Want to look like the blossoming babe you are for your gender reveal, baby shower, day of delivery—and every snapshot or selfie throughout your pregnancy? You’ll need a good pregnancy-safe self-tanner.
“Pregnancy-Safe” Self-Tanner Lists Are Toxic
I’ve spent hours reviewing self-tanners—and reviews of self-tanners—and have yet to find a list of “pregnancy-safe self-tanners” backed by evidence of much critical research.
Sources simply tell you self-tanners are “pregnancy-safe,” (‘but check with your Dr.’) and then proceed to list out 15 to 25 random self-tanners, most of which are nowhere near clean or natural. After all, is that not why we’re looking for something pregnancy-safe in the first place?
Sure, with enough caveats, they’re ALL technically “pregnancy-safe,” since their most common active ingredient, DHA, is generally recognized as safe to use topically while pregnant—yet the problem is that so many of the other ingredients aren’t ideal, whether you’re pregnant or not.
Let me give you an example:
It’s one of my “favorite” lines from a list of “pregnancy-safe self-tanners,” because it reflects just how much most of these lists are about little more than gaming Google (and you), instead of actually providing an educated product recommendation.
“Gosh dang it, I’m flipping pregnant,” I want to scream. Only less euphemistically. “I. Have. A. Baby!”
And that’s not an isolated example:
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1 WHAT NOT TO USE 2 Miami Gorgeous Self-Tanner 3 St Tropez Self-Tanner 4 Coco & Eve Self-Tanner 5 OUR RECOMMENDATIONS 6 Botanic Tree Self-Tanner
Since almost all self-tanners revolve around DHA, and since DHA is ‘GRAS,’ what actually factors into a “Pregnancy-Safe Self-Tanner” are the many other ingredients used.
In a Rush? Watch the Video (02:30)
Sorry for the Spotlight
So let me share a couple of self-tanners that I wouldn’t use during pregnancy. They aren’t horrible. They aren’t even terribly unsafe in the short term. But I know there are far better options available while I’m bearing a child.
Skinerals Californium Sunless Bronzer
Despite the tag line—Organic Skin Science [since changed to “natural skin science”]—I wouldn’t use Skinerals Californium Sunless Bronzer because the promise of organic ingredients is vague (no organic ingredients are noted),* and it includes two proprietary FD&C pigment blends whose ingredients are unknown and unlisted, as well as propylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, Polysorbate 80, and fragrance. These aren’t clean and aren’t necessary in a self-tanner. Again, not horrible—remember, some would still argue that clean beauty and cosmetic safety are a sales gimmick—but why use it during pregnancy when there are better options?
* I reached out to the company and asked which of the ingredients are actually organic. “Indian Gooseberry, Acai Berry, Fig Extract, and Goji Berry,” they said. A classic case of pixie dusting, these four ingredients are next-to-last on the ingredient list, and thus sound great but based on that position, likely comprise less than 0.05% of the product, and are of exactly zero tangible benefit to the user. (Skinerals has since changed their tagline to remove “organic.”)
Miami Gorgeous Self-Tanning Mousse
Miami Gorgeous’ Instant Self Tanner Bronzing Mousse is free of parabens, sulfate, and gluten, and is vitamin-enriched. It’s also made with a few organic ingredients. But it uses fragrance and four color dyes that aren’t clean. So why use it during pregnancy?
St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse
I wouldn’t use this while pregnant either. Ingredients that stick out to me include propylene glycol, glycerin, phenoxyethanol, fragrance, sodium metabisulfite, and the unnecessary color dyes or “color indexes,” CI 14700 (Red 4), CI 19140 (Yellow 5), and CI 42090 (Blue 1).
Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam
Uses synthetic color dyes, fragrances, and ingredients specifically contraindicated for use during pregnancy. (Covered in detail here.)
What most self-tanners have in common is an active ingredient widely acknowledged as typically not harmful (DHA), surrounded by ingredients that are widely acknowledged as potentially harmful. Synthetic fragrances, color dyes, parabens, petroleum, phthalates, sulfates, and formaldehyde are best avoided whether you’re TTC or expecting or not.
Finding a good pregnancy-safe self-tanner means finding the few that safely strayed from industry norms.
The Best Pregnancy-Safe Self-Tanners
The best pregnancy-safe self-tanner would be:
- A cream, not a spray-on aerosol, or a tanning bed
- A natural or organic cream or lotion with a small percentage of naturally-derived DHA (dihydroxyacetone)
- As clean, natural, or organic as possible
- Free of synthetic fragrances and dyes
- Free of toxins and harmful chemicals like sulfates, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, and formaldehyde releasers.
