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A man with white skin and a hat sits among a group of tan shirtless men

This Spray Tan Stuff

“Magic mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” asked that creepy queen in Snow White. The mirror had a disappointing answer for the queen. If I were to ask the same question, I would almost always be described as the “fairest of them all” and by “fairest” I don’t mean “pleasing to the eye.” Of course, I mean the lightest skin. I am quite pale these days and that is by design and on purpose. If I were to fly to California tomorrow and go my old stomping grounds at Newport Beach, I would be quite a sight. Picture a floppy hat, Hawaiian shirt, over-sized sunglasses, zinc-covered nose, black dress socks and sandals AND the palest legs imaginable.

The “base tan”

I used to get a “base tan” before I would go to the beach. This meant getting sunburned by laying out or going to a tanning salon. Now, I don’t do this, ever. But, are there other options for me? For many people, a spray tan is their option of choice. I must admit that I tried a sunless tan a few times with poor results. I always ended up with splotchy, uneven, orange skin. Some was darker orange and some more like the skin of a tangerine. I am not sure if I ever followed the directions correctly. I just know that I was NOT happy and looked terrible.

To spray or not to spray

But, what about sunless tanning spray? Why and how does it work? The active ingredient in most current self-tanners is the chemical that gives it color, called dihydroxyacetone (DHA).1 DHA changes the skin tone of the dead skin cells on your body. This helps simulate a tan.1 Most of these spray tans do not contain sunscreen and if they do, they should be applied with the same frequency as regular sunscreen sprays or lotions. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the darker color produced by self-tanners will automatically protect your skin from dangerous ultra violet rays.

Warnings about the safety of spray tans

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved self-tanners are deemed safe currently, but advises that you shouldn’t inhale them. You also shouldn’t apply them to areas like the lips, nose, or around the eyes because there may be unknown risks.2 Make sure to heed this warning and take precautions especially when going to a sunless tanning booth for application.

More warnings

Additionally, sunless tanning pills, which contain the color additive canthaxanthin, are considered unsafe and can cause liver damage, hives, and/or impaired vision.3 Some recent, unsubstantiated studies have speculated that DHA in large amounts can negatively affect the skin’s natural ability to block out harmful rays.1 Like most research, new discoveries reveal additional understanding and require further study. As with most everything in the skin cancer field, more research is needed. Be diligent in your study.

I’m good with me

Will this change anything for me? Probably not, I don’t feel any desire to be tan and am okay with how I look now. I have literally become comfortable in my skin and celebrate that often times, “I am the fairest one of them all.”

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sunless-tanning/art-20046803
  2. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/products/ucm134064.htm
  3. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/tanning-pills-and-products.html

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