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Q: How safe is airbrush tanning?

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A: Airbrush tanning is completely safe with just a couple exceptions...

In-Depth Answer

The Good

  • Tanning solution's active ingredient, DHA, is FDA Approved for Topical Use.  Other than the very occasional skin rash, it's safe. The rash is most likely caused by a chemical in the tanning solution other than the DHA.
  • DHA refining improvements let people avoid UV rays and turn brown,  unlike in the 70s when DHA let people avoid UV rays and turn orange...
  • DHA is derived from sugar and most likely harmless.
  • You'll still have to wear sunscreen.  To me, this is a long term benefit because you avoid skin problems later on in life while keeping the great tan now.

The Bad

  • DHA isn't FDA Approved for the Eye Area
  • DHA isn't FDA Approved for Use on Mucous Membranes

The Guru's Opinion

I don't believe the eye areas and most of the mucous membranes are going to be problems for DHA and tanning solution.  This is my belief.

However...

Don't breathe the fumes.  

I don't care what the manufacturers say.
I don't care if every lab in the world approves tanning solution as 100% safe.
I don't care if the FDA approves DHA as an inhaled wonder drug.
I don't care if God Himself sets my bamboo shoot on fire and speaks from within it declaring DHA the next miracle drug...

Don't breathe the fumes.  Ever.  Period.

Just ignore the Red, No Parking Fire Lane all around my bamboo shoot...  It's just a safety precaution...  Move along...  Nothing to see here...

Professional over cautiousness beats professional recklessness.  I call it the "Better Safe than Sick and Sued" philosophy.

Seriously though, safety isn't difficult, and it doesn't have to be expensive.


The Really Long Winded Explanation

Whether you paint people with tanning solution, cars with car paint, canvases with acrylic, or graffiti from an aerosol can, it's always the same two dangers.

  1. Absorbing paint toxins through skin contact.
  2. Absorbing paint toxins by breathing the fumes.

Absorbing tanning solution through skin contact

Tanning solution's active ingredient is DHA. 

DHA is FDA approved for topical use because it doesn't absorb into the skin deeper than the outer-most layer of dead skin cells.  

This is a good thing if we want to tan ourselves with it!  That means airbrush tanning is safe right?

Hold on, I'm getting to the exceptions!

DHA is not FDA approved for use in the eye area.

After a legalese induced nap as punishment for reading The US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) I translated their definition of 'eye area' into...
  • The eye socket which includes
  • the eyebrow
  • the skin below the eyebrow
  • the eyelids
  • the eyelashes
  • inside the eyelids
  • the eye itself
  • and the soft areolar tissue that lies within the perimeter of the infra-orbital ridge.  

The soft areolar tissue?  The infra-orbital ridge?  Now you know why I got a nap during my research.  I'm still rather clueless about what exactly this means.

But after some deduction I figure that translates into anywhere you'd apply eye shadow (eye shadow is approved after all) and the eyebrows.

So why hasn't DHA been approved?

"...the industry has not provided safety data to FDA in order for the agency to consider approving it for use in the area of the eye."

The manufacturers haven't gone through the approval process yet...it's been almost 40 years since Coppertone put out it's first tanning product with DHA in it.

DHA is not FDA Approved for use on body areas covered by mucous membranes.

The CFR doesn't specifically define "areas covered by mucous membranes" so let me spell it out instead.
  • Lips
  • Inside your nose (nasal passages)
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Lungs
  • Ladies, your...umm...naughty bits.  I'm not referring your chest.
Again why hasn't DHA been approved for these areas?

It turns out that it's the same reason as before.

"The industry has not provided safety data to FDA in order for the agency to consider approving it for use on these exposure routes, including "misting" from tanning booths."

Again, 40 years and none of the manufacturers or an industry association haven't done this yet?

Wow...

Inhaling the aerosol spray.

I'll make this really easy.

  • Don't inhale the spray. 
  • Don't breathe the fumes.
The actual explanations get beyond me.   Sorry, medical science never was one of my strengths.  I readily admit that I barely passed biology in high school...

But let me say it this way...

Asbestos was the best insulation and fire proof substance around--until  discovering the various forms lung cancer it causes...

Do I have your attention?

I don't care what the manufacturers tell you.  I don't care if a third party lab approves that manufacturer's solution.  I don't care if DHA gets approved as an inhaled wonder drug.  I don't care if God Himself speaks to me from inside a burning bamboo shoot on my desk.  I don't care if your mother told you it's all right.

Wear your mask.

I set up a three foot No Parking, Fire Lane all around my bamboo shoot, just in case...

The Conclusion

Be smart. Spray safe.

Educate yourself, your employees, and your customers.

Your health, your employee's health, and your customer's health are in your hands. Protection isn't difficult. Nor does it have to be expensive.

Would you rather be a member of a class action lawsuit with some kind of terminal disease or someone who over-valued everyone's health?

It's all your choice.