• Sonya Todd-Jones | Dip Health Sciences (Pathology)

IS 'FAKING IT' Actually Safe?


Fake tan has come a long way since orange palms and streaky ankles (well for most people!) but is our desire for the yearround ultimate sun-free tan actually safe?

The most common ingredient in fake tanners is called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which is a colour additive that binds to dead skin cells and changes the colour of the skin. As the dead skin cells come off, so does the fake tan.

DHA is regulated as a safe chemical as long as it only touches the skin. It is when ingested that it can be harmful. A study at the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University, USA showed that DHA may cause mutations or changes to the DNA structure in our living cells. The current concerns are not so much the chemical reaction on the skin when ‘tanning’ but if the DHA from the tanning product is ingested how this could affect our lungs and other organs. So, if you're faking it at the salon, you may be breathing in DHA through your nose and mouth.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA has approved DHA in traditional self-tanning creams and lotions but states that sprays containing DHA have not been approved, due to a lack of data confirming their safety. These recommendations echo a report in 2010 from the Danish Toxicology Centre, which advised using nose filters and eye protection in tanning booths.

However, according to the European Commission’s independent scientific committee, which oversees the safety of cosmetic ingredients in Europe believe that DHA is safe to use in cosmetic products.

As for Australia? There isn’t much local research data available about the use of DHA. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) states that DHA is approved for topical use only. The Cancer Council states that “DHA is considered safe for topical application to the skin. However, there is currently no research available regarding the safety of exposure to DHA “to the area of the eye, the lips, mucous membranes, or internal organs via ingestion or inhalation.”

Whatever camp you sit in here are the top 7 Fake Tanning Safety Tips:

  1. Always carry out a skin patch test before covering your body to check for any allergic reactions

  2. Avoid salon sprays and choose creams, foams or gels which when dispensed do not produce aerosol droplets which can be inhaled.

  3. Always apply fake tan in a well-ventilated area

  4. Always use sun protection as fake tan only colours the skin’s surface and offers no UV protection.

  5. Avoid going out in the sun for 24 hours after application as studies have found that skin covered in DHA had 180% MORE free radical damage from the sun than untanned skin.

  6. Look for certified organic tanning products which contain natural ingredients and no toxic chemicals

  7. If you MUST have a spray tan ALWAYS cover your eyes, mouth and nose and make sure you are in a ventilated booth.

Better yet why not embrace our paleness as it seems our pursuit for a ‘healthy glow’ isn’t really that healthy after all!

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