Can a Pill Really Make You Tan? We Investigate

Updated 10/02/17

Like most good beauty editors, we’ve shunned the sun. But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss the golden glows of our misguided youths. So, we’ll try it all—spray tans, sunless tanners, and pills. Yep, people are actually taking pills to make their skin tanner. We know what you’re thinking: Can it be true? Does it actually work? Is it safe? We had all of these questions too, so we started digging.

Are pills that make you tan the wave of the future? Keep reading to find out!

tanning pills

What Is It?

Tanning pills contain canthaxanthin, a naturally occurring chemical found in several plants and animals. More commonly, it's a color additive used to give foods a red or orange tint. Basically it’s food coloring. If you see Food Orange 8 or Red 10 on the ingredients list for your salad dressing, you’re eating canthaxanthin.

How Does It Work?

Canthaxanthin colors food, but can it do the same for skin? Essentially it works the same way. Because canthaxanthin dissolves in lipids, which make up the tissue directly below the epidermis, the color attaches the cells under your skin, and gives it a darker tint.

Does It Work?

Do tanning pills really make you tan? Not instantly, the dye needs to build up, but after about two weeks of consistent use, you’ll see results. And the same waiting period applies if you decide you’ve over-done it. After you stop taking the pill, it will take a good two weeks for your skin to shed the orange.

Is It Safe?

Just because it works and is fine to ingest from the foods we eat doesn’t mean you should start popping canthaxanthin-packed tanning pills just yet. Yes, the FDA has approved the use of canthaxanthin in foods, but the amount used in these pills is way more than what’s added to food.

If you think the idea of ingesting massive amounts of food coloring sounds a little questionable, you’d be right. The prevalence of adverse side effects (like the deposition of crystals in eyes and the development of welts) has been causing companies to withdraw from FDA approval before completeing the process.

So, what do you think? Would you risk it for a sun-free tan? Sound off in the comments!

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