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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

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In Living Commentary

What's the safest way to get some rays?

"Tanning Mom" territory


It's Skin Cancer Awareness Week on OnMilwaukee.com, dedicated to the memory of our colleague, Tim Cuprisin, who died of melanoma last fall. Melanoma kills 9,100 Americans each year, but together, we can beat it. All week long, we're bringing you survivor stories, prevention plans and breakthroughs to make skin cancer a disease of the past. We've also set up a fund in memory of Tim and urge you to donate here. Skin Cancer Awareness Week is sponsored by the Dermatology Associates of Wisconsin. Enjoy the Milwaukee summer, but be safe and smart in the sun!

Opening the door to venture outside has become like having to face an enemy in the midst. That flaming ball of hot plasma that sits perched in the sky, the brightest star that shines light on us each day and the source of warmth and enjoyment this time of year, has become a trouble causer of all sorts.

I question whether I am exiting at the proper window of "safe" sun time, if I have slathered the appropriate non-toxic protectant on and whether a faux glow is truly a better alternative to a tan produced by the rays of the sun.

As a reformed sun worshiper, former tanning bed abuser and licensed esthetician who has offered spray tanning as a beauty service in the past, it's not exactly surprising that I would be conscious of the risks and consequences of too much sun exposure.

So, when Andy Tarnoff asked me to write a piece on spray tanning for OnMilwaukee's Skin Cancer Awareness Week, I was both inspired and a little conflicted about writing it.

I had just been alerted of a new FDA warning regarding DHA, the chemical in spray tan solution that causes the darkening of the top layers of skin, developing the temporary bronzed glow so many have turned to as a "safe" option to the sun or tanning beds.

DHA was originally approved for external use back in the '70s, but according to an ABC news expose, "The FDA told ABC News it never could have envisioned the chemical's use in spray tan back in the 1970s, and says 'DHA should not be inhaled or ingested' today. It tells consumers on its website, 'The use of DHA in 'tanning' booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the agency for review and evaluation.'"

The issue is that, although spray tans seem like they are just a topical treatment, the solution is unintentionally inhaled by both the technician and the client during the treatment. Because the gun is omitting an arced spray of the solution, the DHA can get into your body through any open orifice or exposed mucus membrane. It doesn't take a genius to surmise that the solution is going to be inhaled by both technician and client during the spray tanning process.

Just think of the protective mask and nose plugs most spray tan technicians wear or should be wearing. I can attest to finding solution in my nose and ears after doing just one spray tan. More often than not, the client is not wearing any nose, eye or mouth protection for consistency of the tan. I never allowed for spray tanning of pregnant women because of this inhalation issue and the relative newness of the procedure.

So, what exactly is the concern of inhaling or ingesting DHA?

According to medical experts consulted by ABC News, "None of the reviewed studies tested on actual human subjects, but some found DHA-altered genes of multiple types of cells and organisms when tested in different labs by different scientists after the chemical was approved for use in the consumer market."

Specifically, Dr. Rey Panettieri, a toxicologist and lung specialist at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine says, "The reason I'm concerned is the deposition of the tanning agents into the lungs could really facilitate or aid systemic absorption – that is, getting into the bloodstream."

Panettieri, like all the experts ABC News consulted, said more studies should be done."

Yikes.

Another blow to being bronze for us pale folk.

After my initial reaction of "I will never receive or bestow a spray tan again," I have come to the personal conclusion that like most fun things with hypothesized detrimental penalties, if one chooses to indulge, it should probably be in moderation.

It will have to be one very special occasion for me to get spray tanned again.

And, in terms of regular sun exposure? I like the school that suggests getting 10-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure two to four times a week to maintain proper Vitamin D levels and get a bit of a natural glow.

Then, with all of the hubbub about sunscreen itself being toxic and the new FDA guidelines for "Broad Spectrum," for the rest of my play in the sunshine, I try to choose a mineral-based sunscreen (preferably one that omits oxybenzone or nano particles) from SPF 15 up to SPF 50.

But, listen – if all I've got is an aerosol can that contains all of the above, I will spray it liberally to avoid what, in my opinion, is the most dangerous effect of too much sun exposure – a nasty, day-glo red, blistering burn.

Going back to being asked to write this piece, after my original reaction, I suddenly had this overwhelming notion of "why can't we just embrace the shade of whatever we were born with?"

Overcoming the desire to alter the physical aesthetic is certainly a personal challenge for this fitness, nutrition, fashion and beauty product-obsessed blogger. But, when these fun pursuits begin to negatively invade our health, I have to question whether it's worth it to use all of these compounds / chemicals, naturally derived or not, to darken / lighten the complexion, lengthen the lashes, firm the skin, obliterate wrinkles, color the hair, etc., for some temporary illusion that may or may not have long-term health effects.

I also reflect on our limited time to have fun in the sun (literally – I'm talking about your life span here) and go back to the old adage of "everything in moderation." Occasional use of tanning products, if you so choose, and spending a sensible amount of time in the natural sun (both protected and unprotected) all year long should stop any of us from venturing into "Tanning Mom" territory.

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