Summer’s here and most of us are looking forward to getting our bodies bikini-ready and bronzed. Tanning sprays and lotions are great for folks who don’t want to lie in a tanning bed or the direct sun. Below, we’re going to uncover the ingredient that is the star of the show when it comes to self-tanners.
DHA, also known as dihydroxyacetone (Di / hydroxy / acetone), is the primary ingredient in tanning lotions and sprays. Chemically, it is a three-carbon sugar that is similar to acetone, making it soluble in both water and fat. Acetone causes the proteins in the skin to denature (to fall apart) which is why you may see a ‘whitening’ or an ‘ashy’ effect on the skin. These effects are similar to what we experience while using acetone nail polish remover. Acetone is not something we want to have around our mucous membranes. These membranes are found in our eyes, nose, mouth and vagina.
How DHA works
DHA interacts with amino acids in keratin to produce a yellow-brown color, similar to the skin pigment we call melanin. The “tanning” solution takes about 2 to 4 hours to process on our skin and the effects last for about 3 to 10 days. Unlike melanin, which is present throughout the skin, DHA only affects the keratin located in the stratum corneum (outer skin layer), making it very superficial.
While DHA is generally considered safe when applied to the skin’s surface, this compound is potentially carcinogenic in the lungs and bloodstream. If inhaled, DHA can cause DNA mutations which increase the chances of developing cancer. Furthermore, tanning with DHA does not offer any sort of UV-protection; the skin will remain highly susceptible to sun damage.
Common Ingredients Found in Spray Tanning Solution
Aloe Vera in Purified & Deionized Water, Dihydroxyacetone, Ethanol, Erythrulose, Caffeine, Copper, Acacia Senegal Gum & Hydrolyzed Rhizobian Gum, Vitamin Complex, Astracran, Fragrance/Odor Control, Ethoxydiglycol, Phenethyl Alcohol & Caprylyl Glycol, Citric Acid, FD&C Red# 40, Red #33, Green #35, Yellow #5
Whether to spray or not is up to you, so here are some suggestions on how to do both:
First, decide if you want to have your face sprayed or not. If not, ask the technician for an extra hair bonnet to place over your face. If you want to be super cautious you can wear a face mask over your nose and mouth and then slip the bonnet over that for a double layer.
If you would like to have your face sprayed, you may use a q-tip and apply a small amount of Cherry Life Saver to the inner part of your nostrils and coat your lips. This product is full of lipids so it will reduce the dihydroxyacetone from entering your mucous membranes.
Once your membranes are covered, you may pull your hair bonnet down over your eyes while the technician is working on your body. Feel free to ask for a second bonnet if your hair is long and heavy to avoid slippage. You may also ask for sunnies goggles, however, you’ll have to tilt your head back a bit to keep them resting on your eyes. If you leave the elastic band on the goggles you risk having a line of demarcation where the skin under the band remains light. Also, if you scrunch your eyes to hold the sunny goggles in place you can have crinkly lines where the tanning solution didn’t reach.
Once you’ve finished the session, discard the mask and bonnet, carefully wipe your palms, soles of your feet and fingernails with a soft cloth or baby wipe. You’ll be removing the Cherry Life Saver which will have the tanning solution mixed in. If you are not careful you may touch your face or body with the wipes or Cherry Life Saver and create patches or swipe marks.
If you choose to have your face sprayed you can wipe your nostrils with another q-tip and use a small cotton pad to wipe off your lips.
Guide to Tanning Lotion
Start off with clean, exfoliated skin and a light layer of moisturizer, like the S4 Facial Moisturizer. Then using a pair of disposable gloves, apply a dime size of the tanning lotion to your gloved fingertips. Spread evenly over your face and gently massage the cream into your skin in an outward motion. Move in the direction of your hairline, but don’t get it in your hair, especially, if you are light blonde. Work it around your eye area, but do not apply it to your eyelids or under the brow. Use this technique every few days to keep your tan looking fresh.
If you want to apply self-tanner to your entire body, I found this link that may assist you. Sometimes you’ll end up getting the tanning cream on an unwanted area, so I found this tip that may help but I haven’t tested it.
Due to DHA’s effect on keratin, it is important to apply lotion to your face and body at least twice a day. This will slow down the flaking off of dead skin.
A Snippet from my FDA findings:
What does this mean for DHA spray “tanning” booths?
The use of DHA in “tanning” booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the Agency for review and evaluation, When using DHA-containing products as an all-over spray or mist in a commercial spray “tanning” booth, it may be difficult to avoid exposure in a manner for which DHA is not approved, including the area of the eyes, lips, or mucous membrane, or even internally.
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 membranes?
- 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.
Two more interesting links from the FDA
The Important Take-Aways
- Use SPF 30 every day whether you are using a sunless tanner or not.
- Protect your mucous membranes.
- Look for well-ventilated tanning facilities.
- Consider using a tanning cream for your face.
- Avoid spray tanning while pregnant.