The Truth About About Spray Tans: Are They Really Safe?

Spray tans are not completely safe.

When it comes to getting that sun-kissed glow, there are plenty of options around, but one that’s safe is hard to come by. Traditional sun-tanning is definitely a danger to skin health as are tanning beds. Both of these are known to cause skin cancer.1 This is why most people see spray-tans as a godsend. They are largely seen as safe, however, recent research seems to suggest otherwise. Here’s everything you need to know about spray tans.

How Do They Work

The chemical is sprayed over the skin which stains it.


The active ingredient in spray tans is a chemical called DHA or dihydroxyacetone. It is a colorless sugar which is sprayed over the dead skin on the surface. This leaves a colored stain that lasts for a few days.2 You may have heard several salons tell you that DHA is a food-grade product that’s edible and completely harmless. That’s because they confuse it for docosahexaenoic acid, an essential fatty acid that’s often added to infant formula. These are not the same compounds.

Scientists originally thought that DHA only sits atop the dead skin and stains it. The only danger they warned against was people ingesting or inhaling the chemical during the spray tanning. Since the particles stay in the air, this is hard to prevent. However, with new research, experts say that DHA does actually penetrate down to the living layers of the skin. This is concerning because DHA shows the potential to cause genetic mutations.3


Risks Of Spray Tans

1. Increases Risk Of Sun Damage

It increases risk of damage by 180%

Researchers found that DHA-treated skin had 180% more free radical activity. This makes it much more vulnerable to sun damage.4 Since tans by themselves do not provide sun protection, it becomes even more important to keep yourself protected.


2. Increases Risk Of Cancer

DHA can cause genetic mutations leading to cancer.

Since DHA shows the potential to cause genetic mutations, it’s possible that it may lead to the development of malignant cancer cells.5 The long-term effects of DHA are still unclear and require more research.


3. May Cause Birth Defects

The genetic mutation thanks to DHA may cause birth defects

Cancer isn’t the only thing to be worried about with genetic mutations. Experts say that pregnant women who get spray tans may be risking the development of birth defects in their fetus. These effects are not a certainty and will require more research to confirm, but the risk is definitely present.


4. Covers Up Marks

Spray tans may cover up abnormal marks and moles.

Aesthetically this may sound like a benefit but if you’re due for a dermatologist appointment, it’s not the best idea. Spray tans make it harder for your dermatologist to spot abnormal moles or marks that may signal a skin health issue.


Ways To Stay Safe

Use plenty of sunscreen to prevent damage

Of course, if you really can’t do without spray tans, there are some tips you can use to minimize the damage.

  • Bring eye goggles and nose plugs to wear during the session as some salons don’t stock them.
  • Keep your lips sealed during the session and wipe them well after.
  • Be liberal with sunscreen application and reapply every two hours when out in the sun.
  • Try to avoid direct sunlight between 10 AM and 3 PM during the day.
  • Wear long sleeves, full-length pants and skirts, and a sun hat during the day.

Caution: Pregnant women and young children are more at risk of these harmful effects so they should definitely avoid getting spray tans.

Now that you know the pros and cons of spray tans, perhaps it’s time to decide whether that dark, sun-kissed glow is worth all the risk.