Tanning products

Canadians use many different types of tanning products. Some are used to prevent tans and sunburns. Others are used to help create or fake a tan.

But there is no such thing as a "healthy tan." Too much exposure to the sun or to tanning beds can cause skin damage, eye damage, and even skin cancer.

Follow these tips when using tanning products to protect your health.

Sunscreen safety tips

  • Choose a high SPF. Protect your health by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF)of at least 15. The sunscreen should also say "broad-spectrum" on the label, to screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays.
  • Look for "water resistant". Look for claims on the label that the product stays on better in water (water resistant, very water resistant).
  • Read application instructions. For best results, be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Use lots of sunscreen. Use the recommended amount of sunscreen.
  • Apply it early. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside; reapply 20 minutes after going outside and at least every 2 hours after that. Use a generous amount. Cover exposed areas generously, including ears, nose, the tops of feet and backs of knees.
  • Reapply often. Reapply sunscreen often to get the best possible protection especially if you are swimming or sweating heavily.
  • Protect yourself. Sunscreen and insect repellents can be used safely together. Apply the sunscreen first, then the insect repellent.
  • Sunscreens and babies. Do not put sunscreen on babies less than 6 months of age. Keep them out of the sun and heat as their skin and bodies are much more sensitive than an adult's.
  • Test for an allergic reaction. Before using any tanning product on you or your child check for an allergic reaction, especially if you have sensitive skin. Apply it to a small patch of skin on the inner forearm for several days in a row. If the skin turns red or otherwise reacts, change products.

Sun safety tips

Did you know?

You may think a tan looks healthy, but a tan is actually a sign that UV rays have already damaged your skin.

  • Cover up. Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat made from breathable fabric. When you buy sunglasses, make sure they provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Limit your time in the sun. Keep out of the sun and heat between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. When your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is very strong. Look for places with lots of shade, like a park with big trees, partial roofs, awnings, umbrellas or gazebo tents. Always take an umbrella to the beach.
  • Use the UV Index forecast. Tune into local radio and TV stations or check online for the UV index forecast in your area. When the UV index is 3 or higher, wear protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Use sunscreen. Put sunscreen on when the UV index is 3 or more.
  • Drink plenty of cool liquids (especially water) before you feel thirsty.  If sunny days are also hot and humid, stay cool and hydrated to avoid heat illness.  Dehydration (not having enough fluids in your body) is dangerous, and thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration.
  • Avoid using tanning beds. If you do use them, understand the risks and learn how to protect yourself.

Types of tanning products

Did you know?

Both self-tanners and oral tanning products do not provide a true "sun tan" and little or no protection from the sun's rays. The "tan" will fade if you stop using the product, as the colouring agents leave your skin and body.

  • Tanning lotions, oils and creams are considered cosmetics. They help moisturize your skin when exposed to the sun. Some people use them to help them get a tan. But remember, there is no safe way to tan.
  • Sunscreens or sunburn protectants are considered drugs because they claim to prevent sunburn by shielding your skin from the sun's UV rays. You can tell the difference between sunscreens and suntan lotions by looking for SPF or "UVA/UVB" on the label of sunscreens.
  • Self-tanners colour your skin and make it look like you have a tan. They are considered cosmetics because they contain substances that are absorbed by the topmost layer of your skin only.
  • Oral tanning products, also known as tanning pills, contain colouring agents that are deposited in the fatty tissue under your skin to give the appearance of a tan. These products are considered to be drugs, not cosmetics. Currently, no oral tanning drugs have been authorized for sale in Canada. Until the safety and effectiveness of oral tanning products have been established, avoid using them.

Report a problem or side effect

Report side effects to sunscreens or oral tanning products (which are drugs) to Health Canada toll-free at 1-866-234-2345 or report online.

To report side effects to tanning lotions, oils and creams or self-tanners (which are cosmetics), call your nearest product safety office or report online.

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