12 Investigates: Spray Tan Dangers

Published: Jul. 24, 2013 at 12:03 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2013 at 2:22 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - An active ingredient used in spray tanning may be harmful, and even cause cancer, according to the FDA.

We've heard the warnings about tanning beds for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), if you use a bed before the age of 35, your risk for getting a deadly form of skin cancer increases by 75 percent.

Spray tanning has quickly become the popular alternative, as a safe way to avoid cancer causing rays and tanning beds. Now, health professionals are concerned by the active ingredient in the spray, called Dihydroxyacetone or DHA.

"DHA is really a sugar and so it has been evaluated by the FDA in an external application, unfortunately we don't have any studies with internal applications," says Dermatologist Chad Prather.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually doesn't endorse spray tanning. Regulators have never approved it for use or even tested its side effects. The FDA actually warns consumers not to get the spray in your eyes, near your lips and some research shows inhaling it may actually lead to cancer. Some salons are recommend that you wear a mask in the booth.

"Normally, what we've been doing lately is we ask that you wear a mask. And if you still want to spray your face, you can spray your face around the mask itself, because our mask is real narrow," says salon owner W. C. Webb.

New Jersey just became the first state to ban children from spray tanning.

"I feel like that's not really fair for the government to take away the rights of the parent to say what your child can and can not do. You're the parent you're the one with the parental consent," said salon worker Ashley Wade.

"I feel like we should be able to do it. Because it's not really harming anything. I mean it's like our own choice if we want to tan. And our parents are okay with it," said Kimi Austin.

In Virginia, children under 15 are not allowed to use tanning beds. We called at least 20 different tanning salons in the greater Richmond area and learned many don't allow children to spray tan unless they have a parental permission. Though, at least one salon told us, 'bring in your child, we'll spray anybody.'

Again, the FDA recommends covering your eyes, nose and mouth when tanning. Regulators say never breath in the mist.

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