Spray Tan Chemical Linked to Cancer

Spray-on tans are all the rage; however, a new study shows a strong, potential link between inhalation of these chemicals and the development of certain cancers. The active ingredient in spray-on or topical tanning products, called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, has proven to be harmful if inhaled or ingested through the nose or mouth.

Spray Tan

The study was conducted by prominent physician, Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Goldman warns of the potential DNA changes caused by inhalation of DHA that can lead to the development of certain types of cancer, including lung cancer. Previous studies have also raised the alarm against DHA for exacerbating the symptoms of asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

In the 1980s, sunless tanning, such as sunbeds, tanning creams and spray-on tans, became popular as an alternative to sunbathing and as a way to avoid the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Recently, spray-on tanning has increased in popularity, with one study reporting that 10 percent of British men and 40 percent of British women have used fake tanning techniques.

The active chemical in these products, dihydroxyacetone or DHA, has been used in the cosmetics industry for nearly 30 years. However, these products have been topical only, such as lotions and creams. The DHA is applied to the skin and, through a chemical reaction with dead skin cells, turns the top layer of skin to a darker color. Because it is a chemical reaction, the color does not wash away, but rather fades gradually as the body sheds the dead skin cells; these types of fake tans usually last 3 to 5 days. DHA is not readily absorbed through the skin and has been approved for external use. This means it is not to be inhaled or ingested through the nose, lips or mucous membranes, such as the eyes. There has been little data or discussion regarding the effects of DHA entering the body. However, due to the popularity of spray-on tans, this new laboratory data stresses the importance of further, rigorous study.

Commercial spray-on tanning products carry warnings and directions for use. Those applying them should be familiar with these instructions and take appropriate precautions. In order to prevent inhalation, or inadvertent ingestion through the eyes, nose and lips, the FDA (http://www.fda.gov/) recommends that those applying DHA products, as well as those receiving applications, should wear goggles and masks. Consumers should insist on protection when using spray-on tanning products in order to prevent future health issues.