Spray Tanning May Not Be the Best Way to Glow If You're Pregnant or Breastfeeding

tan pregnant belly
Everybody knows that getting an actual tan is super bad for you (sun damage, skin cancer, etc.). But everybody still wants to rock a bronzed body when they're on the beach (thanks, Kardashians!). That's why spray tans are all the rage these days -- but are they safe? And what about if you're pregnant or nursing?

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Recently I decided I might give spray tanning a shot -- after all, even if I ended up looking more like Donald Trump than Khloe Kardashian, it would only last a couple of weeks, right? But as I started researching potential salons, I came across something troubling: Some salons refuse to give spray tans to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (I fall into the latter category) unless they present a letter from their physician giving permission for the procedure. Yikes, why?!

At first, I was confused (didn't breastfeeding mom Chrissy Teigen just get a spray tan?), but then I remembered the unfortunate tale of the breastfeeding mom whose spray tan rubbed off on her unsuspecting baby's face (see the resulting viral photo here). I definitely don't want my son getting a contact terracotta tinge, so I decided to stick with my ghostly pallor, at least for now.

But it got me thinking: Are spray tans really safe? Particularly if you're pregnant, nursing, or even trying to conceive?

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To find out, I consulted Reynold A. Panettieri, Jr., MD, director of Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science. Dr. Panettieri has spoken out in the past about the potential complications associated with inhaling dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active ingredient in spray tans. (When DHA combines with the amino acids in your skin, it causes a topical browning reaction.)  

"When DHA was initially approved, it was a topical compound, and it was demonstrated to be safe when used in that format," Dr. Panettieri tells CafeMom. "The problem came when it was aerosolized ... Whether or not there are consequences to inhaling it wasn't tested."

The question of DHA's safety in spray form caused the FDA to issue a warning, and also led to protective measures being put in place for spray tan technicians (it was determined that those at greatest potential risk were those with repeated exposures). 

"If it's a one and done kind of thing, I think the likelihood for toxicity is very low," says Dr. Panettieri. "Where I get concerned is when you're having repetitive exposures. What's the consequence of weekly spray tans? We don't really know. DHA molecules bind to dead skin and the DNA of dead skin, but if there are any dead skin components in the lungs, for example, it could potentially bind to them."

That doesn't sound good. And when it comes to how inhaled DHA might affect a fetus or nursing baby, Panettieri says, there's literally "zero information" (topical use of DHA while pregnant is thought to be safe). So what's the bottom line on spray bronzing for new moms and moms-to-be?

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"My recommendation is if you're going to get spray tanned, do it sparingly, avoid inhalation as much as possible, or use topical tanning rather than aerosol until after you deliver," says Dr. Panettieri.

"Is it completely safe? Well, nothing's ever completely safe. But it has to be taken into context. If we look at risk, the first trimester is often where there's the greatest potential, and that extends into the period of time when women don't know they're pregnant yet. So if you're really anticipating trying to get pregnant, I would limit exposure to any kind of toxins during that time period."

Professionals like "spray tanner to the stars" Jimmy Coco agrees. Spray tanning is "not recommended during first trimester," Coco tells CafeMom. 
 
And even after first trimester, Coco says to avoid spray tan on mucous membranes. "I recommend wearing panties and eye goggles for protection. It may be best to avoid spraying the face altogether to avoid contact with the inner eyes," he says. "I always recommend wearing nose filters also. Wearing a mask during pregnancy is also a good idea."
   
Personally, I've resigned myself to another summer of feeling self-conscious in shorts. But if I do someday decide to go ahead and faux glow, I'll still follow these recommendations (even if I'm not nursing or pregnant). Better safe than sorry!
 
 
 
Image via iStock.com/mirelabella
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