Can You Really Get A Tan By Taking A Pill?

Some people would go to great lengths to achieve the perfect tan. Whether applying a skin-staining lotion once a week or risking their health while lying in a tanning bed every day, there is a psychological obsession attached to the desire for tan skin that will have some people trying anything and everything to get it. In fact, over 7 million U.S. adults still use tanning beds in 2022, according to The American Academy of Dermatology, despite the staggering skin cancer statistics that come along with the practice. 

When tanning pills hit the market a few decades ago claiming they could help anyone achieve a bronzed complexion without UV exposure or annoyingly sticky serums, it's no surprise many people wanted to give them a try (via These tanning pills don't help you produce melanin, giving you a natural tan. Instead, they contain a large amount of skin-dyeing ingredients that are said to give a bronzed glow all year. But, do they work? And most importantly, are they safe?

They may work, but not in the way you would hope

Most tanning pills, like the ones sold by My Tan, are said to give a healthy tan in about two weeks after taking the first dose. And while you may notice your skin change color within that time frame, it may not be the natural bronzed glow you hoped for. In fact, it could turn you an unsightly orange color instead.

This is because one of the main additives in tanning pills is called canthaxanthin, which, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, can give the skin a shade ranging from "orange to brownish," depending on the person. While canthaxanthin can be found in other foods in smaller doses and is FDA-approved for that use, tanning pills contain more significant amounts and are not approved by the FDA.

While some natural-based tanning pills don't include canthaxanthin and may be considered "safer" alternatives, the ingredients list is usually compromised of "a bunch of common, everyday vitamins," per, thus leading to the conclusion that natural tanning pills won't help you achieve a tan.

Are tanning pills safe?

Since tanning pills aren't FDA-approved, you would be taking them at your own risk — and the risks can be pretty serious. The tanning pills containing canthaxanthin have led to reactions including vision changes and loss, skin disorders, liver damage, and gastrointestinal issues (via Healthline). You may also develop orange skin, and even though that side effect won't hurt you physically, it may not be the look you were going for.

Some people who used the tanning pills even formed crystals in their eyes, known as "canthaxanthin-induced retinopathy," which may take over a year to heal (via U.S. Food and Drug Administration). What's more, according to Healthline, canthaxanthin can last up to seven years in the body, so even if you stop taking the pills, you can still experience some of the side effects long after your last dose. While many people want tan skin, sometimes the best options for your health are sticking to at-home spray tanning or embracing the natural skin you were born with.