They said/We said: Could spray tanning cause cancer?

Photography courtesy of H&M
Photography courtesy of H&M

Toddlers in tiaras take heed: a panel of scientists is warning that dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the main ingredient in spray tanning and other sunless tanning products, may have some dangerous side-effects.

In a large-scale ABC News investigation, top scientists in a range of fields were tasked with combing through the most recent research on DHA, and the discoveries they made aren’t great news for spray tan aficionados.

According to the panel, DHA, the colour additive in sunless products that creates the products’ telltale “tan,” may actually cause genetic alterations and DNA damage. Several of the 10 peer-reviewed studies found that DHA altered the genes of some cells and organisms, which could lead to the development of cancer or other serious diseases.

The FDA, which first approved DHA for external use in 1977, told ABC news that they could not have foreseen the chemical being used as a spray application thirty years down the road, and what’s more, its use as an all-over spray has never been FDA-approved. They stressed that DHA should never be inhaled or ingested. For those who do get spray tanned (or for tanning salon workers, for that matter), protective gear should always be used for the mouth, eyes, nose and mucous membranes.

Researchers have also discovered that DHA may actually permeate through more layers of skin than they’d thought. We already knew DHA binds to the already-dead top layer of skin, but apparently trace amounts of DHA can make their way down to deeper, living layers of skin, which means it can get to the bloodstream.

Will you continue your spray-tanning regime or will this news be what pushes you to just embrace paleness once and for all?


Huffington Post Style: “Oh cool, your spray tan could be giving you cancer” [Twitter]

Samantha Sault, communications professional: “Just wear SPF 55 and embrace paleness! […]” [Twitter]


Lesa Hannah, beauty director: “I like the idea of thinking this is the universe’s way of trying to eradicate self-tanner abuse. However, considering that many people still lie in the sun despite the risks, there’ll be plenty of fake-bakers who’ll do the same and continue to get their DHA on.”