DHA-Spray and Sunless "Tanning" Booths

Medical Author: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Medical Editor: Frederick Hecht, M.D.

Tans continue to be popular, especially with people who naturally have light colored skin. A rich, bronze-colored tan can not only be cosmetically flattering, it can evoke a sun-filled vacation spent at the beach or, in winter, on the ski slopes. But given the fact that exposure to the tanning rays of the sun is accompanied by skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer, these days many people are opting for "sunless" tans.

What is DHA?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most effective sunless tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the active ingredient. DHA is a colorless chemical (it is derived from glycerin) that interacts with the amino acids in dead skin cells to produce a brown color change. Since these dead skin cells are constantly being shed, the color change produced by DHA usually lasts about five to seven days.

DHA is not absorbed through the skin into the body and it has no known toxicity. DHA was first discovered by the Germans in the late 1920's when DHA spilled on the skin produced a brown color. DHA has been listed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1973, and has been used in cosmetic preparations for almost 30 years.

What is a DHA-spray "tanning" booth?

In commercial spray "tanning" booths, consumers receive an application of DHA in the form of a mist or spray. Is it safe to be sprayed with a product containing DHA? There is no evidence to suggest that DHA is not safe. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) authorizes the regulation of color additives, including their uses and restrictions. DHA is listed in these regulations as a color additive for use in imparting color to the human body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014