- Unable to harm or affect the fetus, in accordance with current science
- Transparent, providing complete ingredients in product listings and literature. (If you have to zoom in on an Amazon photo and the single ingredient actually listed in text is “aloe vera,” or “coconut oil,” or “coenzyme q10”, that’s a red flag, and yes, these are actual examples.)
I would only use one of these 2 self-tanners while pregnant:
Beauty By Earth Self Tanner: 81% Organic
Beauty By Earth’s Self Tanner is the cleanest best-selling self-tanner on Amazon and includes no sulfates, parabens, harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrances, or any ingredient you’d likely need to avoid during your pregnancy.
If you are prone to breakouts, try their Face Self Tanner; it’s a thinner, lighter base lotion and doesn’t include coconut oil.
10% off with code “BeautyByEarth” 👶 Prego-Safe ‘Everything’
Botanic Tree Self-Tanner: 100% Organic
Botanic Tree’s Self Tanner is free of everything you’d need to be worried about during pregnancy: Parabens, sulfates, phthalates, BHT, BHA, synthetic dyes, and fragrances—and the product boasts 100% organic ingredients.
How to Self-Tan While Pregnant
You can apply a pregnancy-safe self-tanner perfectly by doing the following:
- Exfoliate • Exfoliate your skin and shave the day before you plan to apply self-tanner.
- Moisturize • Apply a bit of moisturizer to the typically dryer areas of your body including your knees, wrists, elbows, and hands.
- Mitt • Using a self-tanning mitt, apply the self-tanner to your skin while it’s nice and dry; no moisturizer residue or shower mist.
- Rub in circles • Rub in circular motions and move from the legs upward. Do one section at a time before moving on: legs, abs, arms, etc.)
- Mind the dryer spots • Use less self-tanner on the dryer areas like your elbows, wrists, knees, and hands (since these areas soak up more self-tanner than the rest of your skin will).
- Let the tan begin • Leave the self-tanner on for anywhere from 2 – 6 hours, depending on what your self-tanner suggests since each is different.
- Rinse • Rinse the self-tanner off with warm water (not hot) and pat your skin dry.
- Moisturize • For the best and longest-lasting results, use a good moisturizer daily.
Self-Tanner Tips, Tricks & Cautions
- Avoid contact with your eyes and hair.
- Don’t use self-tanning lotion on broken or irritated skin.
- Wash your hands right after use. (Better yet, use a self-tanning mitt).
- Wear sunscreen when you go out since self-tanner doesn’t prevent sunburn.
- You can tone and contour your tan by brushing on a self-tanner with a kabuki brush.
- Use less self-tanning lotion in areas that would naturally be hit by less sun—like the undersides of your arms.
Are Self-Tanners Safe During Pregnancy?
Generally, yes, self-tanners can be made pregnancy-safe, but ask your OB/GYN for case-specific advice. It helps to know the current general consensus of the medical/professional community, though it’s likely your attending OB/GYN will simply suggest you avoid tanning beds and tanning pills but may allow for safe self-tanning lotions. (Tanning beds and tanning pills are never safe, pregnant or not.)
Current professional consensus on self-tanner safety during pregnancy:
- U.S. FDA: “Risks, if any, are Unknown” (No Position on Self-Tanner Safety During Pregnancy)
- American Pregnancy Association: “Sunless Tanning Lotions May Be the Best Option”
- UK National Health Service: “Generally Considered Safe, Can’t Harm Your Baby”
- Sandra Marchese Johnson, M.D., FAAD: “Harmless. Fine to Use During Pregnancy & Won’t Harm Developing Baby”
- Mayo Clinic: “Generally Considered Safe If Used As Directed”
- Healthline: “Generally considered safe during pregnancy. Main chemicals don’t absorb past the first layer of skin.”
- Dr. Dray, M.D., Board-Certified Dermatologist & Skin Care Expert: “Very, very safe…. “I strongly advocate sunless tanners over [natural suntans or any other kind of tanning product.]”
- Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idris: “[DHA-based] self-tanners: totally safe in pregnancy.” –
Let’s look at each of these statements in detail.
11 Experts on Pregnancy-Safe Self-Tanners & Self Tanning
“Risks, if any, are Unknown,” (No Position on Self-Tanner Safety During Pregnancy) – U.S. FDA
As far as laws and the FDA are concerned, “Sunless Tanner” and “Bronzer” are both non-entities; that is, unlike medical devices, these cosmetic categories are utterly unregulated and require no pre-market approval before they wind up on your vanity. What is defined and is regulated is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, a “color additive that darkens the skin by reacting with amino acids in the skin’s surface.”
And DHA is your active ingredient in 9 ½ out of 10 sunless tanners.
Relax and read on, DHA is safe.
