Are Spray Tans Safe?

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) Can Damage DNA.

Please click on the ABC Nightline image above, which indicates DHA can cause DNA damage, Lung Cancer and Birth Defects.

It All Adds Up:  Please question the chemicals you ingest or apply to your body.  Google it.  It only takes a moment and what you may find could be life saving.

What is DHA?:  Dihydroxyacetone i/ˌdhˌdrɒksiˈæsɨtn/, or DHA, is a hygroscopic white crystalline powder. It has a sweet cooling taste and a distinct characteristic odor.

History:  DHA was first recognized as a skin coloring agent by German scientists in the 1920s. Through its use in the X-ray process, it was noted as causing the skin surface to turn brown when spilled. In the 1970s the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added DHA permanently to their list of approved cosmetic ingredients. By the 80’s there were dozens of spray tanning products on the market.

Currently:  Sunless tanning products contain DHA in concentrations ranging from 1% to 15%. Most drugstore products range from 3% to 5%, with professional products ranging from 5% to 15%. The percentages correspond with the product coloration levels from light to dark.  The artificial tan takes 2 to 4 hours to begin appearing on the skin’s surface, and will continue to darken for 24 to 72 hours, depending on formulation type.

The DHA safety concern:  For the 24 hours after self-tanner (containing high DHA levels, ~5%) is applied, the skin is especially susceptible to free-radical damage from sunlight, according to a 2007 study led by Katinka Jung of the Gematria Test Lab in Berlin.[1] Forty minutes after the researchers treated skin samples with high levels of DHA they found thatmore than 180% additional free radicals formed during sun exposure compared with untreated skin. Another self-tanner ingredient, erythrulose, produced a similar response at high levels. For a day after self-tanner application, excessive sun exposure should be avoided and sunscreen should be worn outdoors.  It may be possible that an antioxidant cream could minimize free radical production. Even though some self-tanners contain sunscreen, its effect will not last long after application, and a fake tan itself will not protect the skin from UV exposure.

Why You Don’t want 180% More Free Radicals – according to cancer.gov:  Antioxidants neutralize free radicals as the natural by-product of normal cell processes. Free radicals are molecules with incomplete electron shells which make them more chemically reactive than those with complete electron shells. Exposure to various environmental factors, including tobacco smoke and radiation, can also lead to free radical formation. In humans, the most common form of free radicals is oxygen. When an oxygen molecule (O2) becomes electrically charged or “radicalized” it tries to steal electrons from other molecules, causing damage to the DNA and other molecules. Over time, such damage may become irreversible and lead to disease including cancer. Antioxidants are often described as “mopping up” free radicals, meaning they neutralize the electrical charge and prevent the free radical from taking electrons from other molecules.[2]  video: supplements-prevent-cancer

Also, the study by Jung et al. further confirms earlier results demonstrating that dihydroxyacetone in combination with dimethylisosorbide enhances (the process of sun-based tanning). This earlier study also found that dihydroxyacetone also has an effect on the amino acids and nucleic acids which is bad for the skin.[3] The free radicals are due to the generation of AGE (Advanced Glycation Products) such as amadori products (a type of AGE) as a result of the reaction of DHA with the skin. AGEs are behind the damage to the skin that occurs with high blood sugar in diabetes where similar glycation occurs.

The Other DHA:  Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain’s cerebral cortex, sperm, testicles and retina.  Which in 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration endorsed qualified health claims for DHA.[3] This form of DHA is approved for consumption.

  1. K Jung, M Seifert, Th Herrling, J Fuchs “UV-generated free radicals (FR) in skin: Their prevention by sunscreens and their induction by self-tanning agents.” Spectrochim Acta A Mol Biomol Spectrosc. 2008 May;69(5):1423-8. Epub 2007 Oct 10.
  2.  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/antioxidants
  3. Benamar N, Laplante AF, Lahjomri F, Leblanc RM (Oct 2004). “Modulated photoacoustic spectroscopy study of an artificial tanning on human skin induced by dihydroxyacetone”. Physiological Measurement 25 (5): 1199–210.
  4. FDA Announces Qualified Health Claims for Omega-3 Fatty Acids”. US Food & Drug Administration.
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