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. 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! 🙂

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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!

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

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  6. 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).

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  7. 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.

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  8. @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.

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  9. 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?

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  10. 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?

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  11. 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.

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  12. @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!

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  13. @ 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.

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  14. @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.

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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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 🙂

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  18. 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?

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    • 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.

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  19. @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”.

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