Spray Tanning: A Safer Bronze than from the Sun

Skin Care
There are safer ways to get a tan than bronzing in the sun — which is the main cause of aging. (Photo credit: Axel Bührmann)

We all know that tanning is damaging for skin, so spray tans are a better option. The ideal is to be pale and happy, but that simply isn’t going to happen for many people. It’s no surprise that tanning in the sun isn’t good for your skin — it’s the number one cause of aging. Staying out of the sun can mean the difference between signs of aging showing up at 50 instead of 30.

[Read More: Dr. Cynthia Bailey: How Skin Ages — And the Best Skin Care to Prevent It]

But staying out of the sun means many of us will miss out on the golden glow we so crave. And if you can’t live without being a little tan, spray tans are a better option that frying in the sun or a tanning booth.

A study on young adults found that 22% had tried tanning lotions in the last year and another 22% were thinking about using them. I’ve personally found that many people I know who take vacations in winter feel a need to get a glow going beforehand. Base tans are actually very damaging, which leaves sunless tanning as a better option for getting that bronze coloring.

So, before you start spraying, be sure to take some safety precautions to make sure you have the best experience possible.

[Read More: The Five Biggest Summer Skin Care Myths — Debunked!]

Wear Sunscreen

Even though your skin looks darker, you’re still susceptible to sun damage, so be sure to slather on the SPF so you don’t end up like this.

You may be a bit tanner, but you aren’t invincible. Those who use sunless tanners are often those who are the most at-risk for sunburn in the first place. DHA (dihydroxyacetone), the main ingredient in spray tans, works by forming melanoids (pigments) on the outermost layer of skin when it reacts with amino acids and amino groups. Then there is an amine reaction with keto and aldo compounds that form ketoimines and aldoimines (Danish Ministry of the Environment).

This process, however, did not alter your skin, i.e. your melanocytes, enough to give you extra protection. Those with darker complexions have more built-in protection because they have larger melanin-producing cells that last longer (Nature). Those with lighter complexions simply must be more careful — though everyone should be using sun protection.

Think of spray tans, not as sun protection or as altering your skin in some way, but merely as giving the illusion that you are a tanner person than you are.

[Read More: What is the Biology of Skin Color?]

Stay Out of the Sun for a Day

Be sure to stay out of the sun or take extra precautions if you are in the sun.

DHA, the chemical in spray tans that helps give you a color, can actually make skin sensitive to the sun for 24 hours after use. One study found that sunless tanners increase free radicals by 180% in those crucial hours after application (Spectrochimica Acta).

This means that 24-hours after application, you either need to be extra cautious about sun protection, or stay out of the sun altogether. Your sunless spray tan will last longer than a day — though their time on your skin is limited — as they fade as the body naturally sheds skin cells. So, do your sunless tan 24-hours in advance of when you want to strut around like a bronze god or goddess.

And, as mentioned above, you’ll still need sunscreen!

Hold Your Breath

Hold you breath as much as possible during a spray tan to avoid inhaling DHA.

A study done by ABC news found that DHA, the main ingredient in sray tans, should not be inhaled or ingested (New York Magazine). This is a larger concern with spray tans. By getting into the blood stream through inhalation, there is concern that DHA could be absorbed into the body and it’s possible that it could cause cancer. Further tests will reveal how problematic the presence of DHA may be in spray tans.

For now, be sure to hold your breath as much as possible while spray tanning. If you have the option — such as with home spray tans — spray in a well-ventilated area, where you are less likely to inhale the spray.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a glow, spray tans and sunless tanning are a better option that actually tanning in the sun or a tanning booth. There are still some concerns with sunless tanning, but if you take the right precautions, you can make your experience as safe as possible. Just remember, you still need sun protection, stay out of the sun for 24-hours, and hold your breath when spray tanning. Keep these things in mind and you can get a safer tan.

Post sponsored by Blue Tanning & Beauty

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  • Dagny Crivaro

    Due to the limitless number of tanning lotions available in the U.S. market, many consumers are getting confused as to what products they should buy. They are having a hard time deciding on which tanning lotion is the most effective one for them. Although consumers are convinced that most of the tanning lotion manufacturers are popularly known and that their products are highly recommended and effective, consumers are just overwhelmed by the many products that are displayed right before their faces every time they visit retail stores.

  • Natalie Bell

    @Tiffany — Thank you! I prefer myself pale too!

  • Natalie Bell

    Hi Judy — I’ll look into that and see if I can find something about it for a future post. Thanks for the head’s up!

  • Thanks for the info, I didn’t actually know any of this. While I prefer pale for myself, if I ever want a change, I have more information about how to do it and go tan!

  • Judy

    I’ve heard that there is an FDA study (that was made public through a FOIA request) that found DHA to possibly be carcinogenic and/or genotoxic when applied on the skin. This would seem to present a risk distinct from the risks associated with inhaling DHA in spray-tan form. I haven’t seen the study myself, but have you heard anything about this?

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