Spray-On Tan... Healthy Or Harmful?
As Reported By Dr. Joseph Mercola (mercola.com 2/09) Freaky Facts about Spray-On Tans: Are You in Danger?
Spray tans are generally considered a healthy alternative to baking in the sun,
but that quick tan can come at a steep price. Far steeper than tanning in the
sun following safe tanning guidelines, and with absolutely none of the health
benefits that the sun will provide.
Even the FDA believes spray tans are dangerous. Although, you most likely have
never heard that. If you go to a spray tanning salon, you are likely to be told
that the treatment is completely safe and has the full backing of the U.S.
government. In fact, the spray tan solution, DHA, contains lead, mercury and
In the 1970's the U.S. government approved DHA for bronzers intended to be
rubbed on your skin. But, it has not specifically approved its use in spray tan
booths. When it is inhaled or sprayed onto the porous mucous membranes of your
body, it can enter your bloodstream, leading federal regulators to call the
procedure "unsafe". DHA has been known to cause coughing, difficulty breathing,
fainting, and dizziness. The greatest danger comes if you undergo the procedure
without protecting your eyes, nose and mouth.
Dr. Mercola''s Comments: As the misguided propaganda against sun exposure took
off in the 1980s, alternatives to getting that glowing tanned look started to
sprout. First came the self tanners that left you looking like a streaky
carrot, followed by any number of lotions, powders, and eventually, spray
tanning booths. As is usually the case, consumers tend to believe that if a
product is on the market it must be safe. Unfortunately, that assumption often
turns out to be wrong. And such may be the case with spray tanning booths as
Why Spray Tans are Harmful
They give you the illusion of health by allowing you and others to believe that
you have had significant UVB exposure to improve your vitamin D levels, when in
fact they don't increase your vitamin D levels at all.
If you have been reading this newsletter for any length of time, you understand
the enormous benefits of vitamin D. Are you really willing to exchange the
cosmetic appeal for true health when it is relatively easy to get sun exposure
in the summer, and safe tanning units in the winter?
What's in That Spray Tanning Solution?
One of the main ingredients in today's spray tanning solutions is
dihydroxyacetone, a color additive that darkens your skin by reacting with
amino acids in the surface layer of your skin. This is oftentimes abbreviated
as DHA, but please do not confuse that with the healthy DHA omega-3 fat. Modern
sunless tanning products contain anywhere between one percent to fifteen
percent DHA. The higher the concentration, the darker your tan gets as it
develops over several hours.
The industry claims DHA is a simple carbohydrate sugar solution, but some
toxicologists disagree. Over four years ago, Dr. Thomas Pierce, a toxicologist
who investigated the harmful effects of tanning beds, issued a warning that DHA
is not as simple or harmless as it may seem. "It is not an ingestible sugar,
and no one should be eating it," he said in a previous interview.
Part of the problem is that the U.S. government's regulations for DHA allow
several contaminants, and many spray tan solutions contain lead, arsenic and
mercury. Lead in particular is known to affect brain development, and no one
knows how large the effect may be on your baby, should you be pregnant while
using spray tanning.
My advice would be to avoid spray tanning entirely, but especially during
pregnancy to avoid unnecessary exposure to these dangerous toxins. These
contaminants are allowable because DHA was originally approved by the FDA in
the 1970s for topical application only. They never imagined it would be sprayed
on in a fine mist that can come in contact with your lips, lungs or other
sensitive membranes that can allow it to enter your blood stream.
The FDA has never specifically approved the use of DHA in spray tan booths. In
addition to DHA and potential lead, mercury and arsenic contaminants, spray
tanning solutions can contain as many as 45 different ingredients. And no one
really knows whether this chemical cocktail is safe or not. Potentially the
harm could be great as chemicals are very easily absorbed through your skin,
and the health benefits of spray tanning are nonexistent.
According to the FDA: DHA is listed in the regulations as a color additive for
use in imparting color to the human body. However, its use in cosmetics
(including sunless "tanning" products) is restricted to external application
(21 CFR 73.2150). According to the CFR, "externally applied" cosmetics are
those "applied only to external parts of the body and not to the lips or any
body surface covered by mucous membrane" (21 CFR 70.3v).
The industry has not provided safety data to the FDA in order for the agency to
consider approving it for use on these exposure routes, including "misting"
from spray tanning booths. Naturally, when spray tanning you expose your entire
body, including your eyes, nose, mouth, and potentially your lungs, to a very
fine mist of DHA tanning solution. Some of the adverse reactions from spray
tanning received by the FDA from consumers include rashes, coughing, dizziness,
Dr. Mercola's Personal Advice
Avoid spray tanning booths and lotions entirely. A fake tan does not provide any
health benefits whatsoever. Please remember the fact that the surface of your
skin gets tanned by chemical means does not mean that your body is making
vitamin D, a biochemical process that occurs when your skin is exposed to UVB
radiation either from natural sunlight or from a safe tanning unit.
Let me state it more simply. Having a tan, after safely exposing yourself to the
sun or a safe tanning unit, IS healthy. Saturating your body with potentially
toxic chemicals to give it some color is not.