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I’m an old millennial so one of my greatest shames is that I went to the tanning bed in the early 2000s. But at that time, folks did anything — even risk getting skin cancer — for golden brown skin. Now that we’re much more knowledgeable about the risks, most people opt for one of the dozens of stellar faux tanning products on the market instead. But it seems some are still trying risky products in search of their ideal skin tone. On TikTok, tanning nasal spray has gone viral. Yes, folks are spraying a solution up their nose that promises tan skin. But is it safe to use? And how does it work?
We chatted with New York-based dermatologist, Dr. Whitney Bowe to get to the bottom of this quite concerning trend. “Unfortunately, nasal sprays that promote tanning ‘from within’ simply don’t have enough science demonstrating safety for me to get behind them,” she says. “When you stimulate melanin production, you are basically tickling and stimulating your melanin-producing cells, called melanocytes, to pump out pigment. Theoretically, you could actually overstimulate one of those cells in such a way that it actually encourages a tumor to form, such as melanoma.” Eek!
Dr. Bowe recommends staying away from these sprays until they go through rigorous safety testing. There are a few other huge red flags she sees with the brand Permatan specifically. First, the brand claims the formula works even better with sun exposure, responding to a comment on TikTok: “It works equally well with natural artificial UV so they can be used with tanning beds.”
“Encouraging deliberate sun exposure, or tanning bed use, is a big ‘no’ in my book!” Dr. Bowe says. “UV rays from the sun or from a tanning bed not only promote skin cancer, but they also promote accelerated aging. There’s also the misconception that a ‘base tan’ can protect you from getting burned. Whether you burn or tan in the sun, either one is a sign of DNA damage that can increase your risk of skin cancer and premature aging down the road.”
Dr. Bowe also has concerns over the way the formula is administered. “The mucous membranes in your nose allow for absorption into the bloodstream and puts you at risk for systemic side effects,” she says. “I’ve heard reports of people experiencing nausea, hives and even fluctuating libido as a result of using these sprays.” And then there’s the fact that your skin is supposed to stay tan for years?! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“No tan should persist for years,” says Dr. Bowe. “The whole website seems suspicious and I don’t know that I trust the ingredient list.”
Instead, she recommends using topical self-tanning creams and lotions that contain DHA (dihydroxyacetone) instead. “We know that when DHA is rubbed onto the skin, it stains the skin superficially and is considered safe,” she says. Some of my favorite brands include Jergens, St. Tropez, Tan-Luxe and Isle of Paradise. Or you can remember all skin is good skin and you don’t have to be a certain level of tan to be pretty.