Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spray tans might be bad for you now, too

Woman getting a spray tan.
My mom has been asking me about this for years--but there have literally been no new studies since the 1970s on the safety of DHA (dihydroxyacetone), the active ingredient in most sunless tanning products.

Earlier this week, ABC News did an investigative report that I absolutely frickin' loved! This may come as a surprise to some--I do occasionally use a DHA-based moisturizer before running around in a bikini--but I'm glad that someones finally digging a little deeper and trying to learn more about how DHA interacts with human cells. The report also bashes on the tanning bed industry, which as you know, is one of my favorite pastimes.

In summary: The scientists ABC quoted were heavily concerned by DHA being applied as a spray rather than a lotion. For those of you who have never gotten a Mystic, or spray, tan, they basically shut you in a box and mist you with a really stinky spray for about a minute. It doesn't take very long, but it's not uncommon to feel like you're gagging or choking on the spray. (To me, it seems like that's how you'd feel if you were an ant getting bug bombed.)

While topical application of DHA was approved by the FDA back when my mom was a teenager, according to ABC News:
"The FDA told ABC News it never could have envisioned the chemical's use in spray tan back in the 1970s, and says 'DHA should not be inhaled or ingested"' today. It tells consumers on its website, 'The use of DHA in 'tanning' booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the agency for review and evaluation.'"
So basically, by bombarding our lungs and eyes with this chemical version of DHA, we could be putting ourselves at risk for developing cell abnormalities (a.k.a. cancer). Of course, topical application of sunless tanning products gets attacked, too. New research insights indicate that DHA may penetrate more deeply than we once thought, which means more research needs to be done to determine the costs and benefits of spray tans versus the real thing.

Now, onto my favorite part. I love it when the media does undercover investigations of tanning salons because the results are always the same: mass noncompliance with basic, federal safety recommendations. For example, even though spray tanners are supposed to cover their eyes while they're in the booth, nine out of 12 salons in the report did not have protective eye wear available. Same deal with nose and mouth guards. Apparently, many tanning salon owners are also told that DHA is so healthy, you could drink it! Yum. Mind you, these are the same folks who told me, a melanoma survivor, that UV tanning won't cause cancer.

Essentially, this report affirms several things I've been preaching over the past few months:

1. Stay the heck away from tanning salons. Even if you're not UV tanning, you're still supporting a $5 billion industry that's more concerned with making a profit than it is with your health. Plus, tanning salon operators are trained to sell. While spray tanning before a vacation two years ago, the guy at the front desk tried to sell me a "tanning cocktail" package, which means you do 10 minutes in a UV bed before you go in for your spray tan. Perhaps he just couldn't read English because it explicitly said on my client information card: History of skin cancer.

2. Love your natural skin color! This is a hard one, I know, but if think of how much safer we'd be if we shunned tanning beds of all types--UV and UV-free. Funny story: At a fundraiser earlier this spring, I was having a conversation with a woman about my experience with melanoma. I gave her the rundown about how I used to use tanning beds, but now I've become diligent about sun protection. Her reaction? "Well, at least you can still spray tan." Yes, of course I can still spray tan, but I think she missed the point.

3. Think of sunless tanners as a “nicotine patch” for tanning beds. Despite everything it says in the ABC News report—that DHA has some potential side effects—UV radiation has proven risks. If you’ve got a wedding coming up, opt for an  airbrush tanning session instead of using a UV bed twice a week for the next eight weeks. If the thought of going to the beach without a tan gives you nightmares, use a little Jergens Natural Glow. Just don’t skimp on the SPF, and don’t become one of those people whose palms become perma-orange from self-tanning cream.


  1. Well stated! I've always wondered if spray tanning might also have some bad effects...the ABC report certainly implies that it does! My only concern is regarding efforts to legislate tanning bed bans towards minors. I attended a lobbying session yesterday in NC and one debating point we were asked to state was that small businesses would not be shut down (aka, tanning salons) because spray tanning would continue to be a lucrative business.

    Basically, one political concern to imposing tanning bans is the effect on small business (no matter how sleazy the biz, politicians don't want to be apart of increasing unemployment). Now that spray tanning might be considerd a health risk, I'm afraid some law makers will be fearful of shutting down the tanning bed business since there's no alternative.

    Overall, I'm pleased with this report and the further exposing of the sleazy tanning business. I just hope this new finding doesn't actually help their business more.

  2. I am not surprised that someone actually said, "Well, at least you can still spray tan." Like there is actually something terribly wrong with you skin and you need to change it?

    I agree with you when you say love the skin your in, them we don't need to worry about the spray tan chemicals or the UV beds, problem solved!

  3. Even I think that using self tanning lotions is the best option to get a fake tan.They are easy to apply and are not that harmful as tanning beds. The only thing that is to be kept in mind is apply it properly with proper guidance.

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