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The New Pros and Cons of Spray Tanning


Tan girl wearing a bikini

During the summer, many of us covet the Hollywood glow associated with a dark tan. And lots of girls are turning to spray tanning to avoid the negative effects of baking in the sun, one of those being an increased risk of skin cancer.

But just this week, news outlets began reporting that spray tanning may cause cancer as well! So what’s a girl to do? To help, I’ve listed the pros and cons of spray tanning if you are thinking about getting that beach glow.

The Positives of a Spray Tan

There are many benefits to getting a spray tan. A huge one, like I mentioned above, is decreasing the risk of skin cancer associated with traditional tanning. This assumes, of course, that you’re applying broad-spectrum sunscreen before you step foot outside and taking refuge in the shade if necessary. I apply a basic SPF 15 moisturizer when I’m spending the day indoors and I slather on the SPF 55+ when I know I will be spending time outside.

The other positive to spray tans is that they are instant. No need for baking outside in the sun for hours on end or waiting for your sticky self-tanning lotion to dry. As well, you can adjust how dark you want to go by spray tanning more or less frequently.

Finally, another important positive of spray tanning (or regular sunless tanning) as opposed to baking for real is that your skin retains its youthful appearance for much longer. No one wants to look like a piece of dried leather when they are fifty, so, like we always say, stop while you are ahead!

The Negatives of a Spray Tan

After going through the positives of spray tanning, you might say that there are probably no negatives to be found! Well, like with all things, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Like we mentioned above, new research has just been released stating that spray tanning may actually increase your risk of cancer. DHA, dihdroxyacetone, is the active ingredient in spray tanners and medical experts have found that, if introduced into the bloodstream (which can happen if it is inhaled), it has the “potential to cause genetic alternations and DNA damage.”

While all self tanners use DHA, the problem with the spray variety is that when you are getting sprayed, it’s common to inadvertently inhale some DHA. (I’m sure many people try to hold their breath when getting spray tanned, but eventually you have to breathe!) Inhalation can allow DHA to enter the bloodstream and potentially cause the negative health effects listed above.

To be fair, the ten current studies that the article reviewed had not involved testing on human subjects, so this claim may be up for debate in some areas. However, it should be enough to make you stop and think before stepping in that booth.

So… is Spray Tanning Good or Bad?

In my opinion, spray tanning is fine in small doses and if you take the correct precautions. Find out if the salon has protective goggles, nose plugs and protective mouth gear available so you inhale as little DHA as possible! Many salons do not have these options but hopefully that will start to change soon.

Also, if you love the look of a fake tan but don’t want to worry about inhalation, you can switch to self-tanning lotions or gels that don’t involve an aerosol spray. We’ve talked about these on CF before in our ultimate guide to the best self tanners, and our guide to looking like a beach babe. These options are a little more time-intensive than spray tans, but are cheaper per tan and won’t cause you to inhale DHA.

No matter what you choose to do, make sure you protect yourself and make sure you’re fully informed of the risks to avoid any unforeseen consequences down the road.

What do you think?

Do you like spray tanning? What do you think about tanning in general? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on on June 26, 2012 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , ,

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41 Responses to “The New Pros and Cons of Spray Tanning”

  1. 1
    June 26th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I’m not a spray tanner but I want to try and do it once in a while because I rarely get super dark and I want to have a darker skin throughout the summer. I think using it is not bad as long as we don’t abuse it :)

  2. 2
    June 26th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I don’t want the hollywood orange glow. I love my pale skin. Why tan when everyone is beautiful in their natural skin tone? Tanning costs money and it has to be maintained constantly to keep your skin that way. It has to be done very carefully to prevent streaks and it smells weird. To me, it doesn’t make sense to tan on purpose. Granted, their are some activities that sometimes require tanning, like dancing and theatre (hence hollywood), but other than that, SPF 80 all the way! :)

  3. 3
    June 26th, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Cayla, I was about to make a similar comment. I wouldn’t say every girl wants that Hollywood glow, I’m naturally pale and I don’t mind rocking it, summer or winter. And I’m more than happy to take time to slather on the sunscreen now and have healthier skin later as I age. I understand the desire for some girls to have darker color but to me it’s just not worth it.

