Is it safe to use fake tan when I’m breastfeeding?

We've got expert advice from cosmetic dermatologist Dr Samantha Bunting about the safety of using fake or spray tans if you're breastfeeding a baby

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In a nutshell: It’s fine to use fake or spray tans when you’re breastfeeding, according to the NHS. But there’s no scientific evidence to show that it’s safe for your baby to ingest any of the fake or spray tan product that’s on the skin on your breast. For that reason, it’s worth taking steps to prevent fake tan going on your nipples, or preferably, any part of your breasts.

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What does the expert say?

As well as making sure your baby’s face doesn’t get ‘tanned’ by coming into contact with your fake tan as your breastfeed when the tan’s still drying, it’s wise to be cautious about letting fake tan go into your baby’s mouth, says Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr Samantha Bunting.

Although no studies have shown that it’s unsafe for your baby to ingest fake tan, would you want your baby to be ingesting anything that’s not technically edible, says Dr Samantha? She adds:

DHA - dihydroxyacetone, the active ingredient in fake tans - has been approved as safe for external use. It hasn’t been approved for inhalation or application directly on the eyes and mouth. This doesn't mean it's not safe, but it does mean it hasn't been rigorously tested for use in this way.
Dr Samantha Bunting, cosmetic dermatologist

Fake tan and breastfeeding: the top safety tips

  • Use ‘tit tape’ over your nipples or place a breast pad over the nipple area so the tan doesn’t go on it
  • Apply a barrier cream (such as nipple cream, Vaseline or even nappy cream) over your breasts so the tan cannot adhere to them
  • Or, better still, avoid your breast area completely when you apply the product at home or when you get sprayed. To be ultra safe, keep a bikini top on.
  • Apply your tan when you have a big breastfeeding window. If your baby no longer wakes for a night-time feed, for example, time your tan accordingly, and rinse off well before their morning feed
  • If you express milk to bottle-feed your baby, then consider doing so for the development time of your tan plus add an extra couple of feeds to be entirely sure you have ‘set’!
  • If your tan needs a longer development time – 8 to 10 hours – before rinsing, wear a nursing top so you only have to get your boob out, and ensure you and your baby have long sleeves on to minimise the opportunity for transferring the tan
  • Be sure to wash your breasts and the surrounding area with a gentle bodywash and dry well to ensure no residue is accidentally present before your first post-tan feed.

What’s in fake tan?

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active ingredient (so the one which makes us brown) in most fake tans is a carbohydrate, derived from plant sources such as sugar cane. Some self tanners use erythrulose, which is another carbohydrate and can be found naturally in red raspberries.

Both work, in a similar way, to make the cells in the top layer of your skin produce melanoidin, which is what turns your skin brown.

And it’s worth noting that the effect is a chemical reaction, not a stain or dye. So because neither DHA or erythrulose can absorb beyond the outermost layer of your skin, it cannot contaminate your breastmilk.

Fake tan and breastfeeding in the news

When mortified mum Gemma Colley shared an ‘epic parenting fail’ pic (see below) of her baby sporting an almost ‘comedy 5 o’clock shadow’ on Facebook, she faced a barrage of social media comeback – not to mention national media interest. The reason: her spray tan had rubbed off on her baby’s face as she breastfed him. 

The mum in question was horrified at unwittingly ‘tanning’ her baby but, give the popularity of fake tanning, it did raise a lot of questions – which we’ve tried to answer clearly – about how safe it is to get a sunless tan if you are breastfeeding, and if you should avoid it completely.

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Pics: Getty, Facebook

About our expert: Dr Samantha Bunting

Dr Sam Bunting is a London-based cosmetic dermatologist. She received her medical training at Cambridge University and University College London and became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians in 2002. She then practised medical dermatology for 6 years before establishing her own private practice at London’s Harley Street. She’s a presenter on TLC’s Last Chance Salon and runs her own website at Dr Sam’s.

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