Spray tanning is supposed to provide a safe alternative to the harmful radiation used in tanning beds, or the damaging UV rays from the sun, but a panel of experts now have concerns that the spray's active chemical ingredient may cause cancer. Here's what you should know before you layer on that golden look:
Which ingredient potentially causes cancer?
Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is the active skin-coloring agent that is now believed to cause genetic mutations and DNA damage. The chemical is harvested from sugar beets and sugar cane, or extracted from fermented glycerin, and according to a panel of six experts ranging across fields of dermatology, toxicology, and pulmonary medicine, the chemical could harm spray-tanners if they inhale it into their bloodstream. "When DHA was first approved by the FDA in the '70s, it was being used solely in self-tanning creams," says Heather Muir at Allure, "not misted out of a spray-tan gun."
How did the panel reach this conclusion?
The experts reviewed 10 of the most-current scientific studies on DHA, determining it to be potentially hazardous. (It's worth noting that none of the studies focused on humans; they were all conducted on animals in a lab.) "I have concerns," Dr. Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung expert at the University of Pennsylvania, tells ABC News. "These compounds in some cells could promote the development of cancer malignancies... and if that's the case we need to be wary of them." The FDA now recommends that customers looking to spray tan should "request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation."
Why is spray tanning supposedly a safer alternative to beds?
The FDA says that using UV radiation to tan "poses serious health risks," the least of which includes skin cancer, burns, and premature aging. An increasing number of reports have concluded that tanning beds are more dangerous than previously thought. Spray tanning offers a radiation-free alternative, and was thought to be so safe that "girls as young as 4 years old who compete in beauty pageants are known to be spray tanned by their moms," says Mark Greenblatt at ABC News.
So what happens next?
In response to the report, "the tanning industry has announced it will launch a major national training initiative," says Greenblatt, which will hit thousands of salons across the U.S. in the coming weeks. Some salons, however, are insisting that spray tanning is completely safe — even without protective gear — but the FDA recommends that consumers insist on using eye and nose guards. There is, of course, another solution, says Rachel Krause at The Frisky: How about we all start embracing "our natural skin tones."