  4. 4
    June 26th, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    @cayla It’s a status marker. Every time I read about yet another way we need to “fix” ourselves while conveniently spending money, I get major shades of “The Beauty Myth”.

  5. 5
    June 26th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts guys! We definitely aren’t saying that you have to tan, so apologies if the article made it sound that way. All skin colors are beautiful and tanning (or not) is a personal choice – we just want to make sure that if you’re going to do it, you’re going to be safe about it.

  6. 6
    June 26th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I went spray tanning one, and it was absolutely terrifying. It was impossible to not breathe the amount of time I was in the machine and when I did breathe I could feel myself inhaling the chemicals. That was enough to keep me from going back. Not to mention the loud clunky machine, and the fact I followed directions but still got streaky. It’s dangerous and not worth it!

  7. 7
    June 26th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Hmm, on one hand, instant tan! On the other hand, cancer.

    Things like this make me happy that i’m naturally tan.

  8. 8
    June 26th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I don’t understand the love for tanning, I honestly like the look of my natural pale skin best. Matter of taste I suppose :)

  9. 9
    June 26th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I love and embrace my porcelain skin. I think my pale skin is beautiful and unique, especially in a sea of tanned girls. I have a lot of recessive genes and run a higher risk of getting cancer, so it’s never worth it to be to tan in any way.

  10. 10
    June 26th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I think people should just be happy with what they have. My one friend is South Indian with lovely skin the colour of dark coffee, and she refuses to go out in the sun because it makes her tan (she doesn’t want dark skin because she doesnt like her own colour). My aunt (Indian) always makes comments to my cousins with lighter skin saying that they look really nice an fair. My other best friend is very very pale ginger girl and is always self conscious about lovely pale skin tone in summer. This is crazy! I used to want to have her lovely porcelain skin colour!

    To be honest, so many people are jealous of one anothers’ skin types. I think everyone looks pretty the way they are and they need to stop wasting money on toasting/painting themselves or bleaching themselves (curse you Fair and Lovely).

  11. 11
    June 26th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    What about self tan liquids? The self tanning liquids you can apply to get a tan- do they also cause cancer? Or is it only the spray tan because you inhale it?

  12. 12
    June 26th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I would like to mention that by virtue of something *being on your skin* it enters your bloodstream as well. No matter how good you are at holding your breath, it’s going to enter your bloodstream. That’s how nicotine patches, birth control patches like ortho evra, nitroglycerin, and many other medications work. Your skin has a blood supply, when you put stuff on your skin, it is absorbed into your skin’s blood supply and may enter systemic circulation.

  13. 13
    June 26th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    @Worried girl- that was one flaw I saw in the news article. They are concerned about inhaling DHA but you are slathering the stuff directly onto your skin. Of course some of it is going to be absorbed into the bloodstream, especially overtime, and especially in the summer when changes in moisture content make your skin more vulnerable. My policy is to put as few chemicals on your skin as possible, including sunscreen! If I am going to be out for a long time or in strong sunlight, I’ll put some on, but I think there is way too much hype around the risk of skin cancer. Personally I think using too much sunscreen could increase your risk of cancer because all of the chemicals could cause genetic mutations, especially in the telomeres.

  14. 14
    June 26th, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Well, good thing I am naturally tan!

  15. 15
    June 26th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I feel that yes, if you have that beautiful poreclin pale skin, go ahead and rock it.

    But some of us – like me – don’t look so great without some colour in our skin. I have a yellow undertone instead of a rosy one (but I am white) , and under a lot of lighting I look really sick (but I am not) . I have had people come up to me and ask me if I was sick. So I guess what I am trying to say, is that there are many reasons to want to spray tan or tan (or not).

    I don’t really know where I was going with that, haha. Trying to explain to you ladies who love your pale skin?

  16. 16
    June 26th, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I don’t understand the obsession with tanning either. While I’m not super pale, I’m not dark either. For those who want some healthy colors on their skin, eating more carrots can give anybody an even total body glow, plus all the benefits that comes with eating carrots. So why even bother with dangerous chemicals or dangerous amounts of UV rays?

