Spray-on tans have long been touted as the safe alternative to traditional tans. "If you want to be tan, use a spray tan -- which is a safe alternative to tanning by artificial or natural ultraviolet light," dermatologist Dr. Zoe Draelos said in a recent news release, HealthDay reported. But a new investigation is calling the safety of spray-tans into question.
The active chemical used in spray tans, dihydroxyacetone (DHA) may cause DNA damage, according to a panel of medical experts. The experts reviewed 10 of the most current studies on DHA for ABC News. To be sure, the studies were done on animals, not humans. And the researchers warn that their concerns about DHA's risks are far from conclusive. But they warn that more studies should be done on DHA before people are exposed to it in a spray-on tanning booth.
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The Food and Drug Administration says that DHA is safe when it is applied externally, through sunless tanning lotion. However, the FDA warns on its website that it has not approved DHA for use in spray-on tanning booths. The FDA is concerned about spray-on tanning booths, because DHA may be cause DNA damage when it is ingested, inhaled or exposed to "mucus membranes" like the eyes, ears or mouth. And in a spray-on tanning booth, the FDA warns, it is much more difficult to avoid DHA exposure to these off-limits areas.
ABC's investigation confirms this. Reporters went undercover and found that many tanning salons do not take proper safety measures to ensure that DHA is not ingested or inhaled by customers. For example, of the 12 salons ABC visited, nine did not have any eye covers in stock, nine did not have any nose plugs, and 11 did not have any protective gear for the mouth. One salon even wrongly told ABC that "DHA is so safe, it is used to help treat diabetes and can be injected into the body."