Spray tans could lead to long-term health problems - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Spray tans may have harmful effects

Millions of Americas pay hundreds of dollars each year to have their bodies tanned.

Some people say a little color on their skin makes them feel better about their overall appearance, but looking good now could result in aging skin or severe health problems several years from now.

If you think spray tans are a safer alternative to sunbathing outdoors or crawling into an indoor tanning bed, what America Now learned may change your mind.

Many spray tanning facilities across the country have booths where a customer walks inside, pushes a button, and sticks their hands up in the air while a brown, gentle mist sprays their body.

Brittany Smith has been getting spray tans for the last three years and, sometimes, on a weekly basis.

"It lasts about five days and I don't want to start to look white," Smith said.

By now, most people know if you expose your skin to the sun too much, you can get melanoma—the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Over a million people crawl inside tanning beds each day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ultraviolet (UV) rays from these beds can also cause melanoma.

That's why Smith says she prefers to be sprayed until she's golden brown.

"Spray tans are just easy because you come in and you're out. It literally takes 30 seconds," Smith said.

The harmful effects of a spray tan, however, may just be starting.

Dr. Jaspel Singh is a pulmonologist with Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N. C. He says spray tans have one thing in common: A chemical called Dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA.

Once someone inhales this chemical, Singh says it can be absorbed by your lungs and carried into your blood stream.

While shooting this story, the mist from a spray tan collected all over the lens of our camera.

We removed the residue with a disposable lens cloth, which left brown stains. This is the same residue collecting inside your lungs. Repeated exposures over time, Singh warns, could be bad for your health.

You're lucky if you only get an inflammation similar to asthma, but he says DHA can also cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, also known as COPD.

While a spray tan may help you avoid skin cancer, Singh says breathing this chemical could induce a genetic alteration for those predisposed to cancer of the lungs, breast or colon.

"Depending on what area it is exposed to, it may make them more at risk for those types of cancers," Singh said.

If you're like Brittany and just want to stand out in the crowd with a nice, dark tan, here are some things to remember:  

  • Wear nose clips or hold your breath while you're being sprayed. Don't allow the mist to get into your lungs.
  • Cover your eyes as best as possible.
  • Keep your lips sealed and wipe them with a cloth.

Just as this brown residue can rub off onto your bikini or shorts, remember, it's also rubbing off on your towels and bed sheets each day. So, be sure to wash them regularly to minimize your contact with DHA.

Singh says watch out for tanning salons, because their number one priority is to have you walking out with a beautiful tan.

"If the person tells you this is 100-percent safe and doesn't offer any protective equipment at all, I would be very cautious about going to that particular facility," Singh warns. "I would question that person's expertise and knowledge of that particular chemical."

Experts we spoke with say pregnant women should also avoid spray tanning, particularly during the first trimester. That's when the tissue of a fetus is actively developing and there's a potential risk DHA could be absorbed into the unborn child's organs.

Additional Information:

The following facts about tanning are from the Skin Cancer Foundation

  • Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.
  • People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
  • Ten minutes in a sun bed matches the cancer-causing effects of 10 minutes in the Mediterranean summer sun.
  • Nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the U.S. every year; 2.3 million of them are teens.

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