  17. 17
    June 26th, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    I’m not necessarily that pale but I’m a fair skinned girl. I don’t opt for tanning methods-too much of a hassle. If I did I would definitely go for tanning lotions. I really hate the obsession with tanning. I’m at a loss when my friends say something like “Let’s go tanning” or “I need to tan”. The bad thing is the fact they want to tan under the sun. I definitely would prefer them to spray tan over sun tanning but I’m skeptical about the safety of spray tanning.

    What are your picks for moisturizers with SPF? I always wear it on my face but I’m looking for a good body lotion, besides sunscreen, with it.

  18. 18
    June 27th, 2012 at 2:09 am

    @Jay, sunscreen may or may not be harmful, but I recently heard on the news that it actually doesn’t protect your skin from excessive UV exposure. Apparently these products we buy have not got the correct information on them, they tell us we’ll be protected, when in actual fact it does very little and not enough to protect our skin from UV rays. The news reporter also said that people should use clothes to protect their skin since sunscreen does very little. So everyone, don’t spend too much time in the sun, keep your skin protected and healthy!

  19. 19
    June 27th, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Pale is beautiful. You are beautiful.

  20. 20
    June 27th, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    @ Frances – REALLY GOOD POINT!!! I feel like I’ll be a lot more wary about other stuff like scented lotions and all that too. Man, CF, maybe you can do an informative article on that risk, I’m actually really interested in that now that it’s been brought up.

  21. 21
    June 27th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    @Katie I go for Lubiderm with SPF, which works surprisingly well as a sunscreen. I saw a scented SPF lotion at Bath & Body Works (in a scent I love, no less), but I haven’t tried it, so I don’t know if it works well as a hand cream.

  22. 22
    June 27th, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I’m glad I’m African American, so there’s really no need for me to tan. But my legs are pretty pale because I rarely go outside and I normally wear jeans all year (that’s gotta change!)
    But I prefer using lotions meant to darken your skin, and they’re best to be put on after showers. It’s not an instant color change, and they take a few weeks to show results, but doing this everyday or every other day before your beach day could be quite rewarding.

  23. 23
    June 28th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Agreed! All skin colors are beautiful no matter what.

  24. 24
    June 28th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    This is very true! I tend to put on sunscreen out of pure habit but I think it only does a minimal amount of protection from the sun. It’s hard to not put on sunscreen when we’ve been told our whole lives that it’s very important.

  25. 25
    June 28th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I agree with you Andrea. I have a natural yellow undertone to my skin as well so I tend to tan very easily when I’m out in the sun for a period of time. More recently I’ve been looking sallow so I do think that I look better with a bit of color. Not to say pale is bad, I think girls who have naturally pale skin are very lovely.

  26. 26
    June 28th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Most self tanners do contain DHA, the concern is the fact when it is sprayed on it gets into your nasal, eye and mouth passages. When you apply it yourself as a lotion or gel you can avoid those areas with ease. However as another commenter pointed out above, just having it on your skin does get it into your bloodstream. I would not say it causes cancer completely since there has been no human studies done on the effects of DHA, so don’t worry just yet! It is a concern by the medical community that they want to further investigate. If you do want to use self tanners, look for ones that contain a lower percentage of DHA, that way you can build it up as you go.

  27. 27
    June 28th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Definitely a matter of taste! Everyone is lovely no matter what they choose.

  28. 28
    June 28th, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I totally agree Alexandra! I think I was slightly traumatized after my experience as well.

  29. 29
    June 28th, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Moderation is the key with everything!

  30. 30
    July 1st, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    The spray tanning places near me all offer ORGANIC sunless tanning as an alternative. make sure you do your own due diligence beforehand on the company to find out what this means and if they are certified / reputable,.

  31. 31
    July 2nd, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Gotta play devil’s (staunch) advocate for a second here.

    I tan naturally. Outdoors. In the SUNLIGHT. Without a dab of sunscreen. I work outside, at a stable, so I’m essentially always in the sun, and that toasts me nice and dark. And, yes, I sometimes go to the beach and lie out in a swimsuit, sans sunblock.

    And I really don’t think it’s that bad for me.

