You already know that traditional tanning puts you at risk for sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. Common alternatives are sunless tanning products, which come in the form of gels, lotions, and sprays. There’s a newer, less common alternative that makes tanning purportedly even easier: tanning pills.

But can simply taking a pill make you tan without any risks? While this method doesn’t put your skin at risk of UV rays, tanning pills come with a whole host of other side effects. Plus, they may turn your skin more orange than bronze!

Learn more about tanning pills and how they measure up to other sunless tanning methods.

The most common active ingredient in tanning pills is a food-coloring additive called canthaxanthin. When you ingest this color additive, it purportedly releases pigment-changing compounds in your skin, and long-term use will make your skin turn darker.

Still, not all tanning methods are created equal. While actual tanning in the sun causes melanin in your skin to darken, tanning pills work from the inside out, releasing the color additives throughout your skin. The result ends up looking more orange compared to the coveted bronze tint many tanning hopefuls look for.

Tanning pills may technically work, but there are several caveats to their efficacy:

  1. It can take up to two weeks for the dyes to build up in your body enough to show up on your skin.
  2. The resulting color will likely look more orange to orangish-brown compared to the bronze-like color that many people seek in tanned skin.
  3. Tanning pills won’t work without risk. Their ingredients aren’t natural, and they can lead to some serious side effects.

While tanning pills are a relatively new trend on the sunless tanning market, early evidence shows that these supplements are not safe. They also aren’t FDA-approved, so you would be using these pills at your own risk.

Canthaxanthin itself is approved — but only as an ingredient used for food coloring purposes. It’s not approved in such larger doses as seen in tanning pills. Canthaxanthin is only considered safe when consumed in small amounts in the foods you eat.

Other tanning accelerators taken by mouth can also be dangerous. These may contain an ingredient called tyrosine, a type of amino acid. Taking too much beta carotene can cause vitamin A toxicity.

Tanning pills can lead to serious side effects, including:

  • hives and welts
  • gastrointestinal issues, such as abdominal cramps and diarrhea
  • liver damage
  • retinopathy (eye damage)
  • vision changes
  • vision loss

Another side effect is orange skin. While this doesn’t necessarily impact your health, orange skin can still be an unwanted consequence of taking tanning pills.

Jaundice may develop from taking in too much vitamin A. This can make your eyes and skin look yellow. Beta carotene may lead to a high intake of vitamin A in your body.

What’s even more troubling is that you may be at risk for these side effects for years after taking tanning pills. Some reports have noted that canthaxanthin has stayed in some users’ bodies between 2 and 7 years.

Pills for tanning aren’t safe, but you still have safer options compared to UV ray tanning. Home self-tanners are among the most popular options. These are available as lotions, sprays, and gels, and they won’t lead to the internal organ damage that pills for tanning can.

Still, some users find it difficult to apply sunless tanners at home. Exfoliating your skin ahead of time can prevent unwanted streaks and uneven color. A professional spray tan may be another option.

One limitation to sunless tanners is that they don’t offer any protection from the sun. You should still wear sunscreen every single day — be sure to reapply frequently when you’re playing sports or swimming outdoors.

Tanning pills contain compounds similar to beta carotene. This form of vitamin A is responsible for giving carrots and sweet potatoes their notable orange color. Canthaxanthin is the most common tanning pill ingredient.

Canthaxanthin itself is a red-orange carotenoid that occurs naturally in certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables. It’s also used as a food additive for orange and red colors. Chances are that you already have a small amount of this compound stored in your body from the foods you eat.

Some tanning pills sold online may also contain one or more of the following ingredients:

  • beta carotene
  • lycopene
  • lutein
  • turmeric

These ingredients all have orange-to-red compounds. The idea is to darken your skin over time with long-term use.

Tanning pills don’t contain the ingredients you might find in sunless tanners. These usually contain an FDA-approved ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

Tanning pills are new to the market, but preliminary evidence shows that these products aren’t safe. Still, you shouldn’t attempt to get bronze skin via tanning salons or direct sunbathing.

There are multiple sunless tanning options available that can help you get the tan you’re seeking — all without the risk of prolonged UV ray exposure and tanning pills.