead surface cells in the top layer of the skin to darken skin color. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DHA for use as a tanner in 1977 with the caveat that it shouldn’t be inhaled, ingested, or used in or around the eyes. So for those who opt to get a spray-on tan at a tanning booth, the FDA recommends protecting your eyes and nose.

Conventional self-tanners also contain petroleum-based ingredients, which have health and environmental concerns. The search for and procurement of petroleum has had major detrimental impacts on the soil, ground water, surface water, and ecosystems of the United States and around the world. Petroleum refineries release toxic, hazardous air pollutants, such as BTEX compounds, and criteria air pollutants, like sulfur dioxide.

Indoor tanning eco-ills

Although 30 million Americans tan indoors annually—more than 1 million on an average day—from a health perspective, baking at an indoor salon is a bad idea. Studies show that exposure to the UV radiation emitted from indoor tanning beds and booths increases the risk melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

Tanning salons also don’t do well on an eco-scale. There are different kinds of tanning beds but an average model uses 45 lamps; each lamp has four times the mercury than in a standard fluorescent tube.[3] A typical stand-up tanning booth uses about 48 160-watt bulbs.[4] That’s a lot of mercury waste and a lot of energy used. If 100,000 tanning salon patrons said goodbye and made the move to sunless tanners, the electricity savings would be $2.2 million, not to mention the greenhouse gases averted.[5]


  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air.[6] VOCs are emitted by thousands of products including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings and they may cause immediate and long-term health problems.[7]

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