Angie’s List: Spray Tanning
Due to its link with skin cancers, many tanners are searching for safer alternatives. Dermatologists view sunless tanning using FDA-approved dihydroxyacetone (DHA) — the active ingredient in self-tanners — to be a more innocuous option.
DHA: What is it and how does it work?
DHA is the darkening agent used in self tanners, including spray tans, lotions, mousses and wipes. Dr. Brooke Sikora, a dermatologist at SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Mass., says DHA binds to an amino acid in the top layer of the skin to produce a chromophobe called melanoids. This process, called Maillard browning, is what makes the skin darker.
“DHA is safe to use and it’s FDA approved to use topically in wipes, mousses and towelettes,” Sikora says. “Recently, there’s been a question about whether it’s dangerous in spray tans, due to inhalation risks.”
Dermatologist Dr. Melanie Palm, who founded and serves as director of Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach, Calif., says there haven’t been good studies to show whether there are long-term concerns with inhaling the solution, and adds that consumers should wear a mask if concerned.
Due to these concerns, Sikora considers a spray tan done by hand safer than using a machine. She recommends people cover their eyes, nose and mouth.
Due to its link with skin cancer, many tanners search for safe alternatives, like a spray tan or other sunless tanning methods.
DIY: Sunless tanning products
Consumers can choose from a plethora of self-tanner products on the market. The levels of DHA in store-bought tanners are lower than in professional spray tans, which allows you to more gradually build a tan. Lotions at most drugstores cost anywhere from $8 to $40, but designer products can cost much more.
Palm says when searching for sunless tanners, you should seek out additional ingredients such as green tea, vitamin C or other antioxidants. “Formulations with antioxidants provide an added bonus,” she says. “They help repair the skin.”
She adds that a lot of her patients mix their tanners with half moisturizer to help repair the skin barrier and keep it supple. “People can get a little uneven if they’re using these daily tanners.”
Palm recommends applying the tanning agents more sparingly in thickened areas of skin, like the elbows, knees, hands and feet, because they tend to get darker faster. She adds that you should wash your hands after applying the solution to remove excess solution.
Sikora says that fragrances and preservatives often found in self-tanners can sometimes cause skin reactions. If you develop a reaction, such as an itchy rash, she recommends you bring the product to a dermatologist.
Spray tanning: salons and studios
Bella Solé in Asheville, N.C., offers airbrush tanning, where a technician sprays the tan on a client by hand. Laws says this allows for a natural look. Spray tans last seven to 10 days on average, but Laws suggests moisturizing to elongate the tan.
Prior to a spray tanning appointment, customers should shower, shave and exfoliate with a washcloth. There is a bronzer in the solution, so Laws recommends clients wear loose, dark clothing. After a spray tan, avoid showering for eight hours.
A full-body tan at Bella Solé costs $50, but the face, upper body and legs can be done for less, ranging from $20 to $35. Sikora says the method consumers choose — be it spray tans applied by machine or hand — depends on their budget and how quickly they want to achieve results. A single visit at the VersaPro spray tan booth at Sun Tan City in Louisville, Ky., costs $35, according to the salon’s website. A 30-day pass can be purchased for $89.99. A VersaPro spray tan can be mechanically applied in 60 seconds and lasts five to seven days.
Member Helene Robinson, who splits her time between Montgomery, Texas, and a home in Montana, says she stopped using tanning beds due to health concerns. She now enjoys spray tanning done by hand at highly rated Salon Genesis in The Woodlands. “It doesn’t make me yellow,” she says. “The color is really good. It really does work.”
Palm wants her clients to love the skin they’re in, but if they do want a little color, she encourages they stick with sunless tanning.