Now that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has moved use of tanning beds to the highest cancer risk of being “carcinogenic to humans,” it is a good time for tanning bed worshippers to consider an alternative form of tanning. Airbrush tanning involves a 20 minute session where a trained technician sprays a special tanning liquid all over one’s body. Is it safe to be sprayed head to toe with a tanning solution?
Airbrush tanning uses a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which causes the outer cells of our skin, the epidermis, to darken. The solution is sugar based and continues to develop in color over the next 8-12 hours after it is applied. A bronzer is usually also added to give an initial colored tan, but the bronzer washes off after the first shower which can be taken 8 hours after getting an airbrush tan. An airbrush tan lasts about 5 to 7 days and is not absorbed into the body.
DHA is FDA approved for external application but is not deemed safe for application to lips, mucous membranes or if inhaled. If you decide to get an airbrush tan, a technician will spray the DHA tanning solution onto you. Make sure not to let the spray get inside your mouth or genital area, eyes or inside your nose. The FDA recommends wearing protective eye goggles and even nose plugs in your nose.
Some spas have misting booths where you stand inside and a nozzle sprays the tan onto you. However, that requires moving into special positions to get total coverage and exposes you to potentially inhaling the DHA that is in the air. You can hold your breath when the spray is on but since the mist is still in the air after the spray shuts off, you will still be breathing in DHA.
Skin rashes have occurred to people who are sensitive or allergic to DHA or the bronzers so it might be a good idea to do a patch test on an inconspicuous part of your body before a real session. Don’t forget, you still need to wear sunscreen with an airbrush tan as it does not give you any protection from the sun’s UV rays.