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Sunless Tanning: Is DHA Spray Tanning Safer?

Updated on August 10, 2013
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For years we have been told to stay out of the sun and tanning beds. The sun rays and the tanning beds can age us faster and can cause skin cancer. So what do the fair, pasty people of the world do? Risk skin cancer by sunbathing or going to the tanning salon, or choose an alternative safer way?

Since the 1950’s we have had sunless tanning lotions. Who over the age of 40 hasn’t traded their naturally pale white skin for that tarnished, orange QT color that seeps into the creases of your hands, feet, ankles, knees and elbows? Once you discovered your new skin tone is not everything you had hoped for, it is too late to wash it off. It has to wear off. Yep, those are some "good" memories. The golden years, or should I say the orange years?

It seems that society places so much on appearances. I love it when I see someone with beautiful, milky white skin. They do not look like they have aged at all. It is the rest of us who were not blessed with that beautiful skin who resort to alternative forms of reaching that golden tan, be it sunbathing, tanning beds, sunless lotions, or spray tans.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the chemical that makes your skin appear tan.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the chemical that makes your skin appear tan. | Source

What Is the Active Ingredient in Self-Tanners?

The active ingredient in self-tanners, be they lotions or sprays, is called DHA. DHA is a color additive chemical called dihydroxyacetone, not to be confused with the vitamin DHA which consists of Omega 3 fatty acid. When the DHA comes in contact with the amino acids on the surface of the skin, it darkens the skin temporarily.

Today manufacturers and history have taught us how to effectively use self-tanners so the DHA can subtly blend in with the skin’s amino acids and turns into a golden “sun kissed” tan.

Is the DHA Chemical in Self-Tanners Safe?

In 1977 the FDA deemed self-tanning lotions with DHA safe for external use. The FDA has not revisited their original claim to the safe use of DHA. Today, DHA has been studied in labs. Since spray tanning has become so popular, especially with Hollywood not willing to go for the natural skin tone yet not daring to age their skin with the sun or tanning booths.

Tests on DHA for external use prove safe but now that we have spray tans, we need to think about internal use, too. Internal? Yes, when inhaled or absorbed through eyes, ears, mouth, or nose, DHA, in lab testing, has been linked to changes in DNA that can possibly cause cancer and birth defects once it enters the blood stream through the lungs. It causes a genetic mutation of the cells when inhaled.

How Can We Protect Ourselves from the DHA Chemical in Spray Tanners?

Most tanning salons do not provide protective-wear for the face area and are probably not aware of risks found in labs today, nor are most consumers who buy over-the-counter self-tanning sprays. The DHA chemical is easily absorbed in the thin skin of your eyes and lips. It can also go into your ears or be inhaled through your mouth or nose. Either do not use the self-tanning spray on your facial area, kind of like how we protect ourselves from the sun or the tanning bed rays, or wear protective covering for each opening. Many fear “raccoon eyes” or white areas standing out from the tan, but you can use a little make-up to cover up those small areas.

Should We Stop Spray Tanning?

Of course, in the lab tests, the DHA is tested over and over. It is not FDA regulated, but there are many things that are FDA regulated that, if abused, are not good for us. If you have a special occasion, such as a prom or a wedding, limited use of spray tanning throughout the year should be safe. If you feel you must have a beautiful, golden tan all year long or even six months out of the year, you might be pushing the envelope. Too much of any chemical in our system is not good for us. Limited moderation should be considered or maybe choosing one of the popular self-tanning lotions would be safer; you may need to plan the timing of your "tan" for your special occasion if using the self-tanning lotions.

Further Information:

© 2012 Susan Holland

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    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 5 years ago

      A very good and informative hub.

      I've also heard that tanning beds can lead to cancer and make us age faster plus there are people whose skin looks orange after using a spray tanner. You can get the same golden tan combining Coppertone sports sunscreen 50, the one in the blue bottle with another one can't find the bottle, but it's brown and yellow (spray)

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 5 years ago from New York City

      This hub is awesome it goes into great detail as to that of the safer uses of particular tanning products, and I like how you make it all appear to that of the reader here.

      I'm African American in decent, but I am also lighter skinned, so I tan a great deal in the summer seasons, and this has always been a mystery to me why certain people chose to forcefully tan rather than just accept the color they were born with or simply allow nature to take its course naturally, but you explain that issue a person may have as well really well.

      I definitely appreciate this hub being written, because it goes to show how levelheaded you are & your strong sense of inner pride in your own appearance which equates to self love.

      Lovely job with this hub, and it is definitely useful to those folks who would like an alternative to abusive forms of tanning today.

      Voted up Susan, and I located it on facebook, and will share it there with many others, as well as elsewhere.

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks, LoveDoctor! I appreciate you dropping by! :-)

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 5 years ago

      Your very welcome:)

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hey Mike! I have always been one of those who wanted the tan, but I am very fair and turn into a connect-the-dot pattern of freckles. LOL I think spray tanning is safe as long as it is not done very often. I do not like added chemicals in my body if I can avoid it. It really is a personal decision.

