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What are Tanning Pills?

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  • Written By: Laura Evans
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Many have tried tanning pills in the quest for the perfect, sunless tan. Tanning without exposure to sunlight would reduce the chances developing prematurely aged skin or developing life-threatening skin cancer. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any tanning pills as being effective. Tanning pills can also have potentially dangerous side effects.

Human beings need sunlight in order to survive. For example, UVB rays, one of the ultraviolet ray types in sunlight, helps the body to produce vitamin D, an important vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium. Both UVA rays, which affect the outer layers of skin, and UVB rays, which penetrate into deeper tissues, cause tanning. These ultraviolet rays can also damage the skin and lead to the development of melanoma, a potentially life threatening cancer.

The skin cells that are involved in the tanning process are called menanocytes. Menanocytes produce a chemical called melanin, a brown pigment, after being exposed to ultraviolet rays. This brown color helps protect the skin from getting burned as a result of overexposure to ultraviolet rays.

Canthaxanthin is a color additive that the FDA has approved for usage in foods in small amounts. This additive is not approved for sunless tanning pills, although many companies offer "natural supplements" as "tanning enhancers" which include canthaxanthin. Side effects of taking canthaxanthin can include having orange colored skin, developing crystals in the eyes, developing liver damage, and getting hives.

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Another ingredient that is used in tanning pills is L-tyrosine, an amino acid. The body uses L-tyrosine, or tyrosine, in melanin production. Because the body uses L-tyrosine to produce melanin, the theory is that consuming L-tyrosine will stimulate melanin production. Manufacturers of tanning pills that include L-tyrosine often suggest taking the supplement in addition to sitting in the sun. Science does not support the claims that pills with L-tyrosine will enhance tanning and the FDA does not approve L-tyrosine for use as a tanning agent. Possible side effects of taking L-tyrosine can include chest pain, hives, or swollen skin. People who take L-tyrosine may get rarer side effects such as headaches, mood changes, or heartburn.

The FDA does approve tanning lotions or sprays that include dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This chemical works by turning dead skin cells on the surface of the body darker. A faux tan will last about three days. Those with faux tans should also wear sunscreen when outside to help prevent skin damage from the sun.

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