The New Pros and Cons of Spray Tanning

Is spray tanning safe? We discuss the dangers of spray tans and whether or not they cause cancer.

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Woman with a spray tan

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 a little while back, 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!

23 thoughts on “The New Pros and Cons of Spray Tanning”

  1. @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”.

  2. 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?

    • 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.

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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?

  5. 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.


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