Are self tanners safe? Making sense of the new research on DHA

The active ingredient in self-tanners and spray tans may cause DNA damage, according to a panel of scientists in an investigation done by ABC News. Here's what you need to know.

By Siobhan O’Connor for

Fans of fake tans may want to sit down for this.

Dihydroxyacetone—that’s DHA to you—which is the active ingredient in self-tanners (even clean ones) and spray tans (none of which are clean) “has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage,” according to a panel of scientists in an investigation done by ABC News.

Now before you run to the bathroom and ditch your Chocolate Sun, let’s take a closer look at what we know so far.

What are the news reports saying? That DHA has the potential to cause genetic alterations, DNA damage, and cancer.

What’s DHA anyway? DHA is a sugar that interacts with amino acids in the top layer of your skin to produce pigment called melanoidins; that’s the brownish tanned look these products achieve. DHA can be manufactured synthetically, or it can be derived from natural things, like beet sugar or cane sugar. It was approved by the FDA for topical use in 1977 (and many orange tans ensued!) and is widely accepted as nontoxic when applied to the skin.

So is it toxic? Keep reading to find out

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