KSNF/KODE — An advanced skincare routine has been an ever-rising trend amongst millennials and Gen Zers. Studies show skin cancer has been increasing over the last decade. 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. It comes as no surprise that spray tanning and the use of self-tanning products have been parallel to the skin care trend since they don’t involve harmful UV exposure. But that doesn’t mean they’re risk-free.

Spray tans may not subject users to harmful UV radiation that leads to skin cancer, burns, or premature aging like tanning beds or sun exposure does. Still, the long-lasting chemical responsible for a bronzy glow has been shown to cause DNA damage. Damages to DNA have been linked to genetic mutations and cancer.

DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is the chemical used in spray tanning and self-tanning products to produce a natural tan look. DHA works by latching onto the surface layer of skin. This creates a chemical reaction with the amino groups of proteins in the skin which is responsible for the tan look and funky spray-tan smell. This reaction generates free radicals that attack cell structures, degrade collagen and elastin fibers all while causing premature skin aging and the formation of wrinkles. DHA exposure has also been linked to oxidative stress and trigger genetic mutants – which is associated with chronic diseases, like cancer.

The appearance of darker skin can create the illusion that skin has increased resistance to UV rays but this is far from the truth. In fact, due to the relatively unstable nature of the chemical reaction of spray tans and a lack of SPF, aging and skin damage are accelerated under sun exposure. This can be avoided by choosing a product with lower DHA formulations with additives that promote skin health and continually using broad-spectrum sunscreen.

The FDA warns against inhaling the aerosols of spray tans since it enters the bloodstream and has the potential to cause gene mutation. It is also recommended to avoid spray tans during pregnancy since the risks of DHA during pregnancy are unknown and may cause birth defects due to DNA damage and gene mutation.  

The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety says that concentrations of DHA up to 10% won’t harm the consumer, however, modern self‐tanning formulations often use higher levels of DHA—some up to 15 %. Though there have been advancements within the cosmetic industry where DHA is added in low amounts along with antioxidants and other additives to lessen the damage from free radicals, the risk from long-term use and exposure to DHA even in small amounts are understudied.

The market for self-tanning has expanded globally and rapidly in the last decade, driving manufacturers to create a quality and pure product with lower risk for consumers. Although spray tans are marketed as a healthy alternative to sunbed and suntanning, they’re still not 100% risk-free or have a positive impact on health in general.