Spray tans have become a more and more popular alternative to the harmful use of tanning beds, but now researchers are saying that the main ingredient is potentially harmful if inhaled.  Scientifically, the substance is known as dihydroxyacetone or DHA.  DHA is a simple sugar derived from the sugar cane plant. It works as a color additive used in cosmetics and is approved by the FDA for topical use.  The way it works is that the chemical component reacts with amino acids in the outer layers of the skin (the dead skin cells) to temporarily stain the skin darker.  During an unprotected spray tan the DHA enters the lungs and is then absorbed into the bloodstream where it could damage DNA and cause tumors.

Dr Lynn Goldman, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University in Washington DC, said: ‘The substance seems to have a potential for what they call creating mutations or changing DNA in living cells, which is a serious problem and needs to be further investigated, yet hasn’t been.”

‘What we’re concerned about is not so much that reaction that creates the tanning, but reactions that may occur deeper down with living cells that might then change DNA, causing a mutation and what the possible impacts of that might be.

‘I’d be very concerned for the potential of lung cancer.’

There are known side-effects and risks associated with spray tans such as coughing, difficulty breathing, fainting and dizziness. These symptoms can arise if  staff  fail to provide customers with the necessary goggles and masks to prevent the potentially harmful chemicals from entering the eyes and lungs or if the customers refuse these safety items.  Inhaling DHA has been found to make Asthma, Emphysema and (COPD) Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease worse and is not recommended for people suffering from these ailments. Researchers in the U.S. have expressed concern about the safety of DHA after looking at tests carried out on cells in the lab, but there haven’t been any human tests. Since DHA is only approved for topical use–keep in mind that it is not approved for the eye area mucous membranes. Do not breathe the fumes!

I did find a forum at www.salongeek.com that confirmed that there are real and potential dangers to spray tanning. Read a portion of the discussion below (unedited):

Just wondering if anyone uses a mask whilst tanning?
I’ve had lung problems for the last few years ranging from whooping cough, bronchitis and chest infections and the doctors are still doing ongoing tests to try and get to the bottom of it
as i’ve mentioned on salongeek i’ve just started up this week and done 3 tans (all on different days) and a few practice ones on my boyfriend. my room is well ventilated but i’m coughing a lot.
theres a lot of colds and sore throats going around so i don’t know if its that or just a coincidence that its happened the same week as my tans.
i think i’m going to have to wear a mask but don’t want my clients thinking that the spray is bad if i’m covering up

One very smart response:

I think you should be telling them what is the truth.Spray tan is fine on skin but not for inhalation and on mucus membranes which is why you are wearing a mask,they ideally should be wearing sniffits ,their lips should have barrier cream on and you should also really have an extractor fan.Spray tan is going to be safe for all of us long term as users and operators providing certain precautions are taken. Its the same as wearing goggles on sunbeds,gloves when waxing,being careful when doing enhancements with minimising vapours and skin contact and many of the other things we have to be aware of in our jobs. Spraytan is a chemical at the end of the day and what chemical is ever any good to breathe in over a period of time.

What do you think? Leave a comment…

For the casual user there isn’t a huge risk, but for those people who use spray tan salons frequently the risk for developing some type of illness or ailment goes up. ALL should be wearing the proper protection; masks, lip barrier cream, goggles, and there should be adequate ventilation. If those things are not offered to you–ask for them. Be proactive with your health!

Practice safe spray tanning:

  • Don’t breathe the fumes! Wear a mask, goggles and take any other precautions you can.
  • Wear your sunscreen daily. Spray tanning is only cosmetic and does not provide any protection from UVA or UVB rays.
  • Just like with anything in life–moderation is key. Only spray tan on special occasions if possible.



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