I have a client who is allergic to Spray on Sunless, self-tanner products – what can I do?

There is no one “best” product to use in this situation.

It depends on which ingredient(s) your client is reacting to.

Normally when a person has a rash, irritation or other reaction related to sunless tanning use, they automatically think they are “allergic” to the self-tanning agent DHA in the product, or the product is just “bad”, or inferior quality, and another “better” brand will work with no issues.

Neither of this are completely accurate assessments. Until they involve their Dermatologist, who can move forward with Allergy ingredient skin prick testing of individual ingredients, it would be impossible to know exactly what is the specific cause of the client reaction. (which specific ingredients are involved)

It could be an individual ingredient, or a combo of assorted products when used together. Or it could be something else, such as medications or dietary changes, or changes in their individual hormonal levels, body chemistry or other unknown factors.

How Common are DHA Allergies/Sensitivities?

Cosmetic allergies are rather rare overall, though the numbers are slowly increasing with increased cosmetic and body care product use, and better documentation. Studies have shown that cosmetic ingredient sensitivities account for about 2% to 10% of reaction types. Meaning, in the overall general population, somewhere in the range of 2% to 10% of people, will experience some form of cosmetic related allergy at some point in their entire lifetime.

The variance relates to different study conditions in relation to overall group size, genetic makeup (some genetic groups have higher sensitivity levels), group type (was this a large general group, or was this study done on only clients who visited the Dermatologist with a problem) and biological sex. (Females have higher reactive rates, as females use more skincare and body care products daily)

Per current medical literature, reports average with a sensitivity range of 2%-3% overall, which seems to be a good average in healthy general populations with a wide mixture of genetics, and environmental exposure levels.

But is DHA the problem?

Many people wrongly guess that the sunless tanning ingredient DHA is the most common offender, because the reaction occurs, when the product applied is a self-tanning product. But many times, DHA is not the cause.

I have personally spoken to many people on the phone who swear up and down they KNOW they are reacting to the DHA in a product.  And they want to purchase a DHA Free self-tanning product (which does not exist, unless they mean a temporary cosmetic bronzer only product such as a DHA Free Training Solution.)

Here is an example of a recent phone call I had with a very nice lady, concerned with purchasing a spray tanning solution.

She loves the sunless tan look on her skin, but she can’t use sunless tanners. She is highly sensitive (in her words “allergic”) to DHA, and cannot use any product with it. She’s tried them all (she says, and believes)

However, she does have one special product, she purchases exclusively from France, that is advertised as the ONLY “DHA Free” sunless tanner on the market, and the tan lasts 5 plus days on her skin, with a lovely med dark color. It fades and acts like any sunless tanner, without causing a reaction on her skin.

She loves this product, it works perfectly for her, and her tan lasts a good week after showering, But she knows its DHA FREE as the product marketing notes this very clearly, on the bottle verbiage, marketing material, website etc. The ingredients information on the website, appears to also reflect a DHA FREE product.

She has looked at the label and she confirmed it is 100% DHA and Dihydroxyacetone free. It is also Erythrulose free.  (so she believes) We go over the label on the phone, and she confirms these ingredients are not there.

I ask her to email me a photo of the product label – and DHA is indeed in this product, at about a 6% level.

But was written in a chemical name nomenclature, she did not recognize.  So, her DHA FREE product was being falsely advertised as such. She was purchasing it at an exorbitant price, and paying about $100 an order in shipping, to import the product for her personal use.

I have had calls like this many times, different clients, but similar types of stories.

So, in these cases, these clients are NOT allergic to DHA. But if you had asked them earlier, they would have confirmed they are indeed allergic to DHA, and cannot use it.

There are certainly people that are truly reactive to DHA, but the numbers tend to be much smaller than many people believe. Often close to 1-2% of all cosmetic related reactions can be tied to DHA.

However, if you go just by message board comments, assumptions based on internet comments etc, it sounds like many people are allergic, or sensitive to DHA. But rather, those are the people talking about it. If you don’t have a sensitivity, you normally would not be making a comment about this issue.

The “quality” of the DHA does not relate to the chance of sensitivity. Though a product with a higher DHA percentage will be more likely to cause a reaction on a client who is DHA sensitive, than a product with a lower percentage of DHA.  But the client is still sensitive, the reaction is just less noticeable. However this  severity will often increase with repeated  exposure, time passage, age.

People with ingredient sensitivities can react to many different ingredients, or ingredient families; and every person will not react to the exact same ingredients.


So, which Cosmetic Ingredients should we avoid?

