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Argh! Studies Find Spray Tans May Cause Cancer

Photo: radiancetanningsalon.com

Some terrible news for spray tan aficionados: a recent investigation has revealed that the practice may be cancerous. According to a panel of six medical experts working with ABC News, an ingredient in the spray tan formula, dihydroxyacetone or DHA, has been shown in some cases to cause “genetic alteration and DNA damage.” Terrifying.

DHA is the color additive in spray tan formulas which causes the skin to darken. ABC’s panel reviewed 10 of the most recent publicly available studies on DHA, and found that in some cases, multiple cells and organisms that had been exposed to the chemical had altered genes. (Though it’s worth noting that none of the studies had been conducted on human subjects.) 

"I have concerns," said Dr. Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. "The reason I’m concerned is the deposition of the tanning agents into the lungs could really facilitate or aid systemic absorption—that is, getting into the bloodstream."

The FDA guidelines on DHA were originally established in 1977 approving use of the chemical in “external products.” At that point, the ingredient was mainly used in tanning lotions, thus making it unlikely that anyone would be ingesting it. Now, the organization firmly states on its website that “DHA should not be inhaled or ingested,” and furthermore:

The use of DHA in “tanning” booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the Agency for review and evaluation. When using DHA-containing products as an all-over spray or mist in a commercial spray “tanning” booth, it may be difficult to avoid exposure in…the area of the eyes, lips, or mucous membrane, or even internally.

Which brings us to our final point: due to the ABC News investigation, many tanning salons and organizations are changing their guidelines surrounding spray booths. If you plan on continuing to use a booth, the safest way to prevent the chemical from getting into your blood stream is by wearing protective undergarments, using nose filters, wearing lip balm, and sporting protective eyewear. (To dive even deeper into the issue, here’s a very, very exhaustive story about all of ABC’s findings.)

Looks like our only option to “safely” tan now is by getting really good at self-tanning towelettes or lotions

What do you think about these new spray tan warnings? 

—Candice

Need help learning how to use tanning towelettes? Watch our video with tips on applying it streak free.

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