Are Spray Tans Bad For You?


Celebrities all seem to have tans that are applied flawlessly and donned with expert confidence. It’s difficult to distinguish between those who are naturally bronzed year round under the California sun and the celebs who are forking out big money on the day before big events for the highest end spray tan solution.

The bad news is that it seems that there really is no such thing as a “safe” tan. That tanning beds and laying out in the sun is killing us slowly has been known for a while, but now it seems we need to add spray tans and self-tanners to the list. Several studies have recently been released showing that DHA, the active ingredient in spray tans, may damage DNA and cause cancer.

The results of the studies is shocking and even a little scary. It would be worth your while to read the latest research and see what the skin care experts have to say about spray tans, before deciding for yourself if it’s worth the risk to get a glow.

Although no extensive research has been done on DHA and human cells, several studies have been done on animal, bacteria, and other cells. Here’s a summary of what was found:

  • Although it was previously believed that DHA couldn’t penetrate the dead skin cells on top of your skin, it has now been shown that it can if fact get past the outer layer of the skin and be absorbed into living skin cells.
  • Although it hasn’t been proven that DHA can alter the genes of human cells yet, the studies found that it does so with bacteria or animal cells. Human cell testing is sure to follow shortly.
  • Lynn Goldman, MD, MPH, and dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University, believes that in addition to cancer risk, there may also be risks for birth defects if a pregnant woman gets a spray tan. This assumption is however only based on the initial studies done, as no studies have yet been done on spray tanning and pregnant women.

Although it is technically true that DHA is a food grade ingredient and safe to eat, this is not the case when it comes to the DHA in spray tans.

There are actually two chemicals abbreviated to DHA. The first is Docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid that is often added to infant formula. The second is Dihydroxyacetone, the active ingredient in spray tans. This DHA is a colorless sugar that literally stains your dead skin cells brown, giving you your tan. These two DHAs are very different. When someone refers to DHA that you can eat, they’re referring to Docosahexaenoic acid and not Dihydroxyacetone.

Click here for the full story on spray tan dangers.

When ABC news did their initial report, Norvell Skin Solutions was found to be telling its customers that they used food grade DHA in their products. Norvell has since promised to correct its product descriptions.

The biggest problem with spray tans is that the solution could easily be inhaled. If this happens, the DHA gets into your lungs and then into your bloodstream. According to Rey Panettieri, MD and a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, DHA getting into your bloodstream could actually promote the development of cancers or malignancies.

As lotions are hard to inhale, this form of self-tanner is a somewhat safer bet. There is however still some risk since your skin can absorb the DHA in lotions.

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