Is Spray Tanning Bad for You?
Because UV rays from the sun and tanning beds are so harmful to your skin, tanning alternatives such as self tanner are popular. Spray tans and sunless tanning lotions are popular options, but I am often asked “Are self tanners are safe to use?” While self tanners are generally considered to be safe, there are a few caveats you should know before getting your next spray tan.
What Is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)?
Professional spray tans and at-home sunless tanning products contain an ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. DHA is a naturally-occurring sugar that is synthetic or natural forms derived from sugar beets or cane sugar. DHA is FDA-approved for external application to the body, as long as it is not applied near mucous membranes like the eyes, nose or lips or able to be inhaled.
Sunless tanning lotions that contain DHA are FDA-approved and generally considered to be safe because there is no risk of inhalation. However, if you are getting a spray tan, precautions should be taken to cover up your eyes, nose, and mouth so that you do not inhale the product into your lungs where it can cause irritation.
Does Dihydroxyacetone Provide SPF?
DHA is a sugar that reacts with amino acids in the skin cells that reside on the surface of the skin. This reaction causes a color change in the skin, leading to a brown pigment. However, this self tanner derived color is not the same as true “tanning.” Tanning from sun exposure results from an increased amount of the pigment melanin in the skin. Melanin pigment surrounds the nuclei of the keratinocyte skin cells, protecting the nuclei from ultraviolet damage. The brown color caused in the skin from the self tanner ingredient DHA does not surround the nucleus. It remains in the skin cells and does provide a small amount of sun protection from ultraviolet light. However, this is much less protection than a natural tan.
Does a Spray Tan Protect Your Skin from the Sun?
A spray tan offers minimal protection against the sun that lasts about seven days. One study showed that DHA generated a significant SPF of 3.0 at day 1, an SPF of 2 at day 5 and an SPF of 1.7 at day 7. The sun protection disappears as the pigmented skin cells exfoliate off of the skin’s surface. Use of exfoliating scrubs or hydroxy acids after the self tanner will speed how quickly the sun protection disappears.
Skin Care Tips before Getting a Spray Tan or Using Sunless Tanner
If you want to get that tanned look without going in the sun, a spray tan performed by a professional or an at-home sunless tanning lotion can be a safer alternative. To avoid ending up with a noticeably fake or orange look, follow these basic skin care tips:
- Exfoliate first. Before getting a spray tan or using a sunless tanning lotion, exfoliate your skin to remove dead skin cells, dirt, and other debris that may be built up on the surface. Otherwise, the color from the spray tan or lotion will end up looking uneven and unnatural.
- Moisturize. Fake tanning can dry out your skin and create a flaky, uneven appearance – not to mention the itching and discomfort that come along with dry skin. Moisturize after the spray tan has set, then regularly moisturize to keep your skin smooth and even.
- Apply a small amount of Vaseline or moisturizer along your hairline and eyebrows. This will help to prevent uneven, blotchy color that tends to show up in these areas. As mentioned above, always use caution when applying self tanners to your face so you do not get it in your eyes or mouth.
Sun protection is a must for every Baumann Skin Type®, but if you want that tanned, glowing look, spray tans and self tanning lotions can be a better alternative. Just be sure to ask about DHA and what safety precautions the spray tanning booth uses to ensure you don’t inhale it.
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