Spray tans can certainly offer a just-back-from-the beach glow in the time it takes to pack for a weekend down the Shore, but don’t strip to your skivvies blindly. DihydroxyAcetone (DHA), the chemical in sprays and other sunless tanners that temporarily stains the outer layer of your skin, is only FDA-approved under certain circumstances. “DihydroxyAcetone is safe to use on the skin because it isn’t absorbed by the skin,” says Stuart Lessin, a Top Doctor and director of dermatology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center. “However, you want to make sure you avoid contact with mucus membranes, like your eyes, lips, and mouth, and don’t inhale it or breathe it in. If you get enough in your mouth it would basically be like drinking nail polish.” Of course, if you’ve ever been in one of those tiny spray-tan booths, the most protection you often have is how long you can hold your breath and how tight you can squeeze your eyes shut.
But if you’re a week away from a wedding or another big event and can’t stand the thought of baring your winter-white skin, make sure to ask if the salon is taking precautions to keep you safe before you book an application, and don’t forget to slather on sun block afterwards. “Just because you look bronzed doesn’t mean you won’t burn readily,” warns Lessin. “Spray tans are basically body makeup and they have zero sun protection. And at least one study suggests that DHA may make the skin more sensitive to sun radiation up to a day after application.”