      As a high school teacher, I see many of my girls getting spray tans for prom and dances. It just piqued my curiosity as to whether the spray tanning chemicals (DHA) were safe. Moderation is my conclusion. :-)

      I thank you for your kind comment. Thanks so much for dropping by! :-)

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I walked around with that orange skin one summer ... what a mistake that was. I have very fair skin and at one time I would lay out and bake. I very rarely can get much of a tan and for the last 20 years or so I've just accepted the fact that I will never have a beautiful bronze tan. I'm not really into trying any products to change the color of my skin. Have never used a tanning bed either.

      Really informative hub with tons of great info for those people wanting or thinking about spray tanning or using other products.

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Susan, you and I have the same skin tone. I walked around orange one summer, too. LOL But most of us were, so it was okay (for one summer until we realized that orange color just wasn't normal - lol).

      Even though I freckle, I still love to lay out in the sun for a short period of time (15 -20 minutes tops). I am a wimp when it comes to getting too hot.

      Since the sun and the tanning beds are so bad for us, I just needed to know about the chemicals in spray tans.

      Thanks so much for dropping by! :-)

    • jellygator profile image

      jellygator 5 years ago from USA

      I was a sun worshiper in my teens - in Arizona, no less. I have prematurely aged skin and dark spots where there shouldn't be any. For the last ten years, I've stayed away from most direct sunlight, only to discover that I now have a severe Vitamin D deficiency. Sometimes it seems like there are no good answers.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      Why am I not surprised by your findings that something tested over 30 years ago has not been revisited by the FDA? (Actually I know the answer to that question: it’s because I’ve done quite a bit of research into cosmetics, though not into spray tans.:-)) There are so many chemicals in our systems that I won’t be overloading mine with any more. I did use a self tan once years ago, but I think your practice of getting a short burst of sun is actually by far the best one as we all do need some vitamin D.

      Very useful hub, highlighting information everyone needs to be aware of. Voted up etc.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I understand why many people want to have a tan and look sun-kissed. I love the way you have written this describing the process, the chemical involved and the suggestions for usage. People will be able to make an informed decision from reading your hub.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      This is a very good topic for a hub sholland10! I've been sprayed a few times and it didn't seem very healthy to me. But the other options are not healthy either. Voted up and pinned! Take care, Kelley

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      This is a great hub on a very important topic. I went a tanning bed one summer and it made me look ten years older in just a few visits. I am not sold on spray tans either. Author Kevin Trueda of "Cures They Don't Want You to Know About" says that if you want to stay healthy, never put anything on your skin that you wouldn't eat because the skin aborbs everything. I hope this hub will convince others to avoid these chemicals. Great hub!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

      I agree that moderation is good. I would prefer the tanning spray than the UV rays of sun...but, since I am a wheatish complexion I would not even think of going to a tanning salon.

      good and informative hub, Susan.

      voted up and sharing it across

    • profile image

      Jade0215 5 years ago

      I read about them using that chemical probably a week ago. I've always debated whether I wanted to spray tan because I don't like that it's not natural and there's no way I'd ever fake-bake. Think I'd rather sit out in the sun and tan. Seems like it's the safest and only natural way.

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 5 years ago from new jersey

      I love my fake tan, but i'm going to think twice about the spray. good hub.

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      As a pasty skinned Brit, I try to worship the sun whenever we are lucky enough to see it. But I am aware of it's dangers, so I slap on the sun cream and avoid prolonged sunbathing.

      My only alternative would be to have a spray tan - something I have considered as I have a big day coming up (my wedding) and want to look healthy and brown.

      I guess after reading this, moderation (i.e, just for one occasion) would be okay, but there are risks. You have highlighted them well and now I reckon I'd rethink it.

      There are way too many chemicals in products and we're already overloaded - voting up and useful :)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      JellyGator, I agree: sometimes there are no good answers to choose from. You are so right about the vitamin D deficiency with all the sun blocks we use. I still lay out in the sun for about 15 minutes at a time - not every day though. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Melovy, I guess we will never get away from the chemicals. I prefer a little sun for a little color and some much needed vitamin D.

      Thanks for dropping by and the votes.

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks, Teaches! I do hope it is helpful. I am not trying to scare anyone away from spray tanning, but I do want people to know what is involved in it. I believe moderate use is okay. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Kelley, I know what you mean. A Catch-22. UGH!

      Thanks for dropping by! :-)

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I say if you're that concerned that people will judge you by the color of your skin, dazzle them with fancy duds or delight them with a scintillating personality. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi Tammy! I think Trueda may have something with his statement. That makes sense - if you can't put it in your mouth, don't put it on your skin!