Cosmetic ingredients reactions (including all variety of ingredients used in all cosmetic and body care products) appear in about 2%-10% of the general population.

The #1 most common Ingredient people react to are Fragrances, which can be anywhere from 1-16% of the general population, depending on exposure levels, genetic heritage etc.

Fragrances, preservatives, and certain Specific Dyes are the most common reactive ingredients overall, in all cosmetics and skincare products.

These are followed closely by plant extracts, most commonly seen in the form of specific essential oils. (organic and non-organic are equally as reactive, since the client is reacting to that plant family’s extracts, and its biological make-up, that make up the plant “substance” at a cellular level, not the “type” of farming practices, nor products used in its growth history.)

Even a very gentle of mild Plant ingredient can cause a reaction.

Some people (though rare) may react to Aloe Vera, for example. This is a common, soothing, and  recognized gentle extract, safe to use even on irritated and abraded skin. And is used to treat skin irritations, and wounds. It is not considered irritating. But any product containing Aloe can be a problem for this client.

Aloe Vera in any form, whether synthetic lab cultured, natural based, or natural, organic based Aloe Vera, could still cause a reaction in this client.

Clients with skin conditions, that create enhanced sensitivity, such as Eczema, Psoriasis, Acne etc will be more likely to have a hyper sensitivity reaction to any skin care products applied to the skin surface, due to the skins current health and vulnerability. Fragile skin is going to be more prone to a reaction when anything is applied to its surface.

Cross reaction is common when dealing with plant extracts. This is when you are sensitive to one plant type, but also react to other plants with-in that plants family, or of a similar type.

A client with latex sensitivities may also react to avocado, banana, chestnut, kiwi fruit, passion fruit, plum, strawberry and tomato fruits.

Those who react to Ragweed, may also react to Chamomile, and Daisy plant family extracts

These are just a few examples, an Allergist would be the best source to advise a client on what plants and plant family’s to avoid after appropriate testing.

I only use only Natural or Organic ingredients, I should not have this problem.

People often think if they only use Natural or Organic ingredients they will not have allergy concerns. But this is not how the body works.

In the example above, Aloe Vera in any form, whether synthetic lab cultured, natural based, or natural, organically grown Aloe Vera, could still cause a reaction in this client. The body is reacting the unique and individual chemical structure of the plants “make-up”.

Whether Natural, Synthetic Lab Created,  or Organic Natural Sourced, the chemical components’  (the microscopic bits and structures  that make up each cell within the plant) of the Aloe Vera plant (which the body is reacting to) have not changed.  The human body sees synthetic, natural, or organically grown Aloe Vera as the same chemical building blocks or parts. Its still just “Aloe Vera Plant”

It (the human body) does not “see” any differences in the individual “bits” that make up the plants structure, which the body breaks down to absorb.

The human body (and the immune system, which is what is reacting to the plants chemistry or “bits”) reacts positively, or negatively in the same manner, no matter the original “form”.

The body just sees that it is Aloe Vera, made from these ingredients or chemical parts, and we ether “like” it or we don’t “like” it.  If your client is sensitive to an enzyme or sugar in Aloe Vera, then any form of Aloe Vera can cause a reaction.

Every plant, mineral, animal etc are all made of an assortment of Chemicals, for example natural unprocessed water is made up chemically of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules or H2O – that’s the chemical building blocks that create water.

Aloe Vera is composed of over 240 plus chemical building block ingredients, such as enzymes, vitamins, sugars, amino acids and so forth. (what to see what they are Click HERE)

All plants, even completely natural and organically grown,  have a variety of Chemical components that form that plant. Every substance on his Earth is made from a mixture of chemicals naturally, which are the building blocks that create every substance on earth.


What can a Technician do to prevent issues with their clients?

This is why I recommend a complete client history before administering any service as a good business practice. Click this link HERE for some free forms to download and use in your business to help you gather and maintain client history information related to reactions, skin type etc.

Some people may be sensitive to DHA also known as Dihydroxyacetone, which is the plant based ingredient used in all Self Tanners to produce the brown skin tint. So, for those clients, every self-tanner currently on the market, could be a problem for them. (all contain DHA)

A medical care provider will best be able to assist them in this process to help pinpoint exactly which ingredient, or ingredient families they will need to avoid. So, for any sensitivity reaction, always advise your client to speak with a medical profession, to best assess their situation first.

You will then need to work together with your client, and their physician to understand what ingredients they are reactive to, and to best guide them in appropriate product selection. A client may be sensitive to more than one ingredient, or more than one type of ingredient.
For your convenience, all of our ingredients are listed clearly on each product label.

