Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Time to Stop Spray Tanning? August 6, 2012

Filed under: Ingredients,skin cancer — askanesthetician @ 5:00 am
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I’ve recommended several times in this blog that if you want to tan you need to fake it.  I’ve discussed different ways to get a faux tan including the use of bronzers, self-tanners, and spray tans.  But as many of my readers may already know the safety of spray tans has recently been called into question.

In June of this year ABC News broadcast their investigation into the dangers of DHA, the ingredient in spray tans and self tanners that gives you your tan, when inhaled.  Basically, if inhaled DHA could be a possible carcinogenic.  Let me be clear – you need to inhale DHA, like you would do while receiving a spray tan, in order for it to pose a health risk.  Applying a self-tanning lotion to your body with DHA will not pose a cancer threat since you do not inhale the lotion through your nose, mouth, or eyes (or at least you shouldn’t if you apply it correctly).

According to the ABC News report the FDA has never approved the use of DHA in spray tans, but does allow its use in self-tanning lotions and creams, yet has not banned its use either in spray tanning.  There is also little to no oversight over the tanning industry (a fact I have lamented here in my blog more than once) so that this industry can pretty get away with saying whatever they want about the safety of tanning beds (which don’t kid yourself are never safe) and spray tans.  The ABC investigation included an undercover reporter who went to various tanning salons and inquired about the safety of spray tanning.  Her concerns were dismissed repeatedly.

The New York Magazine piece about this controversy quotes one of the doctors seen in the ABC News report:

“I have concerns,” said Dr. Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “The reason I’m concerned is the deposition of the tanning agents into the lungs could really facilitate or aid systemic absorption — that is, getting into the bloodstream. These compounds in some cells could actually promote the development of cancers or malignancies,” he said, “and if that’s the case then we need to be wary of them.”

Back in the seventies, when DHA (short for dihydroxyacetone, the chemical ingredient that darkens skin) was first approved by the FDA, it was only meant to be an ingredient in tanning creams. No one foresaw the popularity of spray tanning today, which obviously disperses DHA into the air (and, by proxy, into your lungs if you’re nearby).

“DHA should not be inhaled or ingested” today. It tells consumers on its website, “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.” The agency advises consumers who spray tan they are “not protected from the unapproved use of this color additive” if they are inhaling the mist or allowing it to get inside their body. The agency recommends, “Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation.”

While further studies will be conducted for more conclusive results (the original data was formulated after testing DHA on nonhuman cells), the bottom line is, be pale. You’ll look and feel much better in the long run.

(Now Spray Tanning Might Cause Cancer, TooNew York Magazine)

I always like to present two sides to every controversial topic I bring up here in my blog so I was interested to read a rebuttal to the ABC News report on the esthetician centered publication website Skin Inc. in the article Is Spray Tanning Safe?:

Many questions have recently been posed regarding a story featured by Good Morning America/ABC News regarding the safety of spray tanning. Kelly Richardson of B.Bronz offers her response to the report, and provides some tips and advice when discussing this with clients, employees and others.

The report, information and interpretations

The study that was used in the report presented by the media was done by the European Commission Scientific Study on Consumer Safety. This study was published in 2010.

The news media did not differentiate between data that was obtained for automated spray booths and for hand-held turbine devices. The hand-held turbine devices are considered to be safe and do not need/require many of the safety precautions that the automated spray booths require.

Spray tanning technique

The techniques that should be used are designed to minimize dihydroxyacetone (DHA) exposure to the clients. The suggested treatment time consists of less than two minutes of spraying with approximately 50 mL of product. The spray pattern should be designed to push the overspray to the ground, minimizing it and, lastly, it is always recommended that you do not run fans during or after the treatment, as it promotes inhalation. Also recommended is using an extraction fan if you do not have proper room ventilation.


The report by the European Commission shows that high levels of DHA should not be inhaled by either the technician or the client. Most “rapid-developing” products that are on the market have active ingredient levels of 14-22%, which are considered too high for inhalation.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

DHA (the same active ingredient in every self-tanner, spray tan or sunless tanning treatment) has been approved for decades by the FDA for cosmetic use. As there have been no studies on inhalation and exposure done directly by the FDA (even though the European Commission has done studies), they advise that the products should not be used in the mucous membranes. It is a good idea to have this verbiage in your client release form or available for your clients to review.

