Self tanner: Why I don’t use it, stuff to avoid | Ingredient Alchemy Lab #5

Yellow eyebrows, stained pillows, streaky legs – life’s answer to our question “how to save summer tan through autumn?” But don’t fret. It’s not all bad.

To be honest with you: I stopped using self-tanners or lotions with self-tan a little while ago. I’m naturally pale, and at some point I just saw no sense in masking that. To compair is to despair, right? So I got at peace with my fair, olive skin tone. I even enjoy being a bit green in winter. Gives me an extraterrestrial touch!

Apart from this, the reasons I don’t use self-tan anymore are:

The stuff stains everything: bath towels, bed linen, clothes, furniture… You get streaks, blotches, discoloured eyebrows – and a totally random wear off! The disctinct smell CAN’T be removed from selftanners, only masked with strong (and potentially) toxic fragrance.
DHA – used in both conventional and organic cosmetics – is not toxic itself, but research shows it can release formaldehyde while the product sits on the shelf. And while DHA is considered otherwise safe on the skin, even the FDA doesn’t think it’s safe to be inhaled. German scientists have shown in 2007 that skin is more prone to free radical damage after a selftan treatment (extra UV screen is due).

Another reason I stopped using selftan products are those crappy toxic ingredients I kept finding in them.

Last night I’ve checked random conventional selftan products simply typing “selftan” (rather “Selbstbräuner”) in the search.
I have found these ingredients that are to avoid:
BHT – toxic for humans and environment
Benzophenone  (UV filter) – cancerogenic
Butylene Glycol – irritant
Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane – immunotoxic
Butylphenyl Methylpropional (synthetic scent sompound) – a toxic powerful allergen, suspected endocrine disruptor
Caramel (colouring) – industrially produced, potentially allegenic (as it can be sourced from wheat, milk, barley)
C13-14  Isoparaffin – inert pesticide ingredient, petrochemical
CI 19140/ Tartrazin – sythetic cololuring (added simply to give you the sensation of “I’m already getting tanned”), allergenic
Cyclopentasiloxane a.k.a. Cyclomethicone – toxic, bioaccumulative, tumor growth and endocrine disruption shows in animal studies, enviromentally toxic
Dimethicone – toxic, bioaccumulative
Disodium EDTA – highly toxic and cytotoxic in animal studies
Ethoxydiglycol – causes drying of skin, irritant to eyes
Laureth-4 – highly irritant, can be contaminated with highly toxic 1,4-Dioxane
Parabens – endocrine disruptors
Paraffinum Liquidum – toxic, especially in aerosols
PEG-60, PEG-100 – toxic, can be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane
Propylene Glycol – toxic, allergenic, irritant, penetration enhancer

On a related note: Check out this helpful pocket guide to avoiding endocrine disruptors.


If you still think you need a self-tanning product, these are by far the cleanest options I was able to find (summer 2013):
Lavera Self Tanner Sun Sensitive – it’s clean but sadly contains several palm-oil derived ingredients
Eco Cosmetics Bronze – clean and simple, contains several palm-oil derived ingredients, too
Santé Soleil Sensitive – clean and palm-oil free, but not suitable for vegans (wax used)
Alverde Schimmer-Öl – a shimmer oil with DHA, contains palm-oil based ingredients

Case in point?

If you find a way to make self-tanning products completely toxin- and cruelty-free, you’re gonna rake in the cash!”


Now of course I do have a plan B for the days I look especially pale and everybody else is rocking a healthy glow!

For the face, my fave product is Alva’s Baked Bronzing Powder 1 Beige-Rose. It’s rad. Absolutely fresh and pretty neutral, even though the product itself looks a bit like a terracotta stone:

(Detailed review + swatch in another post!)

For the body, I used to buy your classical shimmery oils until I figured they were mostly paraffin-based, and the latest clean haul was practically made of palm oil derived ingredients that weren’t even marked as organic – duh!

My next option was Melvita’s carrot oil which isn’t too shabby, but it (A) needs to be applied with a very light hand (or you turn genuinely carrot-coloured) plus (B) it’s based on unexpensive sunflower oil (and it smells). It doesn’t contain any shimmer.

First I simply pimped the readymade oil…
…then I thought I give it a try and have a fun DIY minute!

And once I started adding mineral pigment to this carrot oil to play with the colour and add shimmer, I ended up completely DIY’ing my shimmer bronzer oils from clean, virgin or organic food-grade oils and cocoa butter!



Geeking out about all things truly green, healthy and ethical over at (Avatar illustration by A. Goncharenko)

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