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Are Sunless Tanning Lotions and Sprays a Safe Alternative?

The sun’s UV rays are stronger than ever and with awareness that tanning beds are not a safer alternative, many sun enthusiasts have turned to sunless tanning products.  Sunless tanning lotions and sprays work by staining the outermost layer of the skin, promising consumers that year round ‘golden brown glow’ without the harmful effects of UV radiation rays.   

Sunless tanning lotions and sprays have come a long way.  Just a few years ago, sunless tanners were heavily criticized for leaving an unnatural, pumpkin orange tan. 

Despite skin cancer warnings, suntans are still glorified in the US and polls show that having a light brown tan is still regarded as fashionable and attractive.  But is there really such a thing as a 'safe tan'?

The active ingredient in sunless tanning lotions and sprays is a FDA approved chemical called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA.   The sugars in DHA react with the proteins in the outermost layer of the skin to produce a golden brown hue that lasts until it sheds off.  Although there are no studies that looked at the long-term health effects of DHA, dermatologists have initially concluded that there is no reason to expect any danger.  Also, the FDA has only received a few reports of allergic rashes from using sunless tanner lotion products. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that DHA is FDA approved for external use.  Recently toxicologists and lung experts have been weighing in on the potential dangers of inhaling tanning agents from sunless tanning sprays.  Therefore, the FDA has not approved the use of DHA in tanning booths as an all-over spray.   Using a protective eye cover and a nose plug is highly recommended to prevent the chemicals in the mist from entering the body.  

In conclusion, sunless tanning lotion is safer to use than sunless tanning sprays.  If you do opt for the spray, be sure to cover your eyes, nose and lips to avoid inhalation and ingestion.