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For Your Fertility, Avoid Sunless Tanning


a blog by Laurence A. Jacobs, M.D., Fertility Centers of Illinois, August 1, 2012

As summer begins to wane, you may be hoping you can hold on to that summer glow with "safe" tanning via spray tans or sunless tanning products. I would advise against this, particularly if you are trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatment.

Recently, European health officials issued a warning about these fake tanning products. The warning is for lotions and sprays that have dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the active ingredient. DHA is a colorless sugar that interacts with the dead cells located in the upper layer of the epidermis, and this causes a color change.

These products are sometimes billed as “safe” alternative for tanning, considering the dangers of sun exposure in increasing the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. However, sunless tanning products are filled with chemicals. When they are sprayed on the skin, they are often inhaled and may also be absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in possible DNA damage.

In June, medical experts reviewed 10 of the most current scientific studies on DHA for ABC News and said DHA has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage. The studies were not on humans, but some found DHA altered genes of multiple types of cells and organisms when tested in different labs by different scientists.

The worrisome chemicals in sunless tanning products include endocrine disruptors such as benzophene-3, carcinogens such as formaldehyde and skin irritants such as diethanolamine. One can surmise that some of the chemicals in fake tan may be toxic to reproduction and may be harmful to a developing fetus, causing birth defects. In addition, the products may have an effect on allergies, diabetes and obesity.

Bottom line: Until the effects of fake tanning products are better understood, the best — and safest — approach to many of these chemicals is avoidance, particularly for couples trying for pregnancy and especially during a pregnancy.


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