At this time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have granted approval status only to sunless tanning products containing dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the active ingredient.
DHA darkens only the top layer of the skin. The change in color is the result of a reaction between the DHA and the amino acids in dead skin cells. It is not a dye, and it does not penetrate the lower skin layers.
Sunless tanning products are available in cream, spray or lotion form. Application is also available in special sunless tanning booths or by trained professional sprayers. The tanning effect is temporary and lasts only a few days. The color fades as the dead skin cells shed or are removed through bathing.
The FDA recommends that operators of sunless tanning booths take precautions to ensure their clients are protected from inhaling or ingesting the DHA product. Additionally, mucous membranes should not be exposed to DHA products.
The FDA has warned against using tanning pills. These pills contain canthaxanthin. Ingestion in large amounts has been linked to liver, eye and digestive disease.
Afamelanotide research is ongoing to determine the safety of the product. Afamelanotide is a synthetically produced melanotan hormone. Research indicates the hormone activates melanin production.