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Contrary to popular wisdom, a spray tan isn’t less dangerous than exposing yourself to ultraviolet rays. In fact, it might actually be worse. A panel of experts from the fields of dermatology, toxicology, and pulmonary medicine told ABC News that dihydroxyacetone (or DHA), the active chemical used in spray tans, can cause genetic mutation and DNA damage. While none of the studies they reviewed involved human subjects, several reported altered genes in multiple types of DHA-treated cells and organisms.
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Scientific literature on DHA is limited, experts said, but existing research raises more than its share of red flags. “These compounds in some cells could actually promote the development of cancers or malignancies,” Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told the media outlet. “And if that’s the case then we need to be wary of them.”
Scientific literature on DHA is limited, experts said, but existing research raises more than its share of red flags.
Chief among his concerns is that the chemical can enter the body through inhalation, particularly during full-body bronzing sessions. “The reason I’m concerned is the deposition of the tanning agents into the lungs could really facilitate or aid systemic absorption—that is, getting into the bloodstream,” Panettieri said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved DHA in 1977, but only as an ingredient in tanning lotions and creams. The use of DHA in booths as an all-over spray, on the other hand, has not been approved for want of supporting safety data. DHA, the agency told ABC News, should not be inhaled or ingested. “Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation,” a spokesman added.
In response to ABC News’ story, the tanning industry has announced it will launch a national training initiative to inform both salons and customers who spray tan about the FDA recommendations. A risk-free way to tan? Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. A study from University of St. Andrews found that loading up on carrots, tomatoes, and other carotenoid-rich greens gives skin a healthy glow—no shaking or baking required.