Is Spray Tanning Safe? Health Risks & Dangers Explained

spray tan face

It is clear to all that our skin is susceptible at the surface, which can be shown by the use of patches that can treat pain, nicotine withdrawal, menopausal symptoms, and more.

Many have wondered whether spray tanning has any negative effects when it comes to health, with good reason.

Regardless of whether spray tan is done at home or at a salon, it involves applying chemicals to your skin. So, this begs the question; is spray tanning safe? What are the health risks and dangers involved?

In comparison with tanning as a whole, spray tanning is the safest option as there is no UVA or UVB damage whatsoever and so there’s no known risk of skin cancer.

Despite the lack of research and evidence out there so far, we can still evaluate and assess the potential risks and whether they outweigh the benefits or not from what we know at present.

How Spray Tanning Works

First and foremost, it is important to understand how spray tanning works so that we can comprehend why and how it may be harmful.

We know that it’s with chemicals but what chemicals are used and how safe are they?

The active ingredient in self-tanners is Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which is derived from sugar cane and is a glycerin derivative. DHA is the only skin tanning agent that is approved by the FDA, as it does not cause an increased risk of skin cancer or aging of the skin.

It interacts with amino acids in dead skin cells on the outer layer of your skin, staining these cells through a chemical reaction and giving the illusion of a tanned appearance. This reaction is known as the ‘Maillard reaction’, as pigments called melanoidins are produced and they are similar to the natural pigment produced in our skin after sun exposure; melanin.

You may come across ‘DHA-free’ self-tanners, but these contain erythrulose, which is essentially the same thing as DHA.

Our skin continuously sloughs off dead skin cells which is why self-tanner cannot last more than 1-2 weeks, regardless of what method you use.  

Risks of Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

It is worth mentioning that the DHA in spray tans is completely different from another ‘DHA’ which is docosahexaenoic acid; a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Confusion between these two has led to false advertising about spray tans in the past.

In comparison, sunless tanning is a relatively new thing and so there is not that much research regarding the effects of DHA.

It was originally thought that DHA was not absorbed through the skin and only remained on the outer layer of dead skin cells, but it is now believed that about 11% is being absorbed into the deeper layers of your skin but the effect of this is still unknown.

Concerns have been raised that DHA can be inhaled or absorbed through mucous membranes and cause health risks, which is why it is important to wear protection around your lips, nose, and the area around the eyes. So, eye goggles, lip balm, and breath holding are a must.

Besides DHA, spray tans also contain moisturizers, bronzers, and numerous other ingredients that are fine for your skin but not to be inhaled. This is why all-over spray tans have not been FDA approved.

Some studies suggest that DHA prevents the formation of sun-induced skin cancers, whereas others argue that it can damage DNA in skin cells. Hence, more studies are needed to clarify.

Other Ingredients

People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome may be affected by some of the fragrances found in spray tans.

Parabens, another ingredient used in spray tans, is used as a preservative and can cause skin rashes in some people.

Researchers have expressed concern due to the fact that parabens have weak estrogen-like activity, but there is no solid proof that there is any link with breast cancer.

The only real known risk when it comes to the dangers of spray tanning is that it’s bad to get a spray tan when you have a fresh tattoo, until it is completely healed, or any other form of ‘wound’ to your skin. 

Don’t forget to check our article on ornagic spray tanning – Is Organic Spray Tanning Safe?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the side effects of spray tanning?

There are no known side effects of spray tanning. However, in worst cases, there have been documentations of rashes, coughing, dizziness, and even fainting with DHA involved. This usually only occurs in people with particular skin conditions.

Is spray tanning safer than tanning beds?

Yes, spray tan is much safer than a tanning bed or tanning with the sun because of the harmful rays.

Using a tanning bed can cause wrinkles, premature aging, and lead to skin cancer due to the exposure to UV rays.

Spray tanning does not contain any UVA or UVB, thus does not lead to the same detrimental effects.

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