Skin Care

Do Tanning Pills Work? Are They Safe to Take? Let’s Investigate!

Yes tanning pills! An innovative and sunless method to a nice, golden tan – or are they?

Most people think about putting on sunscreen and sitting under the sun when it comes to getting a healthy, glowing tan.

However, this conventional tanning method carries several health risks. Some include severe sunburn, dehydration, and an increased risk of melanoma or skin cancer. Not to mention wrinkles and age spots.

For this reason, experts are always looking for innovative methods to deliver the same results as conventional tanning minus the associated side effects.

Sunless products such as fake tan are a huge market. This is not only for health reasons but because lots of people feel better, are happier, and more confident with a golden glow to their skin.

These types of sunless products have been around a long time. In addition, however, a newer technique to tanned skin is available, the tanning pill. This also doesn’t involve sun OR sweat!

In this article, we’ll look at how tanning pills work and will they work to turn your skin brown. We’ll also look at how safe are they as well as any potential side effects.

How Do Tanning Pills Work?

The underlying factor that leads to any results seen from taking tanning pills lies with the chemicals found in these drugs.

Tanning pills contain color additives that change the skin’s pigmentation. One of the commonly used chemicals is known as canthaxanthin, and is found in most of the tanning pills on the market.

To understand how tanning pills work, we must first look at the physiological skin pigmentation that occurs after UV light exposure.

Skin Changes in Response To Light

The epidermis, which is the most superficial layer of the skin, has several cells that determine the color of your skin in response to light stimuli.

The main cell responsible for skin pigmentation is known as a melanocyte. This cell produces melanin that travels from the basal membrane of the epidermis to the most superficial sublayers.

Consequently, the color of your skin becomes darker. This effect lasts for a few weeks to months, depending on the amount and duration of UV light exposure.

In a nutshell, this is how the color of your skin changes in response to light.

Note that the amount of melanin produced is genetically predetermined. Hence the difference in skin colors between races and ethnic groups.

You might be wondering, “well, why does my skin produce melanin when exposed to the sun? what’s the point of this chemical?”

The answer:

Melanin will act as a buffer to reflect more sunlight off your skin, which ultimately, reduces the risk of any DNA mutation that causes cancer.

Now that you’re familiar with the physiology of skin pigmentation, let’s see how tanning pills interfere with this process.

It’s All About The Chemicals

Tanning pills contain chemicals that are lipophilic in nature. In other words, these substances are absorbed by the adipose tissue found in the subcutaneous layer of your skin.

Once canthaxanthin settles in the fat tissue, it will make your skin appear darker. This is the goal of this entire process and makes sense.

However, and because canthaxanthin does not stimulate melanin production, the color of your skin may look more orange than a tanned brown.

Due to the chemical properties, tanning pills may take up to 2 weeks before showing any results since the capturing of these substances by the fat tissue takes time. Equally, when you stop taking tanning pills, it can take up to 2 weeks to get rid of your “orange” glow!

What Kind of Skin Will They Work On?

Will they work on redheads?

The action of tanning pills works on all skin types – after all, it’s a color additive. But because of their fair skin color, redheads may display more apparent symptoms of taking these pills.

How Safe Are Tanning Pills?

Although tanning pills have been around a while, the jury is still out on their safety. Generally speaking, when you take any pharmacological drugs, you must expect some side effects.

Tanning pills do not have FDA approval since experts are not certain about their long-term benefits OR adverse effects.

Canthaxanthin itself has FDA approval, but only as a color additive in foods. Used in this way, the dose is low – nothing that comes close to the quantities we see listed in tanning pills.

Other chemicals such as tyrosine (an amino acid) and beta-carotene are also used in tanning pills, and carry their own set of side effects.

Some of the common adverse effects of these substances:


Hives are the result of a generalized immune reaction against an allergen. This can potentially be an ingredient found in tanning pills.

This reaction is usually benign, but the interruption of treatment is important when hives appear. The typical clinical presentation of hives involves the sudden appearance of swollen, red pumps all over the body.

Patients also report experiencing itchiness and burning sensation.

Hepatic damage

Potent enzymes in the liver break down most of the chemicals found in tanning pills. However, large doses of tanning pills can lead to liver damage by exceeding the physiological capacity of hepatocytes (liver cells) to metabolize the chemicals.

Vision problems

Vision issues can be a side-effect when patients take beta-carotene-based tanning pills. The reason behind this is that beta-carotenes are vitamin A derivatives that offer important benefits to the eyes when consumed in appropriate doses.

However, large quantities of these substances can lead to vitamin A toxicity, which wreaks havoc on the visual system.

Digestive trouble

The most common complaints after taking tanning pills appear to be related to the digestive system.

When the stomach and intestines face trouble in digesting these chemicals, the smooth muscles start to spasm, leading to the classic achy painful sensations.

Moreover, the body may consider one of the ingredients as harmful. When this happens, it may decide to pump large amounts of water into the digestive tract to flush the system. As a result, patients experience diarrhea.

While these symptoms are not inherently dangerous, they can lead to serious complications, such as dehydration and the erasing of digestive enzymes.

Takeaway Message

Tanning pills are an innovative method that saves people from exposing themselves to the harmful effects of UV light rays. In theory, such a solution to having tanned, bronzed skin is welcomed.

However, the efficacy and safety of these drugs is still questionable. Further research and studies are really needed before we can come to a final conclusion.

Hopefully, you found this article informative and beneficial, but if you still have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section below.

Tags : tanning

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