In this day and age—especially with walking cautionary tales like Tan Mom—we're well-informed on the dangers of tanning beds and excessive sun exposure. But when it comes to spray tans, the facts get a little murkier. At first glance, it seems to be the answer to the never-ending quest for golden, glowing skin, sans sun damage. But is it too good to be true? Are there health consequences for consistently dyeing your skin with a coloring agent?
Since the information available is conflicting, we decided to explore the matter with the help of spray tan expert and founder of eco bronzing line Karora Skinwear, Karen Brown, and Dr. Rebecca Kazin, board-certified dermatologist and Director of the Johns Hopkins Dermatology and Cosmetic Center. Ahead, they explain some key facts regarding your faux glow.
Click through for the verdict!
Brown: “Spray tanning delivers a faux glow by coating your skin with active tanning agent dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA interacts with the dead surface cells in the epidermis to darken skin color and simulate a tan, and the result usually lasts for several days. DHA is the main active ingredient in all sunless tanning skincare preparations. It may be used alone or combined with other tanning components such as erythrulose.”
Kazin: “DHA is the only sunless tanning product approved by the FDA. It is a sugar that reacts with amino acids found in the very top layer of our skin.”
Kazin: “I’d say the jury is still out, but it’s easy to wear protection, so why not? Notably, since it is a sugar, DHA was initially proposed as a glucose substitute for diabetics in the 1920’s. When it was orally administered to diabetic patients, it was well tolerated. Recent studies about safety of high concentrations (20%) of DHA are contradictory. One study suggests it prevents the formation of sun-induced skin cancers, but another suggests it may damage DNA in skin cells. These studies are at concentrations 4-6 times the amount used in available products and more studies are needed.
Additionally, besides DHA, spray tans also contain bronzers, moisturizers, and numerous other ingredients that are meant to go on the skin and probably best not to inhale on a regular basis.”
Brown: “There are no studies to verify this.”
Kazin: “Commercial preparations [for use in spray tans] contain 3-5% DHA and the shade produced on the skin is a function of the concentration. Since it reacts rapidly in the topmost layer of skin, systemic absorption is minimized.” She reiterates that recent studies are inconclusive and more are needed.
Kazin: “This is not known, but I’d say everything in moderation!”
Brown: “There are no studies to verify this,” says Brown. “DHA-based sunless tanning has been recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, American Academy of Dermatology Association, Canadian Dermatology Association and the American Medical Association as a safer alternative to sun-bathing.”
Kazin: “This is not known, but spray tans have been around since 1999 and gaining popularly as sunless tanning is on the rise. Further studies are needed to better answer these questions.”
As both experts confirmed, there are currently no known, scientifically-proven health risks involved with spray tanning. Though certain recent studies have raised concerns involving the DHA altering our DNA, the evidence is contradictory and the concentration of DHA tested in the studies is significantly higher than the concentrations used in commercial spray tanning.
Still, do yourself a solid and wear a nose plug and keep your mouth closed to prevent unnecessary inhalation and ingestion of DHA during application.