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Contact Allergens Lurking in Self-Tanners


An analysis of popular self-tanners revealed that more than half of them contained at least 10 potential allergens, and some contained 20 or more.



An analysis of the best-selling name-brand and generic self-tanners for sale at US retailers Amazon, Sephora, Target, Ulta, and Walmart found that most of the products contained at least 10 potential allergens.

Newton et al examined the ingredient lists of 17 brands and 44 unique self-tanning products for additives that could increase the risk of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) among patients with sensitive or eczema-prone skin.1

The number of allergens per product ranged from 1 to 24, they found.

The mean number of allergens per product was 11.86, with a median of 12 allergens. More than half of the products (56.8%) contained 10 or more potential allergens, while 5 products (11.4%) contained 20 or more allergens.

No products were completely allergen-free, the study authors reported.

The most common allergen was fragrance (including mix I, mix II, unspecified), which was found in all but 1 product. Most products (84.1%) contained other scented botanicals (essential oils, extracts, etc). Especially common were linalool hydroperoxide (47.7%), coumarin (34.1%), d-limonene (27.3%), and citronellol (25%).

One product contained as many as 15 unique scented botanicals.

“Fragrance allergies are relatively common, and after nickel, fragrance allergies are cited as the most common allergens found in offices that perform patch testing,” the authors noted.

“Consumers should be cautioned against trusting products that claim to be ‘fragrance free’ or ‘unscented,’ as many of these products still contain fragrances that act as a common source of allergy in the skin.”

Known as “masking fragrances,” scents added to “unscented” products can trigger ACD in sensitive patients.2

Other allergens in the self-tanners included propylene glycol (61.4%), tocopherol (vitamin E) (59.1%), polysorbate 80 (47.7%), and benzyl alcohol (29.5%). These agents typically act as emulsifiers, moisturizers, preservatives, antioxidants, or foaming agents. Some products contained photocontactallergens such as octyldodecylmyristate, thiourea (thiocarbamide), benzocaine, or benzophenone. One product contained butane.

“Though topical self-tanners are inherently less detrimental to the skin than sunbathing or tanning beds, consumers and physicians should note that they may be a source of allergic contact dermatitis, given that several contact allergens are common constituents of self-tanning products,” Newton et al wrote.

Furthermore, “dermatologists, allergists, and primary care providers should consider ACD in the differential in patients using self-tanning products [who] develop skin lesions consistent with contact dermatitis and counsel and treat patients accordingly.”

The study appeared in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology.

Related articles

Contact Dermatitis and Common Culprits

Metal Implants Can Lead to Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Diet and Allergic Contact Dermatitis


  1. Newton J, Ogunremi O, Paulsen RT, et al. A cross-sectional review of contact allergens in popular self-tanning products. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. 2024:10(1):pe134. DOI: 10.1097/JW9.0000000000000134
  2. Draelos ZD. The art of smelling good. Dermatology Times. February 7, 2023. Accessed February 14, 2024. https://www.dermatologytimes.com/view/the-art-of-smelling-good
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