“DHA is approved for external application to the human body,” says the FDA, “which is the way these products are intended to be used.” (U.S. FDA, Sunless Tanners & Bronzers, 24 August 2020)
DHA is FDA cleared for external application and uses in self-tanners, with some restrictions: Don’t inhale it (spray tans are bad) ingest it, or use it on areas such as the lips, nose, and around the eye, “because the risks, if any, are unknown.” (U.S. FDA, Tanning Products, 26 April 2019)
“Sunless Tanning Lotions From a Bottle May Be the Best Option” – American Pregnancy Association
“From a Bottle: “This may be the best option if you are pregnant….
“The only concern is whether the active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), is able to penetrate the skin. Studies do not confirm that it can, but some health care providers encourage women to wait until after the first trimester, just to play it safe. DHA has been used in cosmetics since 1960 and no problems have been reported.”
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that even if you’ve used sunless tanners before your pregnancy, you should first try it out on a small patch of skin, as your skin may be “more sensitive and irritable during pregnancy.” (American Pregnancy Association, Pregnancy and Tanning, 1 May 2017)
“Generally Considered Safe, Can’t Harm Your Baby” – UK National Health Service
According to the UK’s National Health Service, “It’s generally considered safe to use fake tan creams and lotions during pregnancy,” but you should avoid spray tans. The NHS states DHA is a “non-toxic substance” that “isn’t thought to go beyond the outer layer of skin.” It isn’t absorbed into the body, they say, and thus it is thought that it “can’t harm your baby.” (UK National Health Service, “Is it Safe to Use Fake Tan During Pregnancy,” NHS reviewed, 14 May 2018)
“Harmless. Fine to Use During Pregnancy & Won’t Harm Developing Baby” – Baby Center
“The good news is that the ingredients in self-tanning lotions, creams, and foams are harmless, so it’s fine to use them during pregnancy. “These products are basically dyes that stay on the surface of your skin and won’t harm your developing baby.” (Sandra Marchese Johnson, M.D., BabyCenter)
“Generally Considered Safe If Used As Directed” – Mayo Clinic
“Topical sunless tanning products are generally considered safe alternatives to sunbathing, as long as they’re used as directed.” (Mayo Clinic, “Sunless Tanning: What You Need to Know,” 24 May 2019)
“Consider Sunless Tanning Products” – Skin Cancer Foundation
Not specifically discussing pregnancy, the Skin Cancer Foundation suggests you, “Fake, don’t bake: If you want a golden glow, consider sunless tanning products.” (The Skin Cancer Foundation, Tanning & Your Skin, Reviewed by M.D.s Anna Chien & Heidi Jacobe, June 2019)
“Generally Considered Safe During Pregnancy. Main Chemicals Don’t Absorb Past First Layer of Skin” – Healthline
“Self-tanning lotions are generally considered safe during pregnancy. The main chemicals in self-tanners don’t absorb past the first layer of skin.
“Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the chemical used in self-tanning lotions to make a brown pigment on the skin. Doctors don’t know for sure, but DHA is thought to stay only on the first layer of skin, so it doesn’t actually absorb in a way that could reach your baby. It’s always best to check with your doctor before using a self-tanning product.” (Healthline, Chaunie Brusie, B.S.N., “Is Self-Tanning Lotion Pregnancy-Safe?”)
“Very, very safe….” – Skin Care Expert, Dr. Andrea Suarez
Board-Certified Dermatologist and Skin Care Expert Dr. Andrea Suarez doesn’t discuss the safety of DHA and self-tanners specifically as related to use during or throughout pregnancy, but does stress its very promising overall safety:
“It [DHA] really only is altering the appearance of the very top layer of your skin. It does not penetrate your skin. It is very, very safe. It does not damage the skin at all. It is not systemically absorbed to any appreciable manner, with no adverse consequences on human health. It is a color additive that is okayed and approved by the FDA and the only color additive that is allowed by the FDA in sunless tanning products. It has been in existence for many, many years [‘first introduced in the 20s as a…diabetic sweetener, and then later, in the 50s…at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital,’ where it was first observed to ‘impart a tan appearance to the skin.’] Very, very safe when applied to the skin.” […]
“There is no such thing as a safe tan, even if you’re somebody who never burns… “I strongly advocate sunless tanners over them [natural tans.]” (Dr. Andrea Suarez, M.D., 26 June 2018 Fake Tanning; What You Need to Know)
“[DHA-based] Self-Tanners: Totally Safe in Pregnancy.” – Dr. Shereene Idris
Board-certified dermatologist in New York, Dr. Shereene Idris says “self-tanners which are made from DHA” are “totally safe in pregnancy.”
As Dr. Idris explains, DHA sticks to amino acids in the top layer of your skin, changing its color, and it “does not get systemically absorbed at a high rate. I think it’s a 0.5 percent absorption rate,” she says. “I would rather [you] use that than you go out and burn.”
