8News Investigates: How Do Local Salons Make Spray Tanning Safe?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — There were plenty of stars Sunday night at the Oscars with glows that probably weren’t natural. Chances are the celebs got spray tans! It’s a popular way to get bronzed. But is it safe?

8News investigative reporter Amanda Malkowski went to find out what local salons are doing to protect customers from the dangers of spray tanning.

Sydney Brown tans regularly and says, “I definitely like to keep my glow. I get it once a week.”

Spray tanning salons, like Bombshell, are all over Central Virginia.

“We definitely see spikes around events when people want to come in and get that customized, sun kissed look on and airbrush,” says Bombshell CEO Scott Black.

Spray tanning is not magic, though. The pigment actually comes from a chemical known as DHA.

“What it does is basically causes an interaction with the superficial layer of the skin that is causing the browning pigmentation,” Alex Ortega, Associate Professor of Dermatology at VCU, says.

The active ingredient in the mist is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but only for use on the skin. It should not be used around the eyes, mouth, nose or inhaled.

“There has been some debate in the last couple years saying they might cause lung cancer,” said Ortega.

8News reached out to the FDA and was told the agency has concerns because the industry has not thoroughly tested the chemical for use in these areas.

It recommends visiting salons that provide eye covers, nose plugs, lip balm, protective undergarments and a good ventilation system

8News went undercover to see if other local salons are going the distance to protect you from inhaling the potentially harmful chemical.

Out of the six salons we investigated, three had nose plugs and eye covers available for free. Two had them for purchase.

An employee for South Beach Tan and Body in Richmond flat out told 8News investigative reporter Amanda Malkowski that she didn’t need them. The owner told 8News that eye covers and nose plugs are available upon request. At Palm Beach tan in Carytown, an employee told Amanda that she wouldn’t wear them.  The employee went on to say that there wasn’t a ventilation system.

Some estheticians like Melissa Black at Bombshell says that more needs to be done.

“There’s nothing. There’s absolutely no regulations,” Black says. “I feel like it does need to be regulated. I wouldn’t have a problem with it being regulated.”

8News reached out to South Beach Tan and Body and Palm Beach Tan but did not get a response.

Conclusion? If you’re going for a glow that you can get in minutes, do your research. Doctors say with proper protections, spray tans are safer than tanning beds.

“You are not getting exposed to the UVA and UVB radiation.”

There has also been debate about whether spray tans are safe for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant and considering getting a glow, talk to your doctor.

Here are the results of our investigation:

Sun Tan City, Midlothian Turnpike

Had: Nose Plugs, Eye Covers, Protective Undergarments (All For Purchase), Vent System

Palm Beach Tan, Carytown

Had: Nose Plugs, Eye Covers, Disposable Undergarment (for Purchase)

Didn’t Have: Vent System

South Beach Tan & Body, Richmond

Had: Fans In The Room,

Eye Covers And Nose Plugs available upon request

Bombshell, 3 Locations

Had: Nose Plugs, Eye Covers, Protective Undergarments And Vent System

Sugar Mist Sunless Tanning, Short Pump

Had: Fan, Eye Covers, Nose Plugs

Didn’t Have: Protective Undergarments

Island Glow Spray Tanning, Powhatan

Had: Told I Could Get Nose Plugs And Eye Covers By Request

Didn’t Have: Vent System, But Says Tanning Done In Open Room

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