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How Do Tanning Pills Work, How Safe Is it, and What are it Side Effects

What Are Tanning Pills?

Sometimes people wish to get a tanned look without the harmful effects of sun exposure. Tanning pills are used to help people darken the color of the skin without causing skin damage by UV radiations of the sun. The result of these pills varies and people may not be able to achieve the desired skin tone.

Tanning pills contain canthaxanthin which is commonly used for reddish-orange food coloring. It has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive but not as a tanning agent.(1)

How Do Tanning Pills Work?

How Do Tanning Pills Work?

Tanning pills color the epidermis and subcutaneous fat, a layer of fat just under the skin.(2) Consuming canthaxanthin in large amounts leads to its build-up in the epidermis and subcutaneous fat layers. The color of the skin may not match the one achieved through sun exposure.

When the skin is exposed to UV light melanin production increases. Melanin protects the body against harmful rays and darkens the skin to protect it.

Tanning pills do not stimulate melanin production but darken the skin with the color effect and this varies from person to person. Some may achieve a brownish color some may have an orangish hue.

Also, as subcutaneous fat is present all over the body, even on the hands and soles, color change may be present on any area covered with skin. Therefore any part of the body may appear orange to brown.

Are Tanning Pills Safe?

The food and Drug Administration does not approve the use of tanning pills containing canthaxanthin as these products may face detainment. Also, these pills do not protect against UV radiation and one needs to apply sunscreen when going out in the sun.(3)

Tanning pills take time to show up the color on the body and it also takes time for the color to go away from the skin. Therefore, if someone is unhappy with the color will need to wait for the color to fade away. Also, pills containing canthaxanthin are known to be associated with serious side effects.

Side Effects of Tanning Pills

Large doses of canthaxanthin can have some seriously unpleasant side effects. These include:

Most of the side effects disappear as the pills are stopped while in a few these may take months or years to clear up. According to the Food and Drug Administration people with canthaxanthin retinopathy may still have crystalline deposits in their eyes for up to 7 years, but mostly it clears in 2-5 years.

One report shows a female consuming canthaxanthin pills diet of aplastic anemia. This report condemned the usage of canthaxanthin pills.(4)

Other Sunless Tanning Options

There are various options for people looking out for sunless tanning. These include the following.


Temporary effects can be obtained by using make-up, tinted moisturizers, and brush-on bronzing powders.

Self-tan Products

  • Dihydroxyacetone is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be used as an external tan agent. It reacts with amino acids on the skin’s surface and darkens the color.
  • Its use should be avoided on the areas covered with mucous membranes including lips, eyes, and inside of the nose.
  • Tan sprays are among the option for self-tan products and carry a lesser risk of uneven lines or streaking when done by inexperienced self-tanners.
  • A tanning booth is another option.
  • Anyone using either the tan spray or tanning booth should avoid the exposure of their lips and eyes to chemicals.

Alternative Tanning Pills

There are alternative tanning pills that contain tyrosine, a protein that may stimulate melanin production. These can help in producing a quick tan and preventing UV exposure. The result is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is considered potentially dangerous by them.(1)

Tanning Beds and Lamps

There are tanning beds, booths, and lamps that use UV rays to cause tan.

However, it is known to increase the risk of skin cancer.(5) Even its one-time usage increases the risk.

Tanning pills decrease the risk of UV damage. But high doses are needed to achieve the desired result. Along with this, the food and Drug Administration has not approved the usage of these, and if using advised to use them with caution.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 3, 2022

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