The evolution of fake tan is music to the ears of every pale-skinned woman or man. From gradual tan, to instant, mousses to sprays, what seems like a healthy alternative to sun-beds, may not be as safe as once presumed. Fiona Hyland investigates...

What was once a product used to create a streaky, pumpkin-orange glow, that was as difficult to put on as it was to take off, is now an effortless process of going from pale to bronzed in a matter of minutes.

Since the 1920s, when we first saw the iconic Coco Chanel step off a boat in the South of France with a glowing bronzed skin tone, the Western World has become obsessed with recreating this “healthy glow”.

While many Irish people turn to sun beds for their “natural” tan, it is no wonder that skin cancer is Ireland’s most common form of cancer. And although spray tanning seems far less risky, we must treat it with caution. It comes as no surprise that Ireland has the highest rate of fake tan users in Europe, but at what cost? Are we really willing to risk our health for an unnatural glow?

The scientific community is becoming more and more concerned about the use of fake tans, and more specifically about one of the key ingredients in fake tan, DHA. It is this chemical, dihydroxyacetone, which reacts with the amino acids in our dead skin cells which produce the desired bronze colour.

While DHA is safe when used correctly and is virtually harmless when used on the outer epidermis of the skin, it can in fact be very harmful if it penetrates inside the body. Spray tans, or tanning booths involve a process in which you stand in a cubical with as little clothes on as you like while various nozzles spray a desired amount of tan on your body, depending on the level of brown you’re looking for. Unfortunately, while the booths are so small and have little ventilation, we often end up inhaling a lot of the chemicals in the fake tan. Not just this, but it can also get in our eyes and mouth.

While there is no conclusive evidence to confirm that DHA in such small concentrations is damaging to our health, scientists claim that the inhalation of DHA into our lungs can cause tumors, and ultimately lung cancer.

A study by American news station ABC News on the dangers of faking tan concludes that DHA has the potential to cause genetic alterations and can even harm our DNA if ingested. “[The chemical] compounds in some cells could actually promote the development of cancers or malignancies”, Dr. Rey Panettieri, a lung specialist and toxicologist, told ABC News.

Contrary to this belief, Eleanor O’Connor, from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association claims that, “in the EU, self-tan products are legally classified as cosmetics and the primary purpose of the cosmetic laws [are] to protect human safety.

“In particular, the use of DHA, in cosmetic products has been reviewed by the European independent committee of scientists, whose role it is to assess the safety of cosmetic ingredients and to advise the European Commission.” Ms O’Connor continues to say that, “this group of experts has looked at the use of DHA in cosmetic products, including the possibility of inhalation from self-tan sprays, and found that the use of DHA in cosmetic products and in spray cabins is safe and does not pose a risk to health.”

However it is not just inhaling our fake tan that causes concern. Beautician Ber Daly says, “I’ve been working with different spray tans for years. I have my own tanning booth in the salon which is very popular with women, especially coming up to a special occasion like a birthday party, or wedding, but often most women come in before they go away on a holiday.”

It’s a common misconception that fake tan contains SPF, which protects against the sun’s harmful UV rays, but this is certainly not the case. “I always warn my clients that they must use sun screen on top of their fake bake of a minimum factor 20 if out in the sun”, Ms Daly added.

If you’re hell bent on that summer-time glow, home tanning is definitely the safest option. Bottles of lotions and mousses, which are available from most pharmacies, will give you the desired effect with little or no harm to your health. You must bear in mind though that you must wear sun-block with SPF, if you intend to go out in the sun.

The Irish are a nation of fair-skinned, red heads. Our skin was never intended for the scorching sun of the Canary Islands. So what makes us so addicted to this unnatural colour?

Whatever the reason is, make sure you’re doing it the safest way possible. If you are intending in going for a streak-free spray tan, make sure to wear a protective eye mask. Keep your mouth closed, and try inhale as little as humanely possible.

Photo: Evil Erin/ Flickr