Side Effects of Spray Tanning

Achieving a perfect, healthy tan any time of year is easier than ever with spray tanning services offered by salons and spas. But while sunless tanning can be a healthier alternative for your skin than basking in the sun's ultraviolet rays, ingredients in spray tanning products may come with side effects of their own.

A sunless tan can have benefits, but also side effects. (Image: belchonock/iStock/Getty Images)

DHA May Not Be OK

Professional spray tanning products contain a carbohydrate called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. This substance is derived from either glycerin or plant sources, and reacts with your skin’s amino acids to create a sunless glow. Though DHA is considered safe for external use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed this ingredient a potential health risk to your lungs when inhaled. Make sure a salon or spa attendant offers you a protective mask and applies the spray tan in a well-ventilated area.

Asthma Instigator

We already know that DHA can be harmful when inhaled, so if you have asthma, spray tanning may not be your best option for a healthy, sunless glow. Even if you haven't had asthma, but still begin coughing or feel out of breath shortly after a spray-tanning session, opt for an alternative sunless tanner. Lotions or gels tend to be a safer bet for those with asthma or other lung problems.

Trigger for Allergies

DHA may not only be hazardous to your health when inhaled, but can also cause allergic reactions. The most common allergy to sunless tanning products is contact dermatitis, an itchy, red and sometimes painful skin rash. Before giving the go-ahead on a spray-tanning service, do a patch test on the inside of your wrist, especially if you've had a previous allergic reaction to self-tanning products, body treatments or cosmetics.

Breeding Ground for Free Radicals

According to a 2007 study by Gematria Test Lab researchers in Berlin, more than 180 percent additional free radicals formed during sun exposure on skin samples containing DHA compared with skin samples that didn't contain the sunless tanning substance. Because spray tanning products do not contain ingredients that offer UV protection, active DHA can cause increased damage to the skin when exposed to the sun. To ward off these harmful side effects, stay out of the sun for at least a day after applying a sunless tanner.

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