Her only caveat: Be very careful inhaling it with the spray, and just use topical self-tanners instead.
“Can’t Cause Problems With Developing Baby” – Dr. Whitney Bowe
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe says “the answer is ‘yes,’” you can use self-tanners while pregnant.
DHA “literally just stains the very surface layer of the skin and doesn’t really get absorbed to any degree that can cause problems with a developing baby,” she says.
For Dr. Bowe, author of “The Beauty of Dirty Skin,” (2018) her only caveat is likewise—stick to “the kind [of self-tanner] that you rub on the skin.”
Don’t use a self-tanning spray as you don’t want to inhale DHA. “That’s not safe for you or for the baby,” she says.
“Far Safer Than Lying Out in The Sun…” – Connecticut Children’s Medical Center
Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, M.D., says that although there is no proof self-tanners are harmful, there also haven’t been many studies done of their “possible effects on a fetus,” so recommends you check with your doctor before applying any “tan in a bottle.”
“One thing that is clear is that using self-tanner is far safer than lying out in the sun and potentially becoming overheated. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can lead to skin cancer, and overheating can increase the risk for birth defects, such as neural tube defects, in the first trimester and dehydration later in the pregnancy.”
Elsewhere the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center covers the use and safety of self and sunless tanners they state the same: That there’s “no proof that self-tanners are harmful to an unborn baby,” but “there haven’t been many studies done on their effects to a fetus.”
They also make note of the fact that “No risks specific to [self] tanning have been documented.”
CCMC suggests you could “skip the self-tanner and apply some bronzer to your face, neck, shoulders, and chest,” but as discussed earlier, any problem with a self-tanner is going to be mirrored in a bronzer—neither of them, on the whole, are very regulated by the FDA; only certain ingredients within them are.
CCMC goes on to state that if you decide to try a self-tanner, “that’s far safer than lying out in the sun and becoming potentially overheated,” and conclude, “Still, ask your doctor before applying any ‘tan in a bottle.’”
Red Flags & Wrap Up
That’s it. That’s the current professional consensus on the safety of self-tanners during pregnancy: Check in with your doctor or OB/GYN to be sure. And, if you’re good to do, I’d recommend Botanic Tree or Beauty By Earth’s Self-Tanner or Face Self-Tanner throughout your pregnancy.
To find other pregnancy-safe self-tanning alternatives, look for products that fit the criteria above. (And if you do find them, feel free to drop a comment; I’m genuinely curious.)
If you hit the first red flag—and you will—move right along: Ingredients that are only available in picture or graphic form, not as text, or simply aren’t listed at all. And I don’t say this because it’s inconvenient, but because in every case, the hard-to-find ingredients were subpar. Of course they’re discreet.
Companies that put the effort and energy into pregnancy-safe cosmetics may not tell you outright they’re safe for pregnancy for legal reasons, but they certainly don’t hide the beauty of the product itself.
A. Results of our in-depth self-tanner comparison. B. Deep dive into our No. 1 pick. — 1. U.S. FDA, Sunless Tanners & Bronzers, 24 August 2020 2. U.S. FDA, Tanning Products, 26 April 2019 3. American Pregnancy Association, Pregnancy and Tanning, 1 May 2017 4. UK NHS, “Is it Safe to Use Fake Tan During Pregnancy,” NHS reviewed, 14 May 2018 5. Sandra Marchese Johnson, M.D., BabyCenter 6. Mayo Clinic, “Sunless Tanning: What You Need to Know,” 24 May 2019 7. Skin Cancer Foundation, Tanning & Your Skin, M.D.s Anna Chien & Heidi Jacobe, June 2019 8. Healthline, Chaunie Brusie, B.S.N., “Is Self-Tanning Lotion Pregnancy-Safe?” 9. Dr. Andrea Suarez, “Fake Tanning; What You Need to Know,” 26 Jun 2018 10. Pregnancy Skincare: Dos and Don'ts, Dr. Shereene Idriss, 6 Feb 2021 11. Dermatologist on the Best Skincare for Pregnancy, Dr. Whitney Bowe, 10 Mar 2021 12. Conn. Children’s Med Ctr, “Is It OK to Use Self-Tanner During Pregnancy?” Reviewed by Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, 14 May 2015 13. EWG; Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database 14. Alphabeautics, "Is Coco & Eve's [Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam] a Pregnancy-Safe Self-Tanner? It's Complicated," May 2021
James Anthony has written on self-improvement for 22 years, with his work appearing in five national magazines and on the websites of more than 100 U.S. Drs, MDs, and board-certified surgeons. This article contains the author’s opinion only and isn’t sponsored. To suggest corrections or clarifications, reach us by email at info[at]alphabeautics.com.