Reader Question: Are Spray on Tans Safe?

by in Kitchen Sink, Reader Questions September 6, 2008

Question: I really appreciated the article on “Foods for Preventing Cancer”, and have been trying to stay out of the sun to prevent skin cancer. The problem is that I am a model, and compete in fitness events that require me to look tan. I switched to spray on tans when my mom was diagnosed with malignant melanoma recently. My question for you is- do you know if the chemicals in spray on tan are safe?

Answer: I am sorry to hear about your mom’s diagnosis. That is smart of you to stay out of the sun now and increase foods in your diet that are shown to be preventative for cancer. Green tea and beta carotene, found in green and orange fruits and vegetables are especially important in addition to the foods in the article written by Dr. Psenka.

I spent several hours researching the ingredients in spray on tans, and have concluded that the most common chemicals used to darken the pigments of our skin are derived from sugars or amino acids found in nature.

Erythulose, dihydroxyacetone, and tyrosine are the most common skin darkening agents, and tanning accelerators used. Diydroxyacetone has been approved by the FDA since the 1970’s so it is likely the safer choice. I like chemicals that can pass the test of time.

However, these simple sugars and amino acids are not the only chemical ingredients in spray on tans. All chemicals we put in our skin are absorbed to some extent in to our systems. I do occasionally worry that this new fad may later have inevitable health consequences as some people appear to over-do it a bit.

Anything you put on your skin also runs the risk of causing an allergic reaction, and the ingredients in sunless tanners are similarly guilty of causing “contact dermatitis”, a really itchy bad rash. So far, those are the only reported side effects I have been able to find.

Until future notice, spray on tans appear to be safe, however you are smart to be concerned about any chemicals you are spraying on to your skin. Like anything else that has not cycled safely through generations of humans, I would suggest it be used judiciously.

If anyone has any commentare to share on the safety of the chemicals in spray on tans, I would be happy to open up this discussion. Please share your research, questions, or concerns in the comments section.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table to ask the question!

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

  1. I had done research about spray tan dangers when I developed an allergy to spray tan in my own spray tanning salon.
    What I found out is that the problem might not be so much with the main ingredients in the solution as with all the other ingredients. It is common for spray tanning and self tanning products to have as many as 40 ingredients.
    In cosmetic industry only about 11% of all cosmetic ingredients are tested by independent bodies for safety. 89% are not. In which case it is more likely than not that you WILL be putting some nasty chemicals on your skin.

    For more information click on my name. It will take you the page on my website where I go into more details about it.
    I have also found a product that is safe to use on your skin, you can find a link to it on my site.

  2. I did the spray tan thing once and was curious about it myself. The things we do to our bodies in the name of beauty and vain…oh my!


  3. Hi Boshena- Thanks for your comment. Whenever I read ingredients for anything if there are more than five chemicals listed I get a bit concerned. What seems safe today, is likely to just be the next new recall.

  4. Hi MM- I’ve never tried it myself, seems a bit weird, but to each their own. Yes, vanity is such a crazy motivator!

  5. I agree with Miss Matchmaker, what we do in the name of vanity!!

    But I also have to say amen to the spray tan! I stay out of the sun at all costs as I do not want to prematurely age my skin and certainly want to avoid skin cancer. I do not use the spray tans often, but it sure feels good every once in a while. But fair skin is beautiful too!

  6. We all are a tiny bit van, has any research been done on fake tanning creams because there similar
    .-= stevie´s last blog ..Question about home tanning beds,… I recently bought one like a year ago not thinking about the fact that? =-.

  7. Hi I am really struggling to find infomation on fake tanning when pregnant! Can anyone help me? Erythulose is the ingrediant I’m concerned about. Thanks

    • I couldn’t find any research either….but if you can avoid it then that would be best….kind of like getting your hair colored or bleached….the less chemicals the fetus is exposed to the likelier the pregnancy will be healthy and noncomplicated.

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