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Are tanning pills safer than tanning beds or laying out in the sun?

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Updated November 04, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Are tanning pills safer than tanning beds or laying out in the sun?
I want to get a tan, but I know it's not safe to go out in the sun to tan or use a tanning bed. I saw tanning pills at the drugstore. Are these safer than tanning outside or in a bed?
Answer: Tanning pills may seem like a good idea because you are not being exposed to natural or artificial UV rays as you would be in outside or in a tanning bed, right? Let's see what the science says.

What's in Tanning Pills?

Tanning pills contain an ingredient called canthaxanthin, a natural carotene-based color additive that is added to many foods to give them an orange hue. So, tanning pills containing canthaxanthin will temporarily change the hue of skin as well, most likely to an orange-brown color.

Are Tanning Pills Safe?

Canthaxanthin is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but only in small amounts. Tanning pills contain several times of the recommended amount of canthaxanthin, so the FDA has not approved these amounts. In fact, adverse side effects have been reported with their use, such as liver damage and a condition called canthaxanthin retinopathy, which causes crystal deposits to form on the eyes.

Your Best Bet for a Safe Tan Is...

Sunless tanning products that are FDA approved and regulated are your best bet for a safe tan. They are an effective and safe alternative to traditional sunbathing and tanning beds. Marketed as self-tanning creams, lotions, sprays, and mists, these products give a sun-kissed glow without the risk of developing skin cancer.

Source: FDA. Product Information: Tanning Pills. January 12, 2005. Accessed March 15, 2011. http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productandingredientsafety/productinformation/ucm134217.htm

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