Are Spray Tans Safe?

Are Spray Tans Safe?

by Celeste Yarnall

I came across an article recently called “Spray Tan Dangers” by Beth Levine. This started me thinking  about what we have become accustomed to thinking looks good today, especially in  the summertime.

I personally have the type of skin that just doesn’t tan; I burn, freckle and  peel and long ago I gave up the idea of tanning. But I never dreamed in a  million years that a spray tan might have its drawbacks as well! Trying to fit  in on vacation and not be this white-skinned blob in a bathing suit, I have had  many a spray tan!  OK, they chill you when they are sprayed on, and leave you  with a very odd smell on your skin while drying, but I didn’t think much about  it. But is there more to spray tanning than meets the eye? Why do we want to  look tan, anyway? Some folks think they look thinner, healthier and just plain  better in their summer clothes. But this has not always been the case  historically.

Could this be the time we start rethinking our definition of beauty  and that tanned look in general?

Ms. Levine offered that no one “looks at a 50-year-old with wrinkled,  leathery skin and believes that’s attractive.” Then shouldn’t we all ask  ourselves why we think that tanned skin looks better than pale skin or our  natural skin color, at any age? What ever happened to that peaches and cream  complexion of days gone by or the notion of just being happy all year long with  whatever your skin color is and rejoicing in the way nature created the unique  “you” that you are?

We certainly know that tanning is not required to get our daily dose of vitamin  D. It is far safer to just go out in the sun without sunscreen in the early  morning and late afternoon for a short sun bath of about 10 minutes with as  little on in the way of clothes as possible.

How about just taking a moment to turn back the clock to the Elizabethan  ideal of untanned skin as the goal to strive for. We won’t have to use the lead  white makeup that was popular with the Greeks, Romans, and Elizabethans to  achieve that fair-skinned look. We can just nourish our skin and keep it healthy  from the inside out with healthy food and whole food supplementation such as  omega-3, antioxidants and a healthy daily dose of vitamin D-3.

We  know the risk of skin cancer increases when we sunbathe. And, even though I have  tried these too, tanning beds are an even worse choice. Despite what tanning  centers advertise and some doctors who sell them advocate, the tanner’s close  proximity to the UVA/UVB light source increases the rate of damage.

OK, isn’t it a good thing that there are natural-looking options such as  spray tanning to give us a safer alternative when we want to have that  just-been-on-vacation in the tropics look?  Could there be some dangers to spray  tanning? Levine writes, “Research that reveals new tanning facts now show that  spray tanning may be just as dangerous as every other form of tanning, but for  different reasons.

Ms. Levine sited an ABC News report which “compiled 10 of the most recent  studies conducted on the chemicals used in tanning sprays which asked a panel of  medical specialists in fields such as dermatology, pulmonary medicine, and  toxicology to provide an analysis” of some spray tan products. And the news was  not good for those of us who like to use spray-on tanning products. The problems  come from the active ingredient in tanning products, which is a chemical called  dihydroxyacetone (also known as DHA — but please do not confuse this with  docosahexaenoic acid, the beneficial DHA essential fatty acid found in  marine lipids, such fish, krill, cod liver oil or my favorite, MOXXOR, which comes from the 100 percent sustainable, cold  extracted, organic New Zealand greenlip mussel, grapeseed husk extract and  kiwifruit seed oil. I find the omega-3s and antioxidants in this product really  helps my skin be healthy from the inside out.)

Several studies show that this dihydroxyacetone chemical in the spray tan  solutions:

“was shown to affect the genes within the animals tested” (I know — I don’t  like animal testing either but I am only reporting the facts that were covered  here) “once it was absorbed through the skin or breathed into the lungs and  internalized. DHA received FDA approval in 1977, back in the days when it was  used primarily for tanning lotions. It was not believed to be absorbed below the  outer layers of skin, so it was thought to pose no danger. Plus, tanning lotions  were never a very popular item, as they tended to turn the skin a blotchy and  ugly shade of yellow or orange. However, now that the formulations have been  improved to provide more of  the golden tan most consumers are seeking, along  with the updated spray  method of application that offers more even coverage”(  and allows the technician to even use their own artistic skills in order  to  create a sculpted look to the body, especially to enhance breast  cleavage or  the look of a “six-pack” on the abdomen) “the use of this  chemical is much more  widespread. Unfortunately, it is now known that DHA can be absorbed beyond the  outermost layers of skin, and the fact that it has been aerosolized ups the  danger of spray tanning exponentially.”

