DHA Inhalation Dangers Explored in New Report on Spray Tanning

Posted on July 13, 2012

Safety is constantly being reevaluated.  Products once thought safe can often be proven remarkably dangerous with years of hindsight.  As such, regulation by the Food and Drug Administration is ever-changing, which is why we must keep our ears to the ground in case a new danger presents itself.

A new report featured in The Atlantic discusses the worries that many experts have regarding spray-tanning.  Although en vogue for many years as a relatively healthy alternative to tanning in the sun and being exposed to harmful UV rays, officials have lately begun to take a closer look at the safety of this practice.

At issue is the one of the chief ingredients in spray tanning, dihydroxyacetone, otherwise known as DHA.  It’s DHA which actually gives an individual that orange-red hue that has now become a trademark of the spray tan.  Use of DHA has been allowed in sunless tanning cream by the FDA since 1977, and the advent of the spray tan process has only made it more popular.

But it’s this new usage that gives the FDA cause for concern.  Tanning creams were applied directly to the skin, and as such, there was a relatively small threat that the DHA would be ingested.  Not so with a spray tan, where the chemical is misted into the air all around a person’s body.  Someone who repeatedly submits themselves to a spray tan might breathe the DHA into their respiratory system.

This could in turn cause a litany of problems.  Once in the lungs, it’s easy for a chemical such as DHA to make its way into the bloodstream.  Although the results of such a contamination still need to be further studied, some experts believe that it could leave to mutations or damage in a person’s genetic structure.  Cancer is another possibility.

A toxicologist from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania says that DHA likely wouldn’t endanger someone who goes in but once or twice for a tan.  The most at-risk demographics would be people who repeatedly submit to the spray tanning procedure, as well as the employees of a spray tanning establishment who might make incidental contact with a DHA compound numerous times per day.

Perhaps the best thing a person can do to mitigate danger is simply not spray tan.  But for those who must, the FDA has provided consumers with steps that can be taken to reduce the risk.  Eyewear, nose filters, lip balm, and protective underwear can be put on to ensure that DHA has no chance of entering a person’s body.

The toxicologist mentioned above expects research to be done on various animals to see what effects DHA inhalation might have.  If the results aren’t good, he continues, it might not bode well for the spray tanning industry.  A complete overhaul and more careful regulation might not be out of the question.

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