Spray Tan vs. Sun Tan: Is Tanning Safe at All?

Aug 31, 2015
Spray Tan vs. Sun Tan: Is Tanning Safe at All?
Whether it’s summer or winter many people insist that their skin should maintain a healthy, golden look. The reality is that UV exposure is bad news. Regardless of whether that sun tan comes from the outdoors or a tanning bed it causes serious damage...

Whether it’s summer or winter many people insist that their skin should maintain a healthy, golden look. The reality is that UV exposure is bad news. Regardless of whether that sun tan comes from the outdoors or a tanning bed it causes serious damage to your skin and may make you more susceptible to skin cancer.

It’s knowledge like this that has prompted many sun tan devotees to switch to self tanners or a spray tan. Researchers used to believe that a spray tanning or color achieved with a self tanner was a safe alternative. Unfortunately, more recent research is calling that into question. So if you’re wondering, “Is tanning safe?”, it’s not necessarily an easy question to answer.

Is Tanning Bad for You?

Most people haven’t had to wonder, “Is tanning bad for you?” Tons of scientific research condemns it, and dermatologists agree that getting little color is damaging and potentially dangerous. The myth of a healthy tan is just that: a myth. When UV rays penetrate your skin it causes your pigmentation production to kick into overdrive. This is your body’s natural defense against sustaining further damage.

Keep in mind that you can get too much UV exposure even when wearing sunscreen. If you get a sun tan or a burn even though you are wearing sunscreen, it’s a clear sign that your skin has been overexposed. It’s necessary to follow sunscreen instructions carefully, and that usually involves reapplying frequently. It also doesn’t hurt to layer on the sunscreen as thick as possible.

All About Spray Tans

Still, many people who are determined to get a sun tan have switched to spray tanning as a safer alternative. Not many years ago, doctors agreed that a spray tan was harmless. The active ingredient in any spray tan or self-tanning product is a compound known as DHA. DHA stands for dihydroxyacetone. The substance was thought to react with dead cells on the surface of the skin. The effects of DHA are temporary, and usually wear off within about a week.

Spray Tan History

DHA was approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than 40 years ago as a cosmetic additive. It was never intended to be ingested. Accordingly, the FDA warns that it may not be safe for DHA to come into contact with the eyes, nose, mouth and any mucous membranes. Despite this restriction, most spray tan salon operators billed the procedure as safe, and many dermatologists tended to agree with them.

However, the spray tan booth was only considered safe as long as a few precautions were followed. People entering a spray tan booth should expect to be given goggles to protect their eyes. Moreover, a device designed to prevent DHA from entering the nose was also considered necessary. Spray tan patrons might also wear underwear that protected the mucous membranes of the genitalia. Even with all of these precautions, it is still considered wise for the customer to hold their breath for as long as possible while the spray tan is being applied.

This form of “sun tan” was not considered hazardous as long as these precautions were strictly followed. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many spray tan salons. Investigations conducted by the media suggest that many of these salons do not provide the recommended safety gear. Moreover, newer research suggests that DHA may not be as harmless as scientists once believed.

Newer Studies

The accepted knowledge that DHA could bind itself to skin cells and eventually be harmlessly washed away is beginning to be questioned. Previously, scientists thought that DHA could not be absorbed into the skin. Several newer studies have suggested otherwise. These researchers discovered that DHA could be absorbed into the body. Even more concerning is its apparent ability to change DNA and potentially cause cancer.

Most of the studies conducted so far have not involved testing on human cells. Animal and bacteria cells have been used most often. Nonetheless, the studies showed that DHA is capable of moving past dead skin cells on the surface. What’s more, scientists discovered that DHA actually changes genes in the cells being tested. Further study is certainly required. With the findings from the tests on animal and bacteria cells it seems clear that performing the same tests on human cells is the next logical step.

A Concerning Myth

These findings certainly run contrary to what scientists used to believe about DHA. Even more concerning is the fact that some salons boast that the DHA used in their spray tan booths is safe for human consumption. This myth comes from the misunderstanding that another substance that is abbreviated as DHA, Docosahexaenoic acid, is the same substance. Instead, this DHA is an essential fatty acid that is safe to eat, and is often a component in infant formulas. However, it is definitely not the same thing as the Dihydroxyacetone that is used in to achieve the appearance of a sun tan. Do not be fooled into thinking that the substance used in a spray tan booth is in any way safe for human consumption.

Spray or Sun Tan: They Both Can Raise Concerns

Anyone who wonders whether or not tanning is bad for you can put their uncertainty to rest. A day spent soaking in the rays of the sun is certainly unhealthy, and will undoubtedly damage your skin. Not only does it cause your skin to age prematurely but also it contributes to the development of wrinkles and dark spots. Most distressingly, sun exposure is linked to various forms of skin cancer.

With the new scientific findings that suggest that the DHA used in spray tan booths may also be harmful, it’s beginning to seem clearer that tanning is a health concern in almost any form. If any kind of tanning is better than the others, it may be the self-tanning lotions that can be found in drugstores. These contain DHA, but there is no chance of inhaling the substance in lotion form. However, if it can be absorbed into the skin and change the makeup of cells, this form of sun tan may be just as dangerous as all the rest.