      I have to admit; I do go to the tanning bed or lay out in the sun, but I am such a coward. The people at the tanning salon always want me to stay the whole time for the tanning bed (15 - 20 minutes), but I always say, "No, I just want to stay 5 minutes. I don't want to get burned." LOL I know that it is still not good for me, but I refuse to burn.

      Thanks for dropping by! :-)

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Ruchira, you are so fortunate to have that beautiful, wheatish complexion. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by, the votes, and the sharing. :-)

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      @Jade, you are probably right. Moderation with the sun is probably best for us, especially for the vitamin D - the tan is bonus. LOL I always feel better when I am able to be in the sun, but I don't stay in it too long without putting on my sunblock. Just like with the tanning bed, I refuse to burn.

      @Shea, I understand. I like to have some color too. Just be careful. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by! :-)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Emma, CONGRATULATIONS on your wedding. I think you will be fine. You might want to take some cotton balls to put in your ears and in your nostrils. You are going to be beautiful! All brides glow on their wedding day. :-)

      You are so right; we are inundated with chemicals!

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      ALocsin, LOL!! I guess I will go with the scintillating personality!!

      So glad you dropped by! Thanks for the votes and sharing! :-)

    • T4an profile image

      T4an 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      This is such a good hub. I have never once thought that it could be dangerous. I have always just assumed that it wasn't because the sun is so bad for you. I wear 50 to 60 spf sunscreen every day even if I am not planning on being outside for long. I don't spray tan either. I probably could use the colour though. I used to love sun tanning.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I had wondered about the safety and your hub answered many of my questions. Thanks! I vote up and will share too.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      A golden tan is lovely, but over here they tend to not know when to stop. They all seem to turn a bright orange colour. Quite frightening if you walk around the corner and bump into one unexpectedly.

      They look like something from a horror movie.

      Great information about the dangers of sunbeds.

      Voted up interesting and useful.

      PS see the video.

      Michael

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      I do not know anything about tanning, but this hib is informative and interesting.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      You said, "I love it when I see someone with beautiful, milky white skin. They do not look like they have aged at all. It is the rest of us who were not blessed with that beautiful skin who resort to alternative forms of reaching that golden tan, be it sunbathing, tanning beds, sunless lotions, or spray tans."

      I did not know that milky white skin was associated with a youthful appearance. Aren't there milky white sprays that can be used so those who want it won't have to resort to tans? I guess I am wondering if there are different shades of spray color aside from tan.

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 5 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Jade0215 has the right idea. Humans have thrived on this planet for 2 million years without tanning salons and sunblock. How well how humans thrived? There are more people on the planet now then all the others that have ever lived on this planet during 2 million years.

      In the U.S money is much more important than health to people. I never see any homeless people that are obese. In 1990 less than 12% of Americans were obese. Now over 35% of Americans are obese. That is very unhealthy so they do not care about health enough. But without money, they could not stuff their faces with food. Diabetes goes along with obesity so diabesity is an epidemic.

      So look at the above with the most important thing-- money. Sunlight is bad because it is free. Who is going to promote something for free. But sunblock and tanning lotions are a billion dollar industry. So that makes them great things to use.

      Obese people are great for the economy with what they spend on food and medicine. Thin, healthy people are bad for the economy especially the ones that find wild growing food or grow their own.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I worry about those spray tan products - and we already know the sun and tanning beds are not good for you. I had to spray paint a plat for a lawyer I worked for once - I had green paint IN my skin for days. I would wash off right after I was done using the spray gun...and I looked clean. When I would get in the shower and soap up if I scraped my nails on my skin I would have green paint in my pores! I know spray tan stuff must get absorbed into your pores like that. I quit spraying plats and have never ever had a spray tan. No way! Wait until we start seeing the long term effects of that....

      Up and excellent!

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Great hub...I always worried about the safety of spray tan and no longer do it for health reasons. Does the DHA in tanning lotions cause dangerous cellular changes?

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi HealthyLife!

      I hate to say because I don't know if the DHA applied in lotion form is dangerous. My research was more about breathing it into our lungs and system if done too often.

      I think we live in a world of chemicals and our systems are used to many of them, so my GUESS would be that they are okay to apply. They have been around since Coppertone QT became big in the 70's (maybe before that). I would think we would know something if there were warning studies out there, but I won't put that in stone. :-)

    • A K Turner profile image

      Joseph A K Turner 4 years ago from West Yorkshire

      I think the words, oh crap come to mind, great hub!

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      LOL AK, do you spray tan often? ;-)

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • stricktlydating profile image

      StricktlyDating 4 years ago from Australia

      I haven't had a spray tan, but I've used the at home self tanning lotion, and have never given a thought to what chemicals might be in it, I guess since I don't use a spray on I'm not inhaling chemicals though.

    • sholland10 profile image
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      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi Strictly! I would think the creams and lotions are safer in moderation than breathing in the fumes of the spray. That is just my opinion though.

      Thanks for dropping by! :-)

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