Is It Safe to Use Spray Self-Tanners?

With increased awareness about the risks of UV exposure, more consumers are starting to use products that produce a tan without the damaging effects of the sun. But are these products safe? Time magazine reports that, according to dermatology experts, topical self-tanning products such as creams tend to be safer than sun exposure. Sprays, however, may pose additional health risks.

“Aerosol self-tanners can contain many different chemicals, which vary depending on the type of product being used,” said Jonathan P. Parsons, MD, director of the OSU Asthma Center at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, to Yahoo Beauty. “These products can cause asthma attacks, as they create a fine mist that’s easily inhaled deep into the lungs. The chemicals and strong smells of some aerosol products can cause worsening asthma when inhaled.”

The safety concerns over aerosol products has not been limited to self-tanners. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Consumer reports has warned about aerosol products in the past. “Many doctors strongly urge patients with asthma to eliminate all aerosol products from their homes, and limit exposure at school and in the workplace,” said Parsons. “If they must be used, they should be applied in well-ventilated areas and outdoors whenever possible.”

Daily Mail reported the story of one woman who was rushed to the hospital with breathing difficulties after using one particular spray bronzing mist: St Tropez Instant Wash Off Face and Body Spray. The 25-year-old UK woman says she experienced chest tightening immediately after spraying the product. “My chest started to tighten, and I thought maybe I had used too much,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was in the bathroom with the window open, but my chest started getting really tight. … I rang 101 and they sent an ambulance straight out.” When her physicians called St. Tropez, they learned that the product had been removed from the shelves three years ago as part of a “confidential safety recall”. The recall was issued after several other consumers reported similar breathing problems.

“After finding out about the chemicals in the product, they said I was very lucky to be alive,” the woman said of her doctors’ final assessment. “I’m just so shocked. I’m really paranoid about using sprays now. It was so scary. … I was constantly coughing and it was so painful. I was really ill for a few days afterwards and I had to take a few weeks off work.”

Most self-tanners contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as their main component. It causes a browning reaction when it combines with amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in the topmost layer of skin, or stratum corneum. Dr. Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the chemical is generally safe when used as a cream or lotion. “Our bodies make a form of this stuff,” he said to Time. “So I’m not concerned about it from as safety standpoint. When used topically, I think it’s the only safe way to have a tan appearance.”

DHA in a spray, on the other hand, raises greater concerns. These risks were brought to light in a well known ABC News report several years ago. According to Time, follow-up research has linked spray tanners to a potential increased risk for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer.

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