Please note just because a product is labeled “unscented”, this does not guarantee a product is perfume or fragrance-free. Rather this may simply mean no aromatic fragrances that you can smell are added to this product, however it may still contain a “masking” type fragrance that may not be detected by smelling the product. Masking fragrances can be a fragrance ingredient activity, that is used to neutralize or “mask” the scent of another ingredient in a product. As such this can be labeled Fragrance Free, but DOES still contain a fragrance component.

Often, reading the label can help confirm that a product is indeed fragrance free, as these components are listed on labels.

Also note many fragrant plant and flower extracts can add a fragrance component to a product, though they are not technically an added fragrance. But can still cause a reaction if someone is sensitive to inhaled scents and fragrances.


How To Patch Test a Product before Client is Sprayed:

For clients with sensitivity concerns, using a saturated cotton ball or pad, liberally apply a quarter sized patch of tanning solution behind client’s ear, and back of knee bend, and or elbow bend. Monitor for 48-72 hours to test for a possible reaction. Reactions are usually seen as redness, swelling, irritation, itching or burning. If this occurs, wash away this product, and do not use it.

Do not spray solution on freshly shaven skin,  irritated, inflamed, or sunburned skin. Please wait 24-48 hours after shaving, before applying spray tan solution if you are sensitive, as shaving can increase sensitivity to any product applied to the skin. (see this link on shaving, and why you might want to wait 24 hours before tanning)

Clients may be more sensitive when Pregnant, breast feeding, or using certain medications.  This may go away, when they discontinue the medication, or are no longer breast feeding or pregnant.

If you have a known sensitivity to an ingredient used in one of our products, please do not use that product.  Once an allergy occurs, it does not go away. And even avoiding the product for many years, if you are re-exposed a reaction can still occur.

What if the client has a reaction to a sunless product?

If a client has a reaction to a product, remove the product from the skin surface with showering with a mild gentle cleaner and warm water. (do not scrub) Over the counter hydrocortisone cream can also help ease inflammation and can be used at patients’ discretion.  Do not apply hydrocortisone cream to the face without discussing this with their medical care provider, as some clients can experience light spots on facial skin.

Client should always then be advised to speak with their health care provider, in case more treatment steps are needed.

Reactions can be a simple rash or itchiness, to a complete allergic reaction. Symptoms can appear right after using a product the first time, or may appear after using a product safely for years, symptom free.

The most commonly seen reaction is an irritation related reaction. This is not a true allergy, as the immune system is not involved. But is a type of contact dermatitis, where the reaction appears in areas the product was applied. It may appear only in specific areas, or all over.  Commonly seen as burning, stinging, itching, hives etc right where product was applied.

If the client continues to use this ingredient, they can eventually develop a stronger reaction with continued exposure, which can move into a system wide allergy (below)

An Allergic reaction is more systematic and involves the Body’s Immune system. It may look much like the contact dermatitis reaction, and can be hard to differentiate without involving a medical care provider.

It can include redness, swelling, hives, as well as swelling in face, lips, eyes etc

As noted earlier, Fragrances and preservatives are the most common causes of irritation within body care and cosmetic products.

Soaps and shampoos, detergents, anti-perspirants, moisturizers, eye products, and lip stains and nail products are the products that seem to cause the most reactions.

Body care products containing active ingredients such as Acid based exfoliative, Retin-A or Retinoid products, and Sunscreens with active UV Protective ingredients also cause reactions in some people.

When cosmetic ingredients are approved for use on the skin, they are classified based on sensitivity potential, as well as where they can be safely used on the body, and in what form.

Are Tampa Bay Tan Products Hypo – Allergenic?

We create all of our products using known skin safe dermatologist approved, non-reactive, non-sensitizing, skin friendly ingredients. (Hypo-Allergenic) These are ingredients rated for safe non-reactive use on all body areas included lips, eyes etc. Many are also rated safe for Food Grade or consumption use.

For example many of the colorants or preservatives we use in our products, are also the same ones used in your Strawberry Jam you had at breakfast, Children’s candy and drink products, Lip Cosmetic Products, Blushes and Eye Shadow products,.

Though these are all ingredients rated as Skin Friendly and non-reactive in most people, when used in the manner as prescribed on the Solution products labels, a reaction could still occur on occasion.

Because of the wide variety of unique skin concerns, genetics, individual health make-up, medications used, and environmental and personal product exposure levels, it would be impossible to guarantee any product may not cause a reaction in someone, somewhere, at sometime.

So there is actually no product on the market that is 100% Hypo Allergenic, or non reaction on 100%  of the people that may use it.