Additionally, the FDA has not studied DHA, and pregnancy or nursing. It is recommended you have clients who are pregnant or nursing to ask or get permission from their doctors before starting any tanning regimen.

Safety equipment

It is important to use a face mask or other protection when spraying. If you are spraying, especially multiple clients in a poorly ventilated area, it is crucial. Keep items stocked at your skin care facility, including lip balm, nose plugs and silicone covers for the nipple areas.

After having discussions yesterday with many spray tanners, and professionals in the industry from insurance companies and other manufacturers, most had serious questions as to whether or not eye coverings used in tanning salons for UV protection would protect for spray tanning. It was our general consensus that these products do not, and better protection would be having the customer keep their eyes closed during the treatment. I would discuss with your insurance agent and find out what they require and recommend you to have on hand for your customers.

Of course, the ABC News report gave me a lot to think about.  Anytime I have a client who tells me how much they love tanning (either on the beach, by the pool, or in a tanning booth) I recommend that they get a spray tan instead.  I guess I should stop giving out that recommendation or recommend that they wear a mask, nose plugs, and goggles while receiving the spray tan.

Please share your thoughts below on this controversy.

Further Reading:



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California Is the First State to Ban Indoor Tanning for Minors October 13, 2011

Filed under: skin cancer,sun protection — askanesthetician @ 6:14 am
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I was delighted to hear the other day that California has become the first state to ban the use of tanning beds by anyone under the age of 18.  The law goes into effect on January 1st, 2012.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation:

Close to 2.5 million teens tan indoors in the US every year, increasing their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. Indoor tanners are also 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

The law aims to protect minors from the dangers of tanning beds:

“Tanning is like smoking, we know what the cause is. We protect our minors from cigarettes. This is the same thing. As many as 40% of 17-year-old girls are exposed to tanning beds, and we need to protect them,” says Darrell Rigel, MD, skin cancer expert and member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association (ASDSA). “We hope this will help girls form healthy habits and decrease the rates of melanoma in women especially.”

Melanoma is the No. 1 form of cancer in people ages 25-29, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Rates for melanoma in this age group are seven times higher for women, the primary factor being the use of tanning beds, says Rigel.

The American Academy of Dermatology expressed support for the law in a statement, noting that use of tanning beds sharply increases the risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. A recent study from the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center and School of Public Health shows that people who use any type of tanning bed for any length of time are 74% more likely to develop melanoma, and frequent users of indoor tanning beds are 2.5-3 times more likely to develop melanoma, than those who never use tanning devices.

Source:  California Bans Indoor Tanning for Minors  from Skin Inc.


I applaud the California legislators and Governor Brown for enacting this law.  I hope it helps to educate minors and ultimately saves lives as well.

Further Reading:


Skin Sins to Avoid September 22, 2011

Filed under: Skin and Skincare — askanesthetician @ 5:50 am
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There are many things that we can do on a daily basis to help our skin look its best, and there are just as many things that we can do on a daily basis that damage our skin.  These “skin sins”, as I like to call them, are totally controllable and preventable.  So what are some “skin sins”, and what can you do about them?

Skin Sin #1 – Tanning outside, using a tanning bed, or spending time in the sun without sunscreen on.

Simply put – tanning beds are cancer beds.  Furthermore, there is no such thing as a safe tan.  A tan is a sign of damage to your skin, and sun exposure always leads to wrinkles and hyperpigmentation eventually.  Your time on the beach without sunscreen will catch-up with you in the end.  The daily application of sunscreen will not only protect your skin from skin cancer but also from wrinkles and sun spots.  There is simply no reason not to apply sunscreen in the morning and reapply as needed throughout the day.  And be sure to use enough sunscreen, a pea size drop of sunscreen for your face and neck is not enough use a teaspoon size instead, and don’t forget the backs of your hands, your ears, and your jaw and hairline.  Once again, use a teaspoon size blob of sunscreen on your face and another teaspoon size blob for your neck and chest.

