Spray-on tanning catching on as a safer alternative

Standing without clothes and wearing a hairnet in a blue plastic box might not be the ideal place to get a tan.

But spray-on tanning is a worthwhile option for some trying to avoid the risks associated with traditional tanning.

Although the risk of ultraviolet rays has caused some tanning enthusiasts to try this alternative method of bronzing, not everyone agrees it is entirely safe.

An average of five to 10 customers per week use Mystic Tan – a spray-on tanning machine – at Neon Sun in Stadium Village, owner Tommy Van said.

“Mystic Tan is a UV-alternative to tanning,” Van said. “It will make you darker than regular tanning.”

According to a Federal Trade Commission report, ultraviolet rays from sunbathing and tanning beds have been linked to malignant melanoma.

“All tanning is damage to the skin,” said Dr. Kimberly Bohjanen, assistant clinical professor of dermatology. “A half hour in a tanning bed is equal to one day at the beach.”

Mystic Tan technology – one spray-on technique – uses three compounds: a bronzer, aloe vera and a chemical called dihydroxyacetone.

“The compound is 70 percent aloe vera, the bronzer makes you tan right now and (dihydroxyacetone) dyes the skin and gradually gets darker in between three and 14 hours,” Van said.

After a minute of a warm mist of product spraying from cone-shaped nozzles, a spray-on tan begins working.

Lauren Rogers, a psychology student, said she prefers traditional tanning beds, but she uses spray-on tanning for an immediate effect.

Despite its ease and reportedly safe use for the skin, spray-on tanning is not without concern.

A June 2003 Food and Drug Administration report states dihydroxyacetone should not be inhaled or come in contact with eyes and the mouth.

Amy Johnson, public affairs specialist at the FDA’s Minneapolis district office, said studies are inconclusive on the effects dihydroxyacetone has on internal ingestion, but it has only been approved for external use.

But Mystic Tan Inc. maintains the chemical is safe.

“Dihydroxyacetone has been used as a diet supplement in sports nutrition and is noncarcinogenic,” a Mystic Tan pamphlet states. “Testing has further shown that dihydroxyacetone is less toxic than aspirin, caffeine and even common table salt.”

Van said he knows of no one who has been hurt by Mystic Tan.

“Everybody who has done it has been very happy with it,” he said.

Rogers said she prefers the spray-on technique because it gives her better color than a tanning bed.

While dermatologists such as Bohjanen urge people, especially young people, to avoid indoor tanning and wear sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher while in direct sunlight, tanning advocates such as Van recommend moderation.

“If you eat too much fast food, you’ll get fat. If you drink too much, you’ll become an alcoholic,” Van said. “It’s healthy to tan in moderation.”