There are plenty of good reasons to go for a fake tan rather than a real one this summer — you may be concerned about UV rays, photo-aging, or other effects the sun can have on the skin, and you may (like me) just be unable to tan (though you burn just fine).
One option is a spray tanning booth, where an attendant, or the machine itself, sprays your uncovered skin with a chemical (like DHA) that turns it darker — eventually, for a week or so. There’s no sun exposure, but is this safe in other ways? That’s still uncertain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved spray-on tanning booths because it hasn’t been given enough safety information on them to make a judgement. The FDA’s concern is not about the DHA used in the spray — it’s that the DHA may make its way onto body parts it’s not safe for.
DHA is approved as a color additive for the body, except for the lips, eye area, and, as the FDA puts it, “other areas covered by mucous membrane.” Since nobody really wants to think of their lips as covered by . . . well . . . let’s move on. If you want to see a detailed definition of the eye area, go here.
When you apply tanning products with DHA at home, by hand, it’s pretty easy to avoid the no-go areas. When you’re standing in a small space being sprayed all over by another person or a machine, it may not be. Often, you even end up inhaling the spray. There are reports of spray tanning customers suffering from coughing, dizziness, and fainting. New research also suggests a possible danger of lung cancer and DNA damage.
After an ABC Nightline report on the lack of face protection in many tanning booths (in fact, staff discouraged undercover reporters from wearing protection because it would keep the face from tanning), the industry seems to be growing more safety conscious. Of course, consumers still need to look out for themselves.
Before you get a spray tan in one of these booths, the FDA advises you to find out if you’ll have protection from:
- exposure in the entire area of the eyes, in addition to the eyes themselves
- exposure on the lips and all parts of the body covered by mucous membrane
- internal exposure caused by inhaling or ingesting the product
If you have any concerns, you may be better off doing it yourself at home.