The Oompa Loompa Generation

It may seem harsh to compare girls with orange skin to Willy Wonka’s industrious helpers but for many it has become an addiction – one that can be toxic.

We have all seen the instances of a spray tan gone wrong – that slightly burnt orange colour and the uneven patches but could you give it up?

For some, this is a big ask. It may even seem like a huge over-reaction to a harmless activity. Plenty of people do it so what is the problem?

The main ingredient of spray tans is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) – not to be confused with the essential and healthy omega 3 fat DHA. This is considered to be a harmless colour additive made from a simple carbohydrate sugar solution.

DHA itself is not a dye, stain or paint but it produces the tanned appearance by causing a chemical reaction with the amino acids in the dead layer of the skin surface. This is why spray tans are short-lived – usually the skin sheds within 5-7 days.

DHA is not a new chemical – it has been listed with the Food and Drug Administration since 1973. Its approval rating however is limited to external use only. This is significant because they is currently no information about the risks associated with ingestion or absorption of DHA.

A Tan in a Pill

Another sunless-tanning product is a tanning pill that contains Canthaxanthin, which is most commonly used as a color additive in certain foods.

Although the TGA has approved the use of canthaxanthin in food, it does not approve its use as a tanning agent. When used as a color additive, only very small amounts of Canthaxanthin are necessary.

As a tanning agent, however, much larger quantities are used. After canthaxanthin is consumed, it is deposited throughout the body, including in the layer of fat below the skin, which turns an orange-brown colour.

These types of tanning pills have been linked to various side effects, including hepatitis and canthaxanthin retinopathy, a condition in which yellow deposits form in the retina of the eye.

These pills are easily accessible over the internet and are not regulated in any way.

Are The TGA Protecting Us?

In one word – no.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration are the guys that decide what medicines we can and can’t have in Australia.They are strict in their clarification that DHA be only used for topical, external applications and is not to be in contact with lips, eyes or any mucous membrane.

There is currently no law regulating the application of spray tans so these recommendations may or may not be adopted by your local salon. And how many of you are this vigilant when applying it at home?

So far, the reported side effects or reactions of spray tanning are limited to contact dermatitis, dizziness and feeling faint.

The issue with fake tans may not necessarily be due to the possible effects of DHA and Canthaxanthin but rather the additional chemicals in the spray formula. Up to 45 ingredients can be listed on commercial or personal spray tanning solutions. Some of these “added extras” may not be quite so innocuous.

Chemical fragrances can trigger asthma and then there are the added parabens.

Parabens are chemical preservatives that can exert an oestrogenic effect on the body. This means that these chemicals mimic your body’s own hormones thereby disrupting normal signalling.

Oestrogen can stimulate the development of breast cancer and some studies have concluded that ester-bearing forms of parabens are found in cancer tumours.

The effects of chemical overload are fast becoming the pandemic of the 21st century. The jury is still out on the extent of the effects but if you can minimise exposure to some obvious culprits wouldn’t you do so?

The benefit of hindsight is worth acknowledging here. We nowadays shake our heads with disbelief that Elizabethan women used a lead-based powder to maintain a white, translucent appearance. They were not aware of the effects of lead and its risk of premature death.

It actually seems quite ridiculous to voluntarily poison yourself for the sake of fashion and beauty. But have we actually learnt that lesson?

The emergence of the sun tan as a key fashion accessory is often attributed to Coco Chanel and her infamous return from a sailing trip sporting a bronzed appearance. We are so programmed to associate tanned skin with better health.

Tanning, is however, not a sign of health but rather a sign of skin damage. But instead of accepting this, we just look for a “safer” way to get the summer glow.

What will future generations think of our need to look tanned? And just like lead poisoning from make-up seems so shocking to us now, what will be the ultimate effects of the spray tan?


E-meds Comment

Isn’t it funny how Western society thinks that having darker skin makes us appear more healthy. This is a stark contrast to other countries around the world.

In eastern parts of Asia, including Southeast Asia, a preference for lighter skin remains prevalent. In ancient China and Japan, for example, pale skin can be traced back to ancient drawings depicting women and goddesses with fair skin tones.

In modern day China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, pale skin is still seen as a sign of wealth. Thus, skin whitening cosmetic products are popular in East Asia.

4 out of 10 women surveyed in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea used a skin-whitening cream, and more than 60 companies globally compete for Asia’s estimated $18 billion market.

So Caucasian women are trying to get darker skin and Asian women are trying to lighten their skin – what a strange world we live in!

Safe Option?

While it may seem the “safer” option, spray tanning does not actually offer any real health benefits. Safe exposure to moderate amounts of sun is essential for our vitamin D production.

Vitamin D deficiencies are now linked to many health concerns – the onset of breast cancer, mood imbalances, low immunity, cardiovascular risk and poor bone formation.

No one can dispute how good we feel when exposed to some sunlight. Spray tanning does not offer you the same benefit.

Click here to find out your Vitamin D levels.

Chemical Overload

This century has seen the onset of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). The industrial movement post World War II saw the rise of chemical manufacture.

An insidious condition, MCS can produce a range of physical and emotional symptoms caused by exposure to the vast array of chemicals in our environment.

More and more people are being affected – some with seemingly minor complaints (headaches, fatigue) to those who must remain isolated to avoid crippling symptoms.

The most effective way to manage this exposure is to restrict or avoid using chemicals as part of your health regime. In fact, as quoted by Safe Cosmetics in 2009:

“Almost 80% of around 10,000 ingredients currently used by cosmetic companies have never been tested to determine health risks.”

Would you willingly cover yourself in chemicals knowing there is potential for harm?


Let your skin breathe

Our skin is an amazing organ. Not only is it the largest organ of our body but it acts as our protector, it keeps our body temperature stable and stores essential fats and water.

It is also part of our excretory system – one of 6 organs responsible for clearing out the wastes so that our body can maintain its balance and not become burdened.

The skin is consequently a reflection of our internal state of health. No amount of spray tanning will compensate for an unhealthy body.

Dull, flaky, blemished, reactive skin is an indicator that we are not adequately removing waste products from our internal environment.

The key to healthy skin and therefore a healthy glow is to eat well, exercise, keep hydrated and reduce the opportunity for wastes to accumulate.