Ask the doctor: Are sunless tanning products safe?

Q. I like to look tanned, but I'm somewhat fair-skinned and can't be in the sun much. Are self-tanning lotions and sprays a good idea? Are they safe?

A. Sunless tanning sprays and lotions can make your skin look tanned without exposing it to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When you sunbathe, UV rays cause the skin to increase its production of the protective pigment melanin, which manifests itself as a tan. Despite its association with good health and good looks, a tan is actually a sign of skin cell damage, which can increase the risk for skin cancer and accelerate skin aging. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends self-tanning products as an alternative to tanning in UV light from the sun or an indoor tanning bed.

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