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Is there such a thing as a "healthy tan"?

Tanning is a protective mechanism implemented by the skin to combat sunburn. Therefore, exposure to UV rays, whether natural or artificial, is not without consequences for the skin. However, there are tips for a more "healthy" tanning process.

Published May 25, 2023, updated on June 3, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 5 min read

Is tanning healthy for the skin?

The tanned complexion achieved after sun exposure is actually a sign that the skin has reacted to an assault. Indeed, UV rays, responsible for the synthesis of melanin (melanogenesis) and skin pigmentation, generate an excess of free radicals in melanocytes and keratinocytes. These molecules attack certain cellular components and have harmful, mutagenic, and carcinogenic effects.

Due to their different wavelengths, UVA and UVB rays do not reach the same layers of the skin. UVB rays are blocked in the epidermis and cause redness and burns (sunburn). On the other hand, UVA rays penetrate deeper, reaching the dermis where they cause damage to collagen and elastin fibers, thereby accelerating the skin aging process and skin sagging. Sun exposure is also the cause of the formation of brown spots on the skin, due to the excessive stimulation of melanin synthesis. Therefore, natural tanning cannot be considered "healthy".

Note : it is important to temper this conclusion. Moderate and protected sun exposure with a sunscreen can be beneficial and does not present a major risk.

How to achieve a sun-kissed complexion without sun exposure?

Today, it is possible to achieve a sun-kissed complexion safely thanks to self-tanners. These products give the skin a brown coloration similar to that provided by the sun without having to expose oneself to UV rays. The mechanism at work in this type of care is different from melanogenesis, and is completely healthy for the skin and the body. It relies on the properties of a molecule, called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Once applied to the skin, this compound induces a tanned complexion in 4 to 6 hours by reacting with the amino acids of the horny layer of the epidermis through a Maillard reaction to form brown pigments, the melanoidins, not to be confused with melanin.

Self-tanners sometimes also containerythrulose, a sugar found in red fruits. This compound acts similarly to DHA but more slowly. TheDHA-erythrulose combination allows for a more natural and even tan. Moreover, erythrulose has moisturizing properties that counterbalance the drying power of DHA.

At Typology, we have developed two self-tanning formulations, offering a natural bronzed complexion. For the face, you can try our self-tanning serum. It is concentrated at 10% in DHA and also contains carob pulp (INCI: Ceratonia Siliqua Seed Extract), a compound rich in inositol, a molecule that acts on melanogenesis. We also recommend our self-tanning gel for the body, enriched with 6% DHA. It also contains aloe vera (INCI: Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder), which is highly hydrating.

Note : there are also sunless tanning showers, which are booths where fine droplets of a tanning lotion are sprayed onto the body and/or face. This is a fairly convenient and quick technique (less than ten minutes if a machine is used), offering a uniform result. However, one might question the risk of inhaling DHA. Indeed, the ingestion or inhalation of this molecule could potentially lead to asthma, lung diseases, or cancer. To date, no health authority has established that sunless tanning showers pose a health risk, due to the short exposure time to the product.


  • ANANTHASWAMY H. & al. Toxic effects of ultraviolet radiation on the skin. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (2004).

  • ZUCCA A. & al. A narrative review of the potential for self-tanning products to substitute for solaria use among people seeking a tanned appearance. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology and Photomedicine (2014).


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