Skin Sin #2 – Smoking

There is nothing good about smoking – not for your health and not for your skin.  Let me break it down for you how smoking ruins your skin:  smoking causes your blood vessels to constrict which means your skin literally starts to asphyxiate – you’re starving your skin cells of oxygen.  Since oxygen isn’t getting to your cells in order to help them rebuild they don’t regenerate as quickly as normal and your skin cell turnover slows down.  As you continue to smoke you’ll get fine lines around your lips, and your skin will be rougher and thicker not to mention dull in color.  The carcinogens in the tobacco smoke degrades collagen and elastin, just as sunlight does, so your skin becomes less elastic and more wrinkled over time.  As you smoke you overuse certain muscles in the face leaving you not only with the wrinkles around the mouth, as already mentioned, but with lines between your eyes and crow’s-feet from squinting all the time (see the photo below as an illustration of what this looks like).  Additionally, smoking can make undereye circles worse.  And if all those bad things that can happen to your skin from smoking aren’t enough to convince you to quit smoking also know that smoking is associated with the development of skin cancer because of the build-up of toxins around your face and mouth and the damage caused to the DNA in the skin tissue from the smoke.

Skin Sin #3 –  Over Doing It

It’s important to exfoliate but washing your face with a glycolic wash, then using an exfoliating scrub, and putting Retin-A on top of that is just too much for your skin in the end.  When used correctly alpha hydroxy acids, retinols, and other exfoliants help keep your skin soft, smooth, and youthful, but when you over do it with those ingredients you just end up with raw, thin, and irritated skin.  Instead of helping your skin you end up hurting it by breaking down the protective barrier on the very top of your skin that all of us need in order help maintain healthy skin.  Your skin needs balance so don’t go crazy with the skincare products with the strongest ingredients in them.  Finding the right combination of products – a mix of gentle and stronger products – is your best bet for great looking skin.

Skin Sin #4 – You Never Change Your Skincare Products OR You Change Them Too Often

I addressed part of this issue already in my blog is the post entitled How Often Do You Need To Change Your Skincare Products? and in another post called Are You A Skincare Product Hoarder I wrote about why it is bad to run after the newest and seemingly best skincare products instead of sticking with tried and true products.  Make sure your skincare products address the state that your skin is in currently – not how your skin was when you were a teenager and you broke out all the time.  As the seasons change you will find that you need to change or switch out your skincare products.  It is a good idea to reevaluate your skincare regime every few months or at least each time you finish using a certain product.  When you run out of a product – ask yourself “do I need more of this or do I need something else instead?”.  If you change skincare products too often you’ll never get the full results of the products you are using.  Be sure to try a skincare product for about three months before deciding if it indeed is doing what it claims to do.  Skincare products that really change how your skin looks and behaves need time to work.  Unfortunately there are no overnight cures for real skincare issues.

Skin Sin #5 – Picking at Your Skin or Rubbing Your Face All the Time

I know how tempting it is pick or pop your pimples but if you do you are just making matters worse for your skin.  Picking and popping pimples will make the breakouts take longer to heal and could potentially push bacteria deeper into your skin ensuring that your future breakouts are worse.  If you constantly touch and rub your face you are simply passing bacteria from area of your body to another and irritating your skin.  There is no need for that.  Find a way to stop yourself from rubbing your face and popping your pimples.


Sources and Further Reading:


The Only Way to Tan – Fake It August 8, 2010


As you already know there is no such thing as a safe tan.  When your skin changes color as a result of sun exposure that is actually a sign that your skin has been damaged.  Our skin protects itself from the sun by darkening its color, and of course, sun exposure leads to skin cancer, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.  But not everyone wants to go around with a pale complexion.  Luckily there are numerous options for creating a healthy tan.

Use make-up to fake a tan: You can use powder bronzer, lotions that dye the very top layer of your skin a deeper color (essentially the dead skin cells on top of your skin), or body make-up that gives you a tan.  Choose a product that works best with your lifestyle.

Get a spray tan:   You can either get a spray tan from a trained technician or use a spray tan booth.  I’ve gotten spray tans from technicians in the past and liked the results (which last about 5 days or so).  The color of your tan is customized.

I think the most confusing part of faking a tan is choosing the product that you want to use.  If in doubt I say go for the spray tan done by a technician. 

Further Reading and Tips, Tips, Tips


And if you need another reminder of why you should never, ever use a tanning bed read this brief article from Redbook5 Scary Facts About Tanning Beds.


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