“As the tanning product is being sprayed onto your body, you are  breathing  it in. Once the DHA is in your lungs, it is easily  distributed throughout the  body via the bloodstream. This grants this  potentially cancer-causing agent  access to billions of cells throughout  your body. In various experiments at  different university-based laboratories, DHA has been tested on a multitude of  bacteria and the skin cells of mice. The chemical caused mutations within the  DNA of the cells, which can lead to cancer. In fact, an FDA report from 1999  found that, even when not inhaled, DHA was reaching deeper skin levels and being  absorbed into the body.”

Yes, I know the argument well — mice are not people — but I think this should  give us all pause before we sign up for our next series of spray tans!

“Now, think about all of the people who consider this to be the “safe”   method of getting a tan.  There are many who are regular customers   interested in keeping their skin tanned and glowing all year round.  And   pregnant women go spray tanning, which is bad news for the fetus!  Some   people even have their children get spray tans as a treat before a big   occasion.  Every one of these scenarios presents an even higher risk of   doing serious damage at a cellular level.”

And don’t forget some people may actually think that because they now look  tan, that they can’t get a sun burn so out they go unprotected and get seriously  burned in the process. Many customers of spray tan salons are even told that  certain sun tan lotions and creams will remove their tan and so go out in the  sun and use absolutely no sun protection before or a defense afterwards.

I find it troubling, as did Ms. Levine, “that no long-term studies have been  undertaken to examine the health effects of regular use of DHA-based tanning  products on people.” It might be a good idea to take into account that there is  enough evidence to cause concern from nonhuman research.

Perhaps it doesn’t cause much damage to get a spray tan or two a couple of  times a year, but it might be advisable to wear a little paper mask over your  nose and mouth during the process and cover your face and head. We can always  wear a little bronze blush on our faces and necks to get a bit of color. You can  also ask your spray tan salon for some protection or even bring your own, such  as “eyewear, nose plugs, and a mouth covering, like a little mask that painters  wear, to ensure that you are not giving the chemical a direct entryway into your  mucus membranes and lungs.”

But what can we do if we give up spray tans but have “spent time at the  beach, pool, or backyard lounge chair trying to get that perfect tan.” I know I  had my share of nasty sunburns during my lifetime. And I also tried using  tanning beds before they were known to be harmful. Ms. Levine recommends that to  combat some of the free radical damage already inflicted, you might want to  consider a good antioxidant supplement and I totally agree with that advice.   You can do your own research online or at your health food store’s supplement  department and see what you’d like to try. My choice is an antioxidant  supplement called Protandim which I learned about from watching this very  interesting ABC News presentation.  You can get more information on  this patented all herbal formulation here and see if it resonates with you as it does for me.  It’s just one caplet per day, but always check with your own health  practitioners before trying any new products.


Tanning Trumps Skin Cancer Fears for Young Adults

by Ann Pietrangelo

Young adults would rather indulge in tanning today than worry about skin  cancer tomorrow. Tanning is the norm in some circles. It’s expected. Skin cancer  is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and melanoma is the most  deadly type of skin cancer, but that’s not scaring young adults from the lure of  the tanning booth.

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from indoor tanning  equipment increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Engaging in indoor  tanning before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Recent  studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National  Cancer Institute found that:

  • Indoor tanning is common among young adults, with the highest rates of  indoor tanning among white women aged 18-21 years (32 percent) and 22-25 years  (30 percent). The reports evaluated data from the National Health Interview  Survey’s Cancer Control Supplement.
  • The highest prevalence of indoor tanning was reported among white women aged  18-21 years residing in the Midwest (44 percent), and those aged 22-25 years in  the South (36 percent).
  • Among white women aged 18-21 years who reported indoor tanning, an average  of 28 visits occurred in the past year.
  • Among white adults who reported indoor tanning, 58 percent of women and 40  percent of men used one 10 or more times in the previous year.
  • Fifty percent of people aged 18-29 reported at least one sunburn in the  previous year despite taking protective measures.

“More public health efforts, including providing shade and  sunscreen in recreational settings, are needed to raise awareness of the  importance of sun protection and sunburn prevention to reduce the burden of skin  cancer,” said Marcus Plescia, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Division of Cancer  Prevention and Control. “We must accelerate our efforts to educate young adults  about the dangers of indoor tanning to prevent melanoma as this generation  ages.”

The reports were published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly  Report.

On a personal note, I’m not a “tanner” and I’ve not had skin cancer, but I have  had cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s certainly not a good trade  for tan skin — or red skin — or orange skin. It is an avoidable risk and one not worth  taking. Oh, and if you’re concerned about your appearance, it is worth noting  that over time, tanning gives your skin that nice wrinkled, leathery look…

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention