ATLANTA -- There are new questions being raised about the safety of self tanning, specifically, the main ingredient that colors the skin. It's called di-hydroxy-acetone or DHA.
DHA is found in almost every self tanning cream and lotion made, but the concern is when it is used during spray tanning.
The FDA approved DHA in the late 1970s for external use only and said it should not be injested or used on mucous membranes like the mounth, nasal cavity and eyes.
11Alive Medical Correspondent Dr. Sujatha Reddy said the idea that during a spray tan inside a booth the product could end up being inhaled is cause for concern.
"It appears to be safe, but there are some studies that in animals DHA did show some altered mutations in the DNA, which can lead to cancer, so I think there should be more studies done," Dr. Reddy said.
The FDA is aware of those studies and has released several recommendations that customers avoid getting DHA in their eyes, mouths and other mucous membranes.
Those recommendations are happily passed along at a number of local tanning salons, including Hollywood Tans.
Manager Kelly Cheesborough has the FDA recommendations posted outside each spray tanning booth and sells mouth guards, nose plugs and protective eye guards.
"We absolutely respect the recommendations from the FDA, but they are only recommendations not laws," Cheesborough said. "We offer a waiver that explains what DHA is and believe it is completely safe."
Hollywood Tans and the leading makers of spray tan cabins point to a 2010 study by the European Commission that concluded di-hydroxy-acetone "does not pose a risk to the health of the consumer."
With limited studies in the U.S., Dr. Reddy is inclined to agree at this point.
"This is definitely a new use for DHA, and we need to do more research, but at this point I think it is safe in limited amounts and the right settings," she said. "It is probably OK for people to continue spray tanning, but it's probably not meant to be done in excess."
A number of dermatologists 11Alive News contacted are quick to add that achieving a tan using lotions or sprays is still much safer than sunbathing outdoors.