Tanning Nasal Sprays | What you need to know
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TikTok seems to keep coming up with more viral trends that require some explaining. Getting a “tan from within” may seem like genius to some, but I think for most people their gut instinct that this is not necessarily a great idea is probably right.
What are tanning nasal sprays and how do they work?
Tanning nasal sprays make use of melanotan. When sprayed in the nose, it is absorbed and acts on melanocytes to increase melanin production.
What is melanotan and is it safe?
Melanotan is a melanocortin analog. Melanocortin can act on melanocytes in our skin via melanocortin receptors to increase the production of a pigment called melanin. There are also cells with melanocortin receptors in our central nervous system associated with appetite, sexual arousal, and penile erection.
Melanotan is not a regulated substance making it difficult to say how manufacturers are using this ingredient in terms of concentration and interactions with other inactive ingredients.
Although Melanotan has been associated with increasing the tendency to tan, it has also been associated with increases in dysplastic nevi, melanoma, and has even been linked to priapism, painful persistent erection.
How is melanotan absorbed into the bloodstream?
Melanotan is found illicitly as an injectable. To increase absorption non-invasively, the nasal route is chosen by the nasal sprays. Nasal sprays allow for delivery of the drug to the pulmonary system which increases systemic absorption through the larger surface area provided through the lung. This delivery method also avoids exposure to the acidic environment of the stomach found with oral drugs. Given the unregulated status of these products, the actual absorption is not well tested or understood nor are risks associated with pulmonary exposure to these products. Also remember it is not just the active ingredient but the inactive ingredients that pose a risk to the lungs through exposure as well.
Why do nasal tanning sprays recommend sun exposure after use?
Technically melanotan is meant to work without UV exposure as it is inducing pigmentation through an upregulation of melanin production via melanocortin. Products that suggest getting sun exposure are asking the user to increase the tanning effect via upregulation internally through the spray and externally via the sun. This is also an example of how unregulated the product is to ensure effectiveness and safety where the manufacturers are asking people to use UV exposure in addition to their product. Of course, UV has its own well-documented known risk of skin cancer associated with exposure.
Are there any benefits to melanotan?
This is a good opportunity to discuss the potential benefits of variants of melanotan that are being studied for photoprotection for various photosensitive skin disorders. There is a product called afamelanotide. This is NOT the same as melanotan. This distinction should be clear to avoid melanotan marketers from confusing the public by conflating the two products (as skincare marketers are routinely guilty of doing…) Afamelanotide is a MSH analog studied to be used as an implant for those with a photosensitive condition called Erythropoietic Protoporphyria. It has been studied extensively but is not available for use as yet.
What about safety concerns with tanning beds?
UV is a known carcinogen with tanning beds as a preventable source of exposure. The risk of melanoma increases with the use of tanning beds and even more so for women who begin tanning before the age of 35. Prior to 2014, tanning beds were considered a Class I device by the FDA, the same category that bandaids and tongue depressors were in making it difficult to regulate. After recognizing the risks these devices posed to users, the FDA changed the classification to Class II device which allowed for closer regulation and surveillance. Most countries have moved to limit or prevent the use of tanning beds for people under the age of 18.
How about safer tanning alternatives such as topical self-tanning sprays/mousses that contain DHA?
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is found in self-tanning lotions, sprays, and other topical formulations. It is not absorbed into the body beyond the most superficial layer of skin called the stratum corneum. By interacting with proteins in the skin, melanoidins are created. These are brown-colored pigments that deposit in the stratum corneum of the skin to give the appearance of a tan. These products are considered safe when used topically. The most important thing to remember is that their use does not offer UV protection. A sunblock still needs to be used. If using a self-tanner that contains DHA, finding one that includes antioxidants can reduce the chances of oxidative damage to the collagen in the skin. There is an older study that suggested this possibility which is why adding antioxidants to the routine can help reduce the chance of this occurring. There is a wide range of shades when it comes to self-tanners, try to choose one that suits your needs as the biggest challenge is avoiding a hue that appears unnatural for your skin.