Spray Tanning: Is it Healthy or Harmful?

June 21, 2019

"You can definitely see the benefits of choosing to get a spray tan over spending huge amounts of time out in the sun, just make sure you’re also aware of the potential risks."

Today’s show is all about spray tans. Are they good for you? Are they bad? Would tanning out in the regular sunshine be a better option? We’ll answer all of these questions and more, and some of the information we have to share may surprise you! For those of you that like that tan look there’s much to consider.

Video highlights

  • 02:56: The Down Side of Sun Exposure
  • 05:02: The Up Side of Sun Exposure
  • 05:15: Vitamin D
  • 07:20: Improves sleep
  • 08:28: Improves mood
  • 09:18: Combats SAD
  • 10:13: Reduces Stress
  • 10:51: Let’s Talk About Skin Cancer
  • 13:32: Skin Cancer Risk Factors
  • 16:51: Catch skin cancer early
  • 18:22: The ABCDE Rule
  • 22:11: On suntanning
  • 23:20: A popular alternative to sunbathing is spray tanning
  • 28:20: How spray tans work
  • 32:12: The benefits of spray tans
  • 33:57: Wrap-up

The Down Side of Sun Exposure

Depending on where you live, you get more or less year-round sun. If you are living in southern California, you’re not suffering from a shortage of sunlight! But if you live in colder climates, you might still like to have a little warm, healthy-looking glow that comes with sunshine and summer, right?

Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more clear evidence that while some sunlight is crucial to your health, too much sun exposure is a bad thing. It can lead to:

  • Sunburn
  • Skin cancer – namely melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma
  • Premature wrinkles and aging
  • Dehydration
  • Heat stroke and heat exhaustion
  • Eye damage

    The Up Side of Sun Exposure

    Spending some time out in the actual sunlight can have its benefits though.

    Vitamin D

    Getting some vitamin D is perhaps the biggest benefit to catching some rays. Sufficient amounts of vitamin D release endorphins in the body, which are known as the body’s natural painkillers. They also reduce stress hormone levels in the body which can ease anxiety and make you feel happier. Endorphins can boost energy, too! Vitamin D is also vital to helping you maintain healthy bones. Fifteen minutes or so (to keep the risk of burning down) in the sun provides some vitamin D, and you can get the rest from taking a supplement like Smarter Vitamin D.   

    Time out in the sun has several other benefits, as well, including:

    Improves sleep

    Sun exposure is one more way to help you reach the seven to nine hours of restful sleep you need. Natural sunlight helps the body produce melatonin, which tells your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to stay awake. In fact, getting out in the sunshine for half an hour or so first thing in the morning after you wake up can help keep your circadian rhythm in check. Maybe add a 30-minute walk to your morning routine. Not only will you sleep better but your energy will improve. If you watched the show about Early Morning Energy Boosters, you can add that one to the list!

    Improves mood

    That’s right – the sun is a natural mood elevator. Sunlight increases serotonin in the body and increased serotonin equals an improved mood. That’s why you might notice people seem happier in summer and sadder in winter, which ties in to the next point…

    Combats SAD

    SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder and most people experience it more during the winter months when the days are shorter and it’s dark by 5 p.m. But you can experience it at other times too, if you have a job that keeps you inside during most of the day. You might feel more depressed, you might not want to socialize as much, maybe you snack a bit more…You need more sunlight!

    Reduces stress

    Sunlight, when coupled with various other activities like outdoor sports, exercise, or socializing can actually work to reduce and alleviate stress.

    Now that we’ve established natural sunlight does have its benefits, we also know the disadvantages — especially the potential for getting skin cancer which can be terrifying.

    Let’s Talk About Skin Cancer

    Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer, and Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. These cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage the skin cells. They are most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds which triggers mutations or genetic defects. This lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. These tumors originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis.

    Melanomas often resemble moles, and some develop from existing moles. If you have moles, take note of where they are, and watch them over time.

    Signs of melanoma include:

    • A large brownish spot with darker speckles
    • A mole that changes in color, size or feel or that bleeds
    • A small lesion with an irregular border and portions that appear red, pink, white, blue or blue-black
    • A painful lesion that itches or burns

      Skin Cancer Risk Factors

      Obviously, excessive sun exposure increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Tanning, including tanning in a tanning booth or tanning bed also increases your risk of skin cancer.  But excess exposure to the sun and tanning are not the only risk factors to be aware of; other risk factors of skin cancer include:

      • Having fair skin. Anyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer. However, having less pigment (melanin) in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair and light-colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you're much more likely to develop skin cancer than people with darker skin are.
      • A history of sunburns. Having had one or more serious sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns in adulthood also are a risk factor.
      • Living in a sunny or high-altitude climates. People who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than are people who live in colder climates. Living at higher elevations, where the sunlight is strongest, also exposes you to more radiation.
      • Moles. People who have many moles or abnormal moles called dysplastic nevi are at increased risk of skin cancer. These abnormal moles — which look irregular and are generally larger than normal moles — are more likely than others to become cancerous. If you have a history of abnormal moles, watch them regularly for changes.
      • A family history of skin cancer. If one of your parents or a sibling has had skin cancer, you may have an increased risk of the disease.
      • A personal history of skin cancer. If you developed skin cancer once, you're at risk of developing it again.
      • A weakened immune system. People with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of developing skin cancer.

        Catch skin cancer early

        If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Should you develop skin cancer, finding it early, when it’s small and has not spread, makes skin cancer much easier to treat.

