Tan by Mouth if you Dare - Tanning Pills.. Do they Work?

Tanning Pills

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The Bronze Age of Bodybuilding

When the bodybuilders of yesteryear sought to achieve the sheen of a bronze Adonis, they had four options. They would head for the beach and soak up the sun; they would don protective goggles and lie suspended in artificial light; they would slap on staining lotions; or, if they were of a pharmaceutical bent, tan by mouth, i.e. pop tanning pills. Occasionally some novice would show up at a competition pale as a ghost, but he never made that mistake twice. The tanned body was the nonnegotiable basic equipment in physique competition and has remained so to this day.

In my previous writings, I covered the pros and cons of sunlight exposure versus artificial light, touched on the peculiarities of tanning lotions that screen out UVB rays, and explained how some of these lotions, by allowing in the more dangerous UVA rays, can cause even more damage than allowing the skin to build up its own protection gradually. However, another method of tanning exists - rather exotic and mysterious - and this method is a product still touted in small ads in the back of magazines: tanning pills. Little is generally known about such pills.

The idea of a tonic that will give us a bronze tan without the fuss and bother of long, arduous sessions of deep frying in the backyard or hours of roasting, baking and broiling at the beach - "You're done. Turn over!" - has long been a fanciful wish, probably held for as long as humans have been taking pills. The pop-a-pill-and-get-a-tan industry operates in a low-profile manner, and that makes sense since, as the old adage goes, what sounds too good to be true probably is.

Broiled Like Chicken

Do tanning pills work? Well, yes and no. Are they safe? Gather a few facts from this article, and you will probably decide no. The key ingredient in these pills is a substance called canthaxanthin, which belongs to the group of substances known as carotenoids. Although this substance may sound like an evil entity downloaded by the enslaving computers in the movie The Matrix and its sequels, canthaxanthin is the same additive put in commercial chicken feed to impart a nice yellow color to your store-bought broiler chicken. Fish are also sometimes fed canthaxanthin to enhance their color to look like the pink, orange or red color of salmon. What you should know is the use of this carotenoid as a coloring additive in these foods is approved by the FDA. The use of canthaxanthin to tan your hide is not. The dosage in tanning pills sold to humans is much higher than what chicken or salmon receives in their feed.

In the average American diet 5.6 mg a day of canthaxanthin is ingested from artificially colored food. (Hey, Americans like their food attractive!) If you never eat ketchup and salad dressing, you'll take in even less of this substance, but 5 mg from food is a far cry from the 120 mg you would ingest if you take the recommended dose on the label of many brands of tanning pills, which often come in 30 mg tablets or capsules. In the late 1980s one brand known as French Bronze Tablets appeared in ads promising the pills would help prevent skin blistering, peeling and even skin cancer! Quite incredible claims. When the ads came to its attention, the FDA investigated and traced the product not to some space-age lab but to a woman in Brooklyn stockpiling the stuff in her living room and slapping these claims on it, which she ordered every month from a New Jersey manufacturer. The pills were seized by the authorities and destroyed. By the way, tanning pills containing canthaxanthin that come into the US can be automatically detained by Customs officials. One American company that submitted an application for FDA approval of tanning pills later withdrew it when the side effects of ingesting large quantities of canthaxanthin became known. The FDA routinely sends warning letters to companies marketing and distributing tanning pills.

The Sight Effects

Some people taking the manufacturer-recommended dose of tanning pills may also get, besides a tan, something they didn't bargain for: crystals in the eyes. That may sound magical, but you truly are better off without crystals or anything else forming on your retina. In the August 1993 issue of American Pharmacy, Darrell Hulisz, PharmD, and pharmacist Ginger Boles mentioned this condition, canthaxanthin-induced retinopathy, in their article entitled "Clinical review of canthaxanthin" (Vol. 33, pp. 44-6). If you think this affliction is a small price to pay for a tan, you need to cut down on your drinking. Although the condition often has no outward symptoms, decreased visual acuity has been reported. Fortunately the condition seems to be reversible, but the resolution could take from 25 months to five years, according to the authors. In some people, deposits have been detected for up to seven years later. Yep, long after that wonderful tan has faded those crystal deposits on the retina keep hanging on. Other reports by persons taking tanning pills include complaints of severe itching, nausea, diarrhea and cramping. Canthaxanthin in tanning pills has also been causally linked to hepatitis. Oh, and I have to mention that tanning pills can turn the skin colors ranging from orange to brown.

So if you're somewhat on the lazy side and find the idea of taking tanning pills an attractive idea, you need to wise up. If you're jealous of the healthy glow of your broiler chicken and salmon, keep in mind that the FDA regulates dosage not to exceed 4 g of canthaxanthin per ton of feed. Tanning pills for humans don't deliver such minute dosages. Trying to tan by mouth can lead to Magic Crystal land building in your eyes.

If you insist on playing it loose with tanning pills that contain canthaxanthin, warn your eye doctor. Otherwise, he or she may cast a beam of light into your eye during a routine examination and pull back the way Roy Scheider's character did when the shark in Jaws suddenly rose out of the water. Or the doctor may simply mistake you for some sort of cyborg. If you don't look and sound like Arnold in The Terminator, you'll only end up getting chided. You '11 deserve the scolding because, having read this article, you should have known better.

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