Are spray tans safe?

UK newspaper The Sun reported late in 2012 that experts now believe there is a link between spray tans and cancer. The article questioned the safety of dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, found in most tanning solutions and quoted recent research out of the US which showed that people with existing breathing problems such as asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at risk of suffering a reaction to DHA.
Article excerpt:
“This is the chemical that reacts with the amino acids in the skin to make us look tanned. Long approved for external use in bronzer creams, DHA can become dangerous when inhaled during a spray tanning session and absorbed into the bloodstream.
“This, in turn, can trigger asthma, lung cancer, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. DHA is also known to cause severe skin irritation.”
Dr Rey Panettieri, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says: “Lungs have a huge surface area so the DHA compound gets into the cells then into the bloodstream. For casual users, it’s probably fine.
“But for those who go regularly for spray tans it could lead to cancer or the worsening of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
The article went on to profile three women who have suffered extreme reactions to the chemicals in spray tans.
DHA was approved by the Food and Drug Administration Agency (FDA) when it was being used in tanning creams, but has not given approval for its specific use as an all-over spray is not, due to a lack of safety data. The FDA advise that “DHA should not be inhaled or ingested” and recommend that anyone having a spray tan should wear protective undergarments, nose filters, protective eye wear, such as goggles, and a lip barrier, such as lip balm, to prevent DHA entering through mucous membranes. Therapists administering the tan are also at risk of inhaling the chemical and should wear masks when applying it to customers.
In response to the article, the CTPA released this response:
“You may have read an article in The Sun (29 November 2012) reporting on claims in the US that using self-tanning sprays may not be safe. We would like to allay any worries this article might cause to the many consumers who enjoy sunless tanning, and those who work in salons providing this treatment.
“There are no links between the use of dihydroxyacetone (DHA, the most commonly used self-tanning ingredient) and cancer, as asked in The Sun’s headline. Furthermore the article is not based on any new research. In fact a similar story ran in the summer, when the CTPA explained that, in Europe, all cosmetic products are covered by strict safety laws so we can be extremely confident in the safety of DHA, not least because the European Commission’s independent expert scientific committee (the SCCS) has recently looked at data to support the safe use of DHA in cosmetic formulations and its use in spray cabins.
“The SCCS specifically addressed the question of the product possibly being inhaled from self-tan sprays and says the use of DHA as a self-tanning ingredient in spray cabins will not pose a risk to the health of the consumer.
“In addition, we can all be reassured that in Europe there is a legal requirement that every cosmetic product must undergo a safety assessment before it is placed on the market. The assessment is carried out by specifically qualified assessors and covers all of the ingredients, the final product, how and where the product is to be used, how often and by whom. Cosmetic products also have to carry instructions or any necessary precautions for use.
“The assessment also includes allergy safety. However, almost any substance, natural or man-made, has the potential to produce an allergic reaction in someone. As with some foods, you may not know you are sensitive to a cosmetic ingredient until you try out a product and have an adverse reaction. If you do have a reaction to a cosmetic product, always contact the manufacturer (careline or helpline numbers are provided on the pack). They will then be able to advise you further on what action to take next. If the reaction persists or recurs or you are otherwise concerned you should consult your GP.”

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