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The Lowdown on the Tan in the Can

June 14, 2012
While us lot down under are freezing the rest of the world is getting their sunny groove on and for many that means it’s tan-in-the-can time.
Fake tans are seen by many as a sensible and convenient alternative to the human barbecue and knowing what we know about the sun, that assumption seems sensible enough. However, every year at around this time reports come out about the safety of fake tanners and every year wannabe bronzed gods and goddesses freak out.

Me talking to a client as I stroll along the beach.

So, what is the fuss about?   
Rashes and itching following a tan.
The very nature of fake tans make them more likely than say a lip balm to cause a reaction.   One application of fake tan however applied far exceeds any other dose of personal care product that we come across (unless you make a habit of swimming in concentrated bath milk).  For this reason even if you are not particularly sensitive to any of the ingredients you may find yourself on the wrong side of an itch.   The best way around this is to do a patch test before each application.  Your skin is constantly changing to reflect both internal and external stimuli and so a cautious, sensible approach will ensure you can show off your rash free and fab tan every time!
Stressed out skin.
The fake tan season also helps up the anti in terms of potential skin irritation.  Hot, sweaty skin can quickly become irritated and applying a tan all over that is just asking for trouble.   As a rule if you are sunburned,  already itchy, extra dry (skin) or have open sores don’t apply.
Brand swapping can also cause problems if you don’t do your patch testing.  Although pretty much all brands use the same active or active blends the dose may differ and the smell and carrier ingredients almost certainly change between brands.  Again a patch test can save you dramas.
Finally let’s take a look at  spray booth tanning.
Spray tanning has come a long way and with lower prices and next to perfect results it is no wonder that more people are opting for this method. However, there are some valid concerns surrounding spray tan booths and it’s all to do with the mist.
The product dispensers used in tanning booths are designed to deliver a fine mist of product for optimal results with the minimum amount of product and the best drying time. This is great for both the tan booth operator and the customer but there is a down side.   Inhaling a cosmetic product is never a good idea but it is usually a pretty tricky thing to do.  However, the tan booth creates a potential for trouble.   DHA and it’s partner in crime erythrulose have both been rigorously tested for skin safety but the same can’t be said for the ingredients when inhaled and inhaled is not the same as consumed!
DHA was first ‘discovered’ in terms of its skin Colour changing ability in the late 1950’s and following that a series of animal tests were carried out to establish safety limits (this would not  be allowed for cosmetic use today).  One test carried out on rats and a further on humans found that eating DHA over a thee week period didn’t cause any health issues. In fact the rats lost a bit of body fat which I am sure sparked the interest of body builders the world over…….  Anyway, further tests on mice confirmed the ‘safe’ diagnosis although other tests looking at where topically applied DHA ends up in the body did show some toxic effects and cell damage all of which is potentially worrying.   Yet more testing confirmed that DHA is non irritating to skin but can be irritating to the eyes and further testing concluded that irritation may be due to ‘ingredient combinations’ in fake tanners rather than just the DHA.  All in all it seems to be pretty safe when used sensibly and irregularly (it probably isn’t wise to perma-fake-tan although we probably all know people who do that).
The inhalation problem still goes unanswered though. It has been impossible so far to find any  data showing how safe or not DHA is when breathed in.  Now as I said before, inhaling cosmetics isn’t usually an issue but when they are atomized it can be.  Aerosol products, which have fallen out of favor somewhat due to environmental concerns had to have this sort of data but somehow products applied via trigger spray seem to have fallen through the legal cracks unless I’m missing something (please tell me I am).  So, in the absence of contrary evidence the FDA have advised that as DHA has not been tested for safety in this way,  our exposure to it in this form should be avoided.   Spray tan fans should protect their airways (and eyes) and workers should ensure that the area is well ventilated and they are protected which all seems very sensible to me.
So what next?
The bottom line is that fake tanning, especially when it involves the whole body is what I would class as ‘extreme cosmetic-ing’ because it is probably the only product that we use on a semi-regular basis that goes on and stays on the whole body.  As such one needs to take it seriously and as such we should be prepared!  So, next time you feel like faking it do your homework, run a patch test and if your booth tanning shut your mouth!
Have fun out there people and remember that a fake tan is not a sunscreen.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alexa permalink
    June 14, 2012 10:46 am

    Hi Amanda,

    A recent doco on ABC news showed safety concerns for spray tan users, it was very dramatic and not based on scientific evidence (as usual). None the less it made be look for some answers and a simple search on the CosIng for DHA turned up this document:
    It seems some studies have been done on the impact of the substance in the respiratory system and there is no alarming conclusion to it.

    Thanks for blogging!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      June 15, 2012 8:55 am

      Hi Alexa,
      Thank you so much for looking into that and finding that piece of info, it’s good to know that some work has been done. However, I do believe that avoiding inhaling any cosmetic is probably a good idea. Beauty on the inside is best achieved without a lung tan 🙂
      You are a star! Thanks.

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