Spray-On Tans May Not Be As Safe as Thought, Experts Say

by Bob Curley on June 15, 2012

Spray-on tans are usually considered the safe alternative to cancer-causing outdoor or booth tanning, but some experts say there’s reason to worry about tan-in-a-bottle, too, ABC News reported June 12.

The active chemical in spray tans, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), has been shown to alter genes in cellular and animal studies, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved its use in tanning booths or as an all-over spray. Despite this, many tanning salons advertise that spray tanning is completely safe.

“I have concerns,” says Rey Panettieri, M.D., 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 … [get] into the bloodstream.”

Once ingested, the chemicals could promote the development of “cancers and malignancies,” Panettieri says. Frequent spray-tanners, who are more likely to be repeatedly exposed to the chemical, are especially at risk.

“DHA should not be inhaled or ingested,” the FDA explicitly states, recommending that all indoor tanners wear protective undergarments, nose filters, lip balm, and protective eyewear.

Many salons don’t pass these recommendations along to tanners, however, and many characterize DHA as “food grade” and perfectly safe, possibly confusing the potentially toxic chemical with another DHA — docosahexaenoic acid — a healthful omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil.

“We were absolutely in error,” admits Rick Norvell, president of Norvell Skin Solutions, one of the largest manufacturers of spray-tan products, whose educational course for tanning salons and technicians had been promoting the healthful benefits of the wrong DHA.

Norvell has since removed all such inaccurate claims and sent a letter to affiliated salons and distributors to clear up the confusion between food DHA and tanning DHA.

 (Photo © Jessica Rabbit via Flickr)