Spray-On Tans: Probably Not Safe!

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Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active chemical in spray tanners, has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage, according to a new study.

AND you get to look like Snooki? Where do we sign up?

An ABC News report, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, cited six medical experts in the fields of dermatology, toxicology and pulmonary medicine.

All "have concerns" after reviewing DHA, the chemical in popular "spray-on" tan products, which have conventionally been referred to as a "safe" alternative to the tanning beds beloved by Tanning Mom and her ilk.

Tan Snooki

None of the reviewed studies involved browsing our gallery of Snooki pictures, or any effects on actual human subjects, but it still raised red flags.

Specifically, researchers found that DHA altered genes of multiple types of cells and organisms when tested in different labs by different scientists.

After the chemical was approved for use in the consumer market, no less.

"I have concerns," said Dr. Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

"The reason is the deposition of the tanning agents into the lungs could facilitate or aid systemic absorption ... that is, getting into the bloodstream."

Panettieri, like all the experts ABC News consulted with, said more studies should be done. He emphasized the available scientific literature is limited.

Still, he said, he has seen enough to say warning signs exist.

"These compounds in some cells could actually promote the development of cancers or malignancies," he said, "and if that's the case we need to be wary of them."

The FDA originally approved DHA for "external" use back in 1977, when it was popular in tanning lotions. Those lotions, previously famous for turning skin orange, were never as popular as current products that produce better tans.

In recent years, the use of DHA has exploded in the newer "spray" application of the product, which provides a more even tan for consumers.

The FDA told ABC News it never could have envisioned the chemical's use in spray tan back in the 1970s, and says "DHA should not be inhaled or ingested" today.

It tells consumers on its website, "The use of DHA in 'tanning' booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the agency for review and evaluation."

The agency advises consumers who spray tan they are "not protected from the unapproved use of this color additive" if they are inhaling the mist.

The agency recommends, "Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation."

However, ABC News found some tanning salons offering consumers advice that directly conflicts with what the Food and Drug Administration has recommended.

In response to ABC News' findings, the tanning industry has announced it will launch a major national training initiative that will hit thousands of salons across the United States over the next few weeks.

However, in an attempt to see if that message was reaching consumers, ABC sent undercover cameras into a dozen randomly selected tanning salons in NYC ranging from a large corporate location to smaller mom-and-pop salons.

Every salon said spray tanning was completely "safe" with or without protective gear.

When asked, nine out of 12 salons did not have any eye covers in stock. Similarly, nine out of 12 salons did not have nose plugs in stock. Eleven out of 12 failed to have any protective gear for the mouth available.

However, even if salons had some of the gear in stock, every salon ABC News visited discouraged using it.

"You don't need it. You really don't need it," one salon employee said.

Except maybe you probably do.