The One Ingredient You Don't Want To See In Your Tanning Lotion

To quote the Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association, "The public has been warned for years about the dangers of ultraviolet (UV) exposure from natural sunlight and tanning beds due to the increased risk of developing skin cancer." Just about everyone knows that laying under the sun or booking time in a tanning bed increases their risk for skin cancer. It's part of what drives the market for sunless tanners and at-home bronzing products.

These products come with risks, however. Some may assume that if they offer tanning properties, they also provide sun protection. But as the American Cancer Society points out, many of them don't. If they do offer sun protection, the effects only last a few hours, and possibly less if the person ventures into the water.

Of course, people determined to get their golden glow are likely to dismiss the issue of missing sunblock by applying a second product. And as long as they're not laying out, they can still tan without hurting their skin. While that may be the assumption, sunless tanning lotion has harmful side effects that link to one specific ingredient.

The risky ingredient in tanning lotion

Reading the ingredients on tanning lotion might seem like a crash course in chemistry. And, to a degree, it is. Identifying all the chemicals and knowing their functions requires a fair bit of research. But there is one ingredient that should tell just about anyone to put the bottle back on the shelf, and it's incredibly common.

According to the American Cancer Association, dihydroxyacetone — also known as DHA — is an FDA-approved additive. But as the Journal of the Dermatology Nurses' Association (JDNA) states, the FDA has only approved DHA for external application and did not test an aerosolized form. However, this has not stopped many tanning salons from offering DHA-based spray tans. There is little chance a person can get a spray tan and not inhale some of the tanning solution, opening them up for unforeseen complications.

The JDNA suggests other reasons why DHA is a chemical you don't want in your tanning lotion. They urge medical researchers to investigate DHA further, suggesting the chemical causes a reaction when it interacts with the amino acids on a person's skin that can damage their DNA.