    Yes, my skin may look more leathery when I’ll older because I do this. So what? So my skin won’t be perfect when I’m fifty? That’s something I’m OK with. I’ll look old when I get old. That’s fine.

    Yes, I’m running the risk of skin cancer. But judging from this article, so are the people who are using spray tanners/tanning lotions to “tan themselves safely.” Honestly, I’d rather run the risk of soaking up lots of sunlight, which at least is a normal, natural element of the human enviroment, than of swallowing/spraying my entire body with a chemical cocktail whose origins and ingredient makeup I don’t know! Yes, we know that overexposure to the sun can cause cancer…but isn’t it also a given that overexposure to chemicals can cause cancer? So why are we suddenly so willing to trade the sun our ancestors worked and played under for thousands of years for a toxic substitute that may (good Lord!) “cause genetic alterations”?

    Allowing myself to get plenty of sunlight at my skin keeps my vitamin D levels steady. And, like this article from the New York Times talks about (, exposure to sunlight offers a host of other benefits as well. Now, not all of those require skin exposure, but they all require you to *not fear sunlight,* as so many Americans nowadays seem to.

    Can you name me one POSITIVE health benefit of fake tanning? Yeah, it allegedly doesn’t give you skin cancer (or so they thought). But can it boost your mood? Help rebalance your hormones? Give your body what it needs to create a vitamin vital to good health? Nope. I didn’t think so. But sunlight can.

    And that’s why, having weighed the costs and benefits of natural tanning and fake tanning, I’ll choose the natural tan every time. Goodbye, chemicals, hello, sunshine!

  32. 32
    July 18th, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I see why people like to be tan. I am one of those. But bed, spray or sun they all have side effects we can’t see till it’s too late. Wrinkles and age spots are the least of our worries anymore.
    Want a natural glow.. Try a whole body scrub and brew some black tea and wait till it’s cool and spray yourself it won’t streak and lasts about a week. It’s also much cheaper. It works best if you scrub really well..

  33. 33
    August 5th, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    I have a spray tanning business and have noticed that a lot of my clients have been asking about the new “risks” with spray tanning. From what I have read there has not been conclusive tests done yet, but there is definitely a reason to have concern.

    I have always advised my customers to protect themselves while getting the spray tan. You can do things like put lip balm on, use nose plugs, and put a little vaseline on any spots that you might have.

    If you take the proper precautions, you can greatly decrease the chance of DHA entering the bloodstream. Ask the person you are getting the spray tan from for more information. If they care about your safety, they will likely have a way you can protect yourself. If they blow your concerns off, go somewhere else.

  34. 34
    September 23rd, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    I have tanned for years outdoors and in bed… now that I’m in my 30s I have stopped tanning. but I feel that I look “sick” although I’m very healthy. I would love to try spray tanning. how long does it take? do most people get streaks?? I’ve tried various brand of tanning lotions and sprays. usually comes out uneven, streaked, and sometimes orange… suggestions???

  35. 35
    September 29th, 2013 at 6:07 am

    ummm frances i think you need to do a bit more research, medication can only enter though the skin beacuse they are put inside a carrier, carriers are very simular to our own lipids found in out skin and they accept them easly and deeply into the dermal layer where your blood vessles are………… there is another way to push ingredients into the skin but its probaly a bit to much for you to understand. a spray tan only works on the top say 2 or 3 layers… heance why it comes off in around 10-14 days when our skin naturally sheads every 28-30 days so its kinda imposable for it to enter the blood stream though the skin unless you have a cut a deep cut! all you people need to just use oz tan, organice, aussie made and owned, the spray machine its self is designed to let off as little over spray as possible, no orange, no sticky, 2 hour rinse off time, smells nice, the only con, it takes a little loner.

  36. 36
    March 21st, 2014 at 3:44 am

    I have to write a essay for my work on how indoor tanning is benifical and I don’t agree at all I mean maybe once a week if u want the color bad no matter what it’s not good for u in a way possible

  37. 37
    June 5th, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Great job in bringing up some of the potential negative side effects of spray tanning. The most important thing we all need to watch out for and learn to reduce is of course breathing in the spray tan solution. There are some salons that provide masks and nose plugs for the spray tan session. Does anyone else have other tips for keeping the solution from entering your lungs?

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