Tanning nasal spray: do you have to do without it?

As you may already know, tanning the old-fashioned way — by exposing yourself to real or artificial UV rays — can lead to sun spots, wrinkles, and other signs of premature skin aging. It can also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Enter a wide range of sunless tanning products, from self-tanning lotions to serums to nasal sprays. Wait – nasal spray?

If this got you doing a double take, you’re not alone. But the tanning nasal spray does exist.

The tanning nasal spray, which contains a hormone called melanotan II, has recently received a lot of airtime on TikTok. Influencers and online retailers who illegally sell this product promote it as a way to get a “safe and natural” tan.

But melanotan has the potential to cause several health issues, including:

Some dermatologists have even taken to social media to urge people to avoid using a tanning nasal spray.

Contrary to what some influencers on TikTok and Instagram might suggest, you don’t just inhale a squirt of spray tan before bed and – poof! — wake up with a perfect tan. Vaporizers don’t give you a “permanent tan” either.

The melanotan in the Tanning Nasal Spray replicates the alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormones in your body. When you inhale melanotan through your nose, it enters your bloodstream through your mucous membranes. It then binds to your melanocortin receptors and stimulates the production of melanin, a pigment in your skin cells.

The more melanin your body produces, the (temporarily) darker your skin becomes. But then again, that tan doesn’t last forever. When you stop using the spray, your body’s production of melanin slows down and your tan fades.

Melanotan I and II, found in nasal sprays and tanning injections, are not approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You cannot buy melanotan legally in a number of countries, including the US, UK, and Australia.

Since the FDA does not regulate these products, you have no way of knowing for sure if the composition of the product you are buying actually matches the ingredients on the label, no matter what the retailer says.

So even if you’re willing to take the potential health risks of using melanotan, you could end up with a product that contains dangerous impurities or additives.

A 2014 study reviewed products sold as melanotan-II from several online sellers. The researchers found that these products contained between 4.1 and 5.9% impurities. Additionally, even though the vials were advertised as containing 10 mg of melanotan-II, the actual amount of melanotan-II in the vials ranged from 4.3 mg to 8.8 mg.

Aside from contaminants and mislabeling, very little research has explored the long-term effects of nasal spray tanning. Experts don’t know enough about the potential side effects of melanotan to determine if people can use it safely.

In other words, all claims made by influencers or online retailers regarding the safety of tanning nasal spray are false. There is no scientific evidence supporting the safety of these products.

When you use an unregulated product, you run the risk of inhaling and absorbing too much medication and introducing contaminants and impurities into your body.

Much remains unknown about the long term effects of melanotan. But the experts have identified a number of short-term side effects associated with tanning nasal spray, including:

Melanotan can also contribute to more serious effects, including:

If you use a tanning nasal spray, nothing more than mild side effects warrants a visit to a medical professional.

Important

If you develop severe symptoms, go to an urgent care center or the nearest emergency room immediately. Tell your healthcare team that you used a tanning nasal spray so that they can better identify and treat any side effects to melanotan.

You box achieve a beachy bronzed glow without overexposing yourself to harmful UV rays or by injecting (or inhaling) melatonin and other untested and unregulated products.

Safe options for tanning include:

Bronzers

Bronzers work like a lot of makeup. You apply these products to your skin to achieve the look you want, then wash off at the end of the day.

You can find bronzer in different forms, including cream, stick, powder, and spray.

Self tanners

Self-tanners come in the form of creams, lotions, and serums. They contain ingredients that darken the skin without exposure to UV rays.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), an ingredient used in many sunless tanning products, darkens skin by reacting with amino acids on the skin’s surface.

The FDA allows DHA in sunless tanning products, but this ingredient is considered safe only when applied externally. This means that your self-tanner should not come into contact with your:

  • the eyes
  • lips
  • mucous membranes, moist tissue found throughout the body, including inside the nose and genitals.

You can find self-tanners with and without DHA. Some self-tanners also contain bronzers to give you an instant glow while you wait for the color additives to kick in and darken your skin.

Results usually last 7-10 days, although this time frame may vary from product to product.

Spray tan

A spray tan is exactly what the name suggests: a tan you get from a spray, usually at a spa or salon.

A technician will spray your skin with a self-tanning product containing DHA, at the depth and tone of your choice. Depending on the intensity of your tan, your results may last 7-10 days.

Tanning nasal spray is simply not a good option for tanning.

Even setting aside the lack of research on the long-term effects of melanotan, these products remain unregulated. There is no guarantee that your spray actually contains the ingredients printed on the label. It might even contain contaminants as an unwanted bonus.

Your safest bet is to stick with approved alternatives to tanning, such as bronzer, self-tanner, and spray tan.


Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and writer who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for over a decade. When she’s not cooped up in her writing studio searching for an article or interviewing medical professionals, she can be found frolicking around her seaside town with her husband and his dogs or wading on the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.