How Safe is Spray Tanning?

In Blog by webdev

I have fair skin and prefer to stay safe from harmful UVA and UVB rays. When it comes to the safety of using sunless spray tanning, I decided I needed to investigate further into what possible harmful effects could result. I have been told by professionals in our industry to be extremely cautious because the active ingredient in spray tanning products is shown to be toxic. So, I began browsing the FDA website to see what they had to say.

As a licensed esthetician, I am well aware of the lack of cosmetic regulation in the United States compared to other countries such as Europe. In fact. according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Europe has banned over 1300 chemicals from cosmetics while the US has only banned 11. Yes, ELEVEN. With this being said, please visit to see how you can support an updated Act for Safe Cometics for the United States. I digress.

So, when I visited the FDA website, I didn’t expect to find much on cosmetics. Low and behold, there was a little tab right on the top labeled Cosmetics. As of today, the very first article and picture on the page are about the safety of sunless tanners. There is a quite detailed FAQ article that states what sunless tanners are and how they work. They break down the active ingredient known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive that darkens the skin by reacting with amino acids in the skin’s surface. The article goes on to state that this additive is limited safely to external application and talks about very specific toxic restrictions such as volatile matter must not exceed 0.5 percent when measured at 34.6 degrees centigrade for three hours at a pressure of not more than 30 mm. mercury. Then, in separate text, it clearly defines the safety of this product and lists that it can NOT be used in “the area enclosed within the circumference of the supra-orbital ridge, including the eyebrow, the skin below the eyebrow, the eyelids and the eyelashes, and conjunctival sac of the eye, the eyeball, and the soft areolar tissue that lies within the perimeter of the infra-orbital ridge.” (21 CFR 70.3s)

Taking all of this information in can be a bit overwhelming, but it is clear that there is a difference between rubbing a sunless tanning cream on your body and standing in a misting booth that gets the sunless tanner in nearly every area of your body, perhaps even internally! The article concludes that the FDA has received reports from consumers stating that they have experienced adverse events associated with sunless tanning, including rashes and, primarily in the case of spray tanning booths, coughing, dizziness, and fainting. Under the authority of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), FDA requires ingredient declarations on cosmetics sold on a retail basis to consumers. In this way, consumers can know what ingredients are contained in the products they purchase and avoid ingredients to which they may be sensitive. However, the FPLA does not apply to products used exclusively by professionals, such as those used in spray tanning booths. Consequently, FDA advises asking the following questions when considering commercial facilities where DHA is applied by spraying or misting:

  • Are consumers protected from exposure in the entire area of the eyes, in addition to the eyes themselves?
  • Are consumers protected from exposure on the lips and all parts of the body covered by mucous membrane?
  • Are consumers protected from internal exposure caused by inhaling or ingesting the product?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” the consumer is not protected from the unapproved use of this color additive. Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation.It is our responsibility as consumers to protect ourselves from the consequences of harmful additives, even when they have been proven to be toxic; for now in the United States, they will still be sold.