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Stay Away From Spray Tans

Stay Away From Spray Tans

Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton have more in common than yesterday’s news. They’re spray tan fans and like other pale-skinned North Americans they’re opting for dodging the sun’s rays while still getting a glow from head to toe. But whether you pay $300 for an airbrushed blush at a Beverly Hills salon or less than $10 for a bottle of do-it-yourself spray tan from the corner drugstore, many experts think accidentally inhaling the mist (easy to do) is very bad for you. There are animal studies that indicate the turn-you-brown ingredient in the sprays -- dihydroxyacetone (abbreviated as DHA) -- triggers genetic mutations that could lead to cancer and damage the lungs.

And what about the spray-tan salons that claim this DHA is FDA-approved for ingestion (in one video a salon worker drinks it!) and is just plain harmless? Sorry, Charlie. They’re confusing DHA in spray tans with DHA-omega-3 found in tuna, salmon, algae and algal oil. That good-for-you omega-3 fatty acid is docosahexaenoic acid. Years after an ABC News expose revealed this common confusion, many tanning salons continue to claim, “The solution we use is a non-toxic, food grade product.” On top of that, those same salons often don’t offer protective eye cover or prevent dihydroxyacetone inhalation, as the FDA recommends.

Even though the FDA does okay dihydroxyacetone for topical sunless tanners, we say respect the skin color Mother Nature gave you -- and protect it. So get a little sun, make some vitamin D and apply sunscreen (SPF 30) made from micronized zinc oxide.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

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