Tanning Pill Side Effects

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Almost everyone loves the look and feel of having luminous, tanned skin. But if you shun the sun, wouldn’t think about a tanning bed, and fear the orange spray tan, what other options do you have to get a sun-kissed glow?

Well, you can go with a self tanner. but these can be messy and hard to apply evenly (especially to your back), and inhaling the chemicals contained in these products is harmful. Meanwhile, some people prefer the convenience of being able to just pop a pill to mimic a day at the beach.

But before deciding on this option, should you consider tanning pill side effects?


Tanning Pills Side Effects

Tanning Vitamins

First things first, tanning pills are not approved by the FDA. So, if after reading this you choose to go ahead and take them anyway, you should be wary of any side effects that may occur.

These are considered supplements, not medicines, and so there is much less regulatory oversight.

Tanning pills are marketed as a way of darkening your skin. They are able to cause this reaction, because of the added color additives in the formula. The most popular colorant is usually canthaxanthin, but there are other similar analogues used.

The problem with this additive is that its color is distributed all over the body, including the eyes, which can cause jaundice yellowing of the whites of the eye due to blockages in the liver, but also the gallbladder, pancreas and/or intestines.

Caution Needed

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Melanin is the pigment in your skin that determines its color. It causes you to tan when exposed to UV light, whether from the sun’s rays or via the UV light from tanning bed bulbs. Melanin is also the skin’s magic way of protecting your skin from further sun damage, So, tanning in a more natural way will give you a glow like no other.

Getting your glow on from tanning pills doesn’t provide your skin with this protection. There’s no base tan from tanning pills!

In addition, they have side effects that include the potential to not develop a natural bronzing effect. There’s a big chance that taking tanning pills will result in an Oompa-Loompa-type hue.

Not pretty.

The orangey-brown result is due to the color additives like canthaxanthin, which will react differently with each individual.

So, let’s take a closer look at the color additives.

Crystal Tips

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Canthaxanthin is a carotenoid that is also a powerful antioxidant. Its pigment is made naturally by microorganisms and plants, and it can be found in fruits, vegetables, and fish. Providing red to orange hues, canthaxanthin has been approved by FDA, but only to add small amounts of color to foods like ketchup and salad dressings.

The average daily intake of canthaxanthin is 5.6 milligrams, whereas each tanning pill can contain up to 30 milligrams a pill. 

Taking just four a day means an additional 120 milligrams. This is why the inclusion of this color additive in tanning pills has not had FDA approval. At dosage levels this high, it can also cause the palms of your hands and soles of your feet to turn orange.

And you can’t remove that stuff!

As mentioned above, high-dose usage of canthaxanthin can even cause jaundice. Another very common side effect of ingesting canthaxanthin from tanning pills is a condition that affects the eyes, called canthaxanthin-induced retinopathy, which leaves crystal deposits on the retina.

Canthaxanthin-induced retinopathy has the potential to cause vision loss, if left untreated. And in one study, the crystal deposits were still existent up to seven years after discontinued use.

The A Game

Vitamin A (aka beta carotene) acts much like canthaxanthin. It tends to make your skin look more orange and can also cause jaundice of the eyes and skin due to the buildup in the body’s organs.

Common symptoms of vitamin A taken in high doses can include nausea and vomiting, as well as blurred vision and vertigo.

Other Harmful Ingredients

Depending on the tanning pill product, unless you meticulously read every label and understand how the chemicals will react with each other, you’ll be taking a big risk. This is because each formulation will use different proportions of the following ingredients, which can also cause side effects.


Another carotenoid with a red pigment found in foods like tomatoes. Potential side effects of high doses include disruption in urinary function, gastrointestinal problems, low blood pressure, and increased risk of bleeding.


Although generally considered safe and healthy, there’s some concern that high doses of turmeric or ingesting it regularly for more than 12 months, can trigger dizziness, nausea and diarrhea, and decrease blood clotting.

It can also cause skin rashes and mouth itching for those sensitive to this exotic spice.

Final Warning

If the above doesn’t have you questioning the known side effects of tanning pills, then you also need to consider the following if you are taking any of the following medications. This is because many medications and vitamin A don’t mix.

  • Acitretin — Taking vitamin A in conjunction with this drug has the potential to cause severe body inflammation and vision impairment among other symptoms.
  • Anticoagulants — High doses of vitamin A combined with these pharmaceuticals can increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Neomycin — Your body’s ability to absorb vitamin A will be reduced when using this antibiotic.
  • Retinoids — If you’re already taking oral retinoids for acne, like tretinoin, then additional vitamin A may result in dangerously high levels in your bloodstream.
  • Tetracyclines —  High doses of vitamin A and tetracyclines can cause pressure to build up from fluid on the brain.

Although tanning pills might seem an easy option to getting and maintaining a tan, there are many potential harmful side effects to consider before you take the plunge in investing in these products.

And let’s not forget that there was a film in the 80s where a white guy took tanning pills to turn black in order to get a scholarship…

To eliminate the potential dangers of tanning pill side effects, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, then think about topping up your vitamin D and getting a boost from the sun in the way that nature intended — with adequate sunscreen, of course.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).