        Some doctors and other health care professionals include skin exams as part of routine health check-ups; if your doctor does not, ask if they will. Or find a dermatologist and get checked at least twice a year.

        Many doctors also recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. To self-check for skin cancer, look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.

        The ABCDE Rule

        Use the ABCDE rule to look for some of the common signs of skin cancer, including:

        • Asymmetry: One part of a mole or birthmark doesn’t match the other.
        • Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
        • Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
        • Diameter: The spot is larger than ¼ inch across – about the size of a pencil eraser, although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
        • Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

          Should you notice any of these signs, make sure you contact your doctor to have this checked out by a professional.

          On Suntanning

          Despite all of this, people still love to tan! Did you know that a tan is actually your skin's injury response to excessive UV radiation? When your skin darkens, it is actually trying to protect you from the damage caused by the rays of the sun!  

          But it’s also true that having a lovely glow to your skin can make you look vibrant and healthy, feels good, and can boost self-esteem, too. So what can we do?  We need sunlight to help us produce vitamin D, but tanning can be dangerous, and excessive exposure can result in skin cancer. Do we have any way to tan safely?

          A popular alternative to sunbathing is spray tanning

          But is it good for you?

          Just like catching some real rays, spray tanning has its benefits and it has its disadvantages. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

          Spray tanning can be really messy. It can come off on your clothing, sheets, and towels, which isn’t ideal. If you’re giving yourself a spray tan at home, prepare yourself to potentially cause damage to your sink and mirrors, as well. Have the bathroom cleaner ready!

          If you’re someone who doesn’t have even skin tones to begin with, chances are good your spray tan won’t look even, either. That being said, even skin tones or not, a spray tan will probably look more even than if you got a sunburn or missed a few spots with your sunscreen.

          Spray tanning can also be pricey and the expense to results ratio isn’t always great. Every day, we shed about 50 million dead skin cells. 50 million! Every month or so, we acquire a whole new epidermis, which is the outside layer of our skin. So you’re probably going to slough off your spray tan pretty quickly. They usually only last a few weeks tops, which is why a lot of people get them with a particular event in mind like a wedding or special occasion. If you do decide to go the spray tan route, it’s best to exfoliate prior to your visit. You might get more life out of it that way.

          Unfortunately, like time spent out in the sun, some people have linked spray tans to cancer, as well. While spray tans are free from ultraviolet rays, which are what cause skin cancer, they do contain chemicals, namely an ingredient called DHA.

          How spray tans work

          When we are exposed to sunlight, melanin, a pigment in our skin, darkens to a lovely gold or tan color. To manufacture that same effect artificially, DHA, which stands for dihydroxyacetone, binds with amino acids present in dead skin cells hanging out on the surface of the skin. This gives the appearance of a suntan within two to four hours of being applied. Spray tans are a fairly new thing, so research on DHA’s potentially harmful effects is lacking, but we should be leery about any chemical being applied directly to our skin. From there, it can go right into your bloodstream and cause inflammation, as well as cause potential damage to your organs and other systems within the body. We just don’t know that much about it at this time.

          Also, DHA isn’t approved for internal use by the Food and Drug Administration. This might not sound like a big issue, since spray tans go on the outside of your skin, but when you get a spray tan, the mist can settle on your lips, nose, and around your eyes, which are all highly sensitive areas with mucous membranes, meaning your mainlining DHA right into your bloodstream. Also, you’re inhaling the mist to some degree, and early findings suggest DHA could be linked to lung cancer, asthma, and COPD.

          DHA isn’t the only ingredient to worry about. A lot of spray tans contain fragrances. Also, they contain parabens, a preservative that comes with its own laundry list of negative side effects, including:

          • Skin rashes
          • Hormone disruption and imbalances
          • Allergic reactions

            According to Harvard Medical School, a recent study even found trace amounts of parabens in breast cancer tissue, however, there isn’t enough evidence to fully support a causal link between parabens and breast cancer.

            In addition to getting a spray tan for a big-time special event, a lot of people also get spray tans right before they go on vacation. If this is your plan, be warned: spray tans are not a substitute for sunscreen. You will still need to apply organic sunscreen once you get to your tropical locale.

            The benefits of spray tans

            When you get a spray tan, you’re instantly tan! You don’t have to spend hours in the sun and then play the guessing game of whether or not you got some nice, even sun coverage after you’ve ventured inside and showered.

            A tan of any kind just makes you feel good. There’s just something about having a little color that makes you feel happy and confident, and can even make you look in better shape too.

            Finally, you’re not exposed to harmful UV rays. This one is huge. Prolonged sun exposure can be so detrimental to your skin and to your health. Spray tanning immediately eliminates that.

            Wrap Up

            Spray tanning. Good for you or the lesser of two evils? Honestly, it’s your call. Getting a spray tan this summer before you take that vacation trip maybe better option if you must have a little summer glow. You can definitely see the benefits of choosing to get a spray tan over spending huge amounts of time out in the sun, just make sure you’re also aware of the potential risks.

            Some of the disadvantages we talked about include:

            • The main ingredient in spray tans, DHA, may cause cancer, as well as other conditions like skin rashes, asthma, and COPD.
            • Spray tans can be messy
            • They also don’t last very long

              However, there are a few benefits as well:

              • You don’t have to spend hours out in the sun to see results
              • There are no harmful, cancer-causing UV rays
              • Your self-esteem can get an instant boost from that beautiful, healthy glow

                Use your best judgment when embarking on any type of tanning journey, whether that be spending some time out in the sunlight or stepping into a spray tanning booth to get an instant glow.

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