Fifty shades of 'orange': fake-tans and their costs

Sunday 5th June, 2016


It's almost summertime but since the sun don’t shine in London, many Londoners are stocking their shelves with self-tanning products.

Image: Ingrid Fadelli

Some self-tan products give an orange colour instead of the bronze tone that a real tan promises, however, more sophisticated (and more expensive) lotions can achieve fairly realistic results.

The ingredient that results in a bronze skin tone is dihydroxyacetone or DHA, a colour additive that prompts the darkening of skin.

There is an on-going debate on whether this additive is safe or if it causes genetic alterations, DNA damage and a higher risk of lung cancer.

Safe or not, many people still think fake-tan products are chemicals worth applying, as they make them look more tanned and attractive. These products are used despite people having the time to sunbathe or because they are afraid of the risks associated with sun exposure.

Martina Bellini, 27, is a mobile marketing manager at an Internet start-up. She used self-tan products for years, over periods of several months – usually at the beginning of summer.

“I use self-tan products because they warm up my skin colour and make it look toner, and I don’t have to use foundation after applying them. I do think that if you choose to use them, you need good quality products and need to know how to apply them so they don’t look fake.”

Her favourite product is Roche Posay self-tanner. “It costs three times more than products you get in supermarkets, but it doesn’t damage my skin. I used the ones sold at supermarkets when I was younger. They irritated my skin and gave me an ugly orange colour.”

She thinks that self-tan products make some people appear more attractive.

“I find tanned guys more attractive generally. If they wear self-tan products and you can’t really tell, I think it looks gorgeous. If they have that fake orange colour typical of cheap self-tan products, it really puts me off.”

Sami Hasni, 26, an executive at the London office of, thinks self-tan looks far from attractive. He said: “I think it’s neither attractive or classy and it harms your skin. To be honest, people who do it just look ridiculous.”

Hasni does not think that the biggest motivator for using these products is avoiding harmful radiations from the sun.

He said: “People do it because they want to be different from what they are. It’s all about insecurities. You see a lot of white people fake tanning, just like a lot of Arab, Asian and African people bleach their skin to make it lighter. I think it’s simply absurd.”

More synthetic enhancements in an already chemically conscious society could make the idea of fake-tan products less appealing to potential users. The use of these commodities could stem from insecurities rather than personal health reasons.