How Safe is that Healthy Glow? A Guide to Fake Tanning

The Short Answer:

There are definite concerns associated with Fake Tanning due to the inclusion of Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). While DHA has been approved by the FDA and Skin Cancer Council we recommend limiting your use and taking some of the measures listed below to allow you to retain your tan and prevent overexposure.

A tanned body is synonymous with an active lifestyle and is often seen as a sign of a health and vitality. It is only in more recent times that we have come to learn that too much exposure to the sun can dramatically increase the aging process of our skin, especially those of us approaching middle age. Sun exposure is obviously also responsible for serious disease such as skin cancer.

Armed with this knowledge it’s easy to see why the so-called ‘healthy tan’  is not considered quite so healthy by medical professionals and indeed the population as a whole as we become better educated on the dangers the sun poses to us.

Despite this, many of us who still prefer a natural-looking bronze glow to our skin.

Fake tan The benefits of Sun Exposure

Essentially we need some sun exposure for our bodies to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a positive role in helping our body prevent disease . For instance, if our bodies have insufficient vitamin D our liver is less effective removing Cholesterol from the body. This then sets off a ripple effect that can cause major health issues. For instance, without sufficient Vitamin D our bodies remove Calcium reserves. This, in turn, can lead to bone density problems which in turn lead to an increased risk of fractures. To avoid this we require 15 minutes of sunlight per day, anything less is not sufficient. Or there are many Vitamin D supplements that work equally well.

How do tanning products work?

Many people believe that fake tanning products actually stain the skin, this, however, is not the case at all. DHA or (Dihydroxyacetone) is the primary ingredient in most tanning products and it actually darkens your dead skin cells. This is why a tanning product is only temporary. As time passes the dead skin cells will fall off being replaced by new skin cells which are not treated with the tanning product.

Are fake tans safe?

There’s been plenty of debate in recent times about just how safe spray tanning is. This comes on the back of new research that has found the active ingredient Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to be potentially responsible for DNA mutation . This can, in turn, result in a higher risk of cancer. The reason DNA mutation can cause cancer is complicated however if you consider the cells of your body are regulated in regard to how they grow and when they actually stop growing. But when a cell mutates and grows without these controls in place there is a higher risk of cancer.

Health risks to children?

One particular area of concern is the exposure to Dihydroxyacetone and unfortunately, are exposed to it. Whether you agree or not, children’s pageants especially Glitz pageants which generally have a larger focus on the costume, make up and spray tans have put children as young as toddlers in direct contact with Dihydroxyacetone.

A Concern for pregnant women?

For the same reasons outlined above we personally recommend against using a spray on tan if pregnant. In fact, it’s arguably a good idea to avoid any spray tan sprays or lotions as during pregnancy your hormone levels can fluctuate causing a wide range of skin conditions. If you are prone to skin irritation in general then using any type of product such as a fake tan may increase the chances of skin irritation.

What is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

DHA is the ingredient that reacts with your dead skin tissue to create the tanned appearance.  Let’s take a look at some of the facts.

  • It has been approved by the FDA, Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Medical Association for cosmetic use.
  • While testing has still not been carried out on actual humans the results on animals was a big enough cause for concern for the FDA to change their recommendations for spray on tans . The FDA now recommends protective clothing be worn while applying, this includes a mask to prevent inhalation.
  • The tanning industry has reacted to the news in a responsible manner by developing training programs to educate and promote safe spray tan application.
  • It’s important to keep in mind that Dihydroxyacetone is only considered dangerous if inhaled. Going back just a few years this wasn’t considered a problem as the majority of self-tanning products were applied without a spray and were mostly in the form of a cream. However nowadays with spray on tans becoming popular and affordable, not to mention simple enough that anyone can use in the comfort of their own home the risk of inhalation is considerably higher.

It would appear when applied with the correct Personal Protection Equipment e.g. Goggles, Respirator Mask that spray tanning products are considered safe by many however there are arguably better alternatives out there for those of us who want to enjoy a safe tan. Namely Body Bronzers (More suitable for face and shoulders) and Gradual Tanners both if which are applied by applying to the skin rather than spraying on the skin. Almost all tanning products contain Dihydroxyacetone but there is less chance of inhalation if using this type of product.

Another argument against the use of Dihydroxyacetone is its ability to weaken or damage the skin to allow absorption into the blood stream. There are natural alternatives available that claim to only impact the surface layers of the skin.

Regardless of your choice of tanning product, there are ways to improve both the affect of your tan and it’s duration meaning fewer applications over the longer term. Refer to the tips below to get the most out of your tanning treatment.

Fake tan tips


Before you apply or have a product applied to your body it is wise to exfoliate thoroughly to remove excess dead skin cells. This will allow the tan to work more effectively (less of a patchy result as the initial dead skin cells fall off) and will also maintain your tan longer as the dead skin cells have already been removed by the exfoliation process and it will take much longer for excess dead skin cells to build up. *If by chance you notice your tan does start to look uneven you can exfoliate the skin to create a more even distribution of color.

Knees, elbows and dry areas of the body

Dry areas of the body, joints and skin folds should be applied very sparingly and with great care because they don’t require as much tanning solution. These parts of the body are traditionally dry and will darken with far less treatment. It can also be wise to moisturize these dry areas well before a tanning treatment.


It is recommended that a lotion is applied to prevent specific areas of your body from getting too dark. The lotion works as a barrier and should be applied to your hands, knees, and elbows as due to skin fold and these areas being particularly dry it will look unnatural if your skin is too dark in these areas.

Dressing after tanning

You should always let the tanning product dry before putting your clothes on to avoid your clothes rubbing against the still wet tanning solution. Once your skin is dry you should opt for loose fit clothing for at least a couple of hours.

Remove all jewelry

Remove all jewelry to reduce streaking and it is also wise to wear latex gloves as you will need to wash your hands well to avoid orange colored hands.

Getting the right color

You should be careful with the tone you choose. It should look natural on your skin,  if unsure it is always best to test using a small amount on a smaller part of your body so you can be sure the color is right for you. When you are ready to apply to your body be sure to build up your color using light coats first. You can then choose to make your skin darker with repeat applications.

Taking care in the sun

Once your skin is darkened it’s important you remember your skin is still very susceptible to damage from the sun. So ensure you wear a quality sun screen just as you would prior to your spray on tan.

Avoid Chlorine

The last of our spray on tan tips is to avoid chlorine swimming pools. The chlorine can break down your spray on tan much quicker than normal.
Some of the best spray tan products available below.

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