Spray tanning is often touted as a safe alternative to heading out in the sun for a day or using tanning booths to get a bronze glow. But spray tanning hasn't been extensively tested, so its dangers are not well known. The United States Food and Drug Administration has issued several warnings about safety and spray tans. Follow those recommendations.
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The main ingredient for spray tanning solutions, dihydroxyacetone or DHA, essentially dyes the dead skin cells on the surface of your body to create a darker tone. While usually well tolerated by skin, an allergic reaction to DHA can occur in people with sensitive skin. Health and beauty website SYL.com says most cases of DHA allergy are manifested by contact dermatitis, defined by University of Maryland Medical Center as a skin irritation or rash after direct contact with a substance. An allergic reaction can be itchy, painful and unsightly.
People with asthma should look to another form of self-tanning. Spray tanners are atomized into tiny particles of liquid DHA particles. When in the spray tanning booth, it can be hard to get oxygen for the few seconds that it takes for the booth to engage and finish spraying. Those with asthma may feel out of breath or dizzy, and might experience coughing or fainting until the spray stops and they are able to get fresh air. DHA may worsen asthma, along with other lung problems such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Because the DHA is atomized into such tiny particles, you run the risk of eye irritation when you step into the booth. Most spray tanning booth operators tell you to shut your eyes tightly, but some solution could get into your eyes, causing pain, itching and redness. The FDA recommends bringing tanning goggles.
DHA is approved by the FDA for the safety of use on the skin. DHA was approved in the early 1980s, when spray tanning first became popular. When DHA was first approved it was in a topical cream form, and was studied and found by the FDA to be safe on the skin. However, when in a spray tan booth, you inhale the DHA. The FDA has never approved DHA for inhalation and notes that unless the nose and mouth are protected through the procedure, the spray tan is being applied in an unapproved manner by the operator.