Everyone knows about the dangers of baking their skin in the sun which is why thousands of people now use a fake tan instead with demand for sprays tans in particular rocketing.

However, could there also be hidden dangers in getting that bronzed glow from a bottle?

Here’s a closer look at fake tans and the problems that they could potentially cause.

Controversial ingredient

beach-tanningIn the vast majority of cases, fake tans work by using a compound called dihydroxyacetone, more commonly referred to as DHA. This produces a tan by reacting with the amino acids held within the dead cells of the skin.

It’s this vital ingredient which is controversial.

Some experts believe that DHA has the ability to cause cell mutations and that this could potentially lead to cancer and other childhood illnesses. And this is where the issues lie; individuals who opt for a fake tan instead of exposing their skin to UV rays could be unwittingly putting themselves at risk in a different way.

Are these products illegal?

Most people would assume that any products on the shelves have been passed as safe for use on humans but it’s often not as clear-cut as this.

DHA has been used in fake tan for many years, and was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA as far back as the 1970s.

However, very crucially, the FDA never approved the use of the DHA ingredient specifically for spray tans; it was originally only approved for use in topical applications such as creams and lotions.

This may seem like a pedantic difference but it’s the application of a spray which is causing such concerns.

The potential dangers

In addition to not approving use of DHA in spray tans, the FDA have taken the step of explicitly stating that this ingredient has not been approved as safe, making it clear that there are still question marks over its use.

The FDA also suggests that when having a spray tan, protection is used for the mouth and nose, advice which mimics that from other sources such as the Danish Toxicology Centre.


This recommendation has been made because of the possibility of inhaling the spray, which has been linked to the chance of increasing the risk of cancer, as well as triggering respiratory issues.  This has not equivocally been proven to be the case but crucially, it’s also not been disproved.

Scientists seem to be in agreement that when used as a cream, there’s little or no risk, but when DHA is contained in a spray tan (and almost every spray tan contains this component) there’s a question mark over safety.