Fans of fake tans may want to sit down for this.

Dihydroxyacetone—that’s DHA to you— which is the active ingredient in self-tanners (even clean ones) and spray tans (none of which are clean) “has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage,” according to a panel of scientists in an investigation done by ABC News.

Now before you run to the bathroom and ditch your Chocolate Sun, let’s take a closer look at what we know so far.

What are the news reports saying?

That DHA has the potential to cause genetic alterations, DNA damage, and cancer.

What’s DHA anyway?

DHA is a sugar that interacts with amino acids in the top layer of your skin to produce pigment called melanoidins; that’s the brownish tanned look these products achieve. DHA can be manufactured synthetically, or it can be derived from natural things, like beet sugar or cane sugar. It was approved by the FDA for topical use in 1977 (and many orange tans ensued!) and is widely accepted as nontoxic when applied to the skin.

So is it toxic?

Some research showed that when it’s applied in the form of a lotion, DHA does not migrate past the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of skin that’s also sometimes called the “dead skin layer.” Which sounds gross, but it’s good news, we thought, for your organs and your blood if you’re applying it in a cream as opposed inhaling it in the form of a spray tan or a spray-on self tanner.

Up until now, there’s been the most concern about spray tans, because the application method means you might inhale the stuff. Even the FDA, which is typically mum about all things cosmetics-related, has a warning on its website about them. Which means that for the love of all things good (and good looking) you should not be getting a spray tan!

Fine. But I’m good to go with a self tanner, right?

Not so fast.

FDA reports dating back to the 1990s, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, cited research that some DHA can migrate to the living layers of the skin after all. How much of it—and where it goes from there—is anybody’s guess.

And I dug up some research from 1962 showing that DHA turned up in blood samples after topical application as well. Dr. Darrell Rigel, an NYU professor of dermatology, told ABC News: “What you showed me certainly leads me to say I have to rethink what I’m doing and what I’m saying because there’s … a real potential problem there.” I’ll say. Every dermatologist I’ve ever been to has told me that if I want to tan, which thank goodness I do not, that I should use a self tanner.

So what’s the bottom line?

As always, it’s up to you. But because the research that’s just now getting attention—even though it’s by no means new—shows that when DHA gets into your blood or migrates to your organs through inhalation, it can cause DNA damage and possibly cancer…

I’ll keep digging into it, but for now, DHA is out for me.

If you decide to continue to use self-tanner, some words of advice: First, treat it like you treat your favorite conventional going-out lipstick and use it only for special occasions, like a wedding, a job interview or a hot date. I’m pretty bruisey on my legs, so I may keep mine around and use it before weddings or something. I’m on the fence about that right now.

And if you are going to use a self-tanner, use a cleaner formula. Most conventional ones are filled with dyes, synthetic preservatives, fragrance and all of that other stuff we generally try to avoid putting on our and in bodies. If you’re not sure if yours has dye in it, you can do one of two things: read the ingredient label (harder) or look at it and see if it’s brown (easy).

We’ll continue to look into this, but we want to know So what are you going to do with this news? To self tan or not to self tan?

You can read more about ABC’s investigation here. It’s long but good. The section called “DHA: A Health Hazard” is where the research is cited.


To Highlight Or Not To Highlight?

Here we go again. Ever since Siobhan asked how everyone’s preparing for the heat, my brain’s been on a one track loop that goes: highlights highlights highlights…

It’s a serious conundrum for a clean girl this whole hair dye thing, one we’ve talked about here and here and here (and about ten other places). There are many reasons not to do it of course. Par example, much like nail polish, there’s just no such thing as a totally clean dye.

Specifically for moi, getting highlights means: 1. some toxic exposure; 2. getting my hair washed and living with the subsequent frizz for a month; 3. feeling like a bit of a hypocrite. On the plus side the place I go to is sorta-natch, the highlights I get don’t touch my scalp, and freaking-A, they’re pretty!

A bit of a late bloomer on this, highlights were something of a revelation when I finally tried them last spring, lightly painted on in places where the sun would naturally lighten (if I surfed, like everyday). For a thick mop like mine, a little caramel color can go a long way in making my head look like less of a curl-helmut, as I’m sure some of you can relate.

And while I know I’m a grown woman who can make her own decisions and all that, S and I have really taken to asking you guys for your (strong, ahem) opinions and advice! So let’s hear em.

More interesting still: What do you do with your hair? Highlights? Au naturelle 4life? And how weird is this picture choice?

Panty surfing picture via

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added eight new substances to its carcinogen list, and guess what made the cut? Our old friend formaldehyde. This doesn’t mean the cosmetics industry has to (or will) stop using the substance in its products, though, so here’s a primer that we hope you’ll share widely, on how to avoid that ghastly, terrible, no good, very bad thing.

As a reminder, formaldehyde is used in some nail polishes and chemical straightening procedures like the Brazilian blowout—yes, even in formulations that claim to be formaldehyde free (it’s the active ingredient, y’all; doesn’t work without the poison)—but it can also leach out of products like shampoo, baby wash, face wash and makeup, too. It is often present in the form of what are euphemistically called “formaldehyde donors.” I don’t know about you, but when I think about donations I think about kidneys, and blood, and organizations like UNICEF and the Nature Conservancy. I don’t think about shampoos donating carcinogens to me while I shower. Pretty sure I’m not alone on that.

So for a refresher, now that we have a long-overdue federal warning on the matter, here is some of what to avoid, and how.

1. The Brazilian blowout. We did it. We regret it—or, well, we would have regretted it if it hadn’t been the inspiration for our book. Do not do this, little chickens, or any similar procedure whether or not it has that name. Variations include but are not limited to keratin hairstyling, keratin treatment, Brazilian hair straightening…you get the picture.

2. Any nail polish that doesn’t explicitly say it is formaldehyde-free. If it doesn’t say that, it probably isn’t. And if you read the label and see formaldehyde on it (ahem) well, then you have your answer. The good news? Many are formaldehyde- and other-nasties-free (see our review and the many recommendations in the comments from all of you).

3. Products containing DMDM-Hydantoin. Here’s a fun thing to do: Go to the drug store and check the back of every shampoo on the shelf and count how many do NOT contain this, because you’ll lose count if you try to tally the ones that DO. It’s a preservative, it releases formaldehyde, and you do not want to use this on yourself or your baby (or your boyfriend).

4. Products containing quaternium-15. Another preservative that leaches formaldehyde. Even the industry itself acknowledges in its reports (which I would link to except it’s behind a paywall). Avoid.

5. Products containing diazolidinyl urea (or Germall 115). Another common antimicrobial that leaches formaldehyde. Scan your ingredients. And if you don’t want to listen to us, listen to Dr, Oz, who has it on his no-no list in You Being Beautiful, which we mention a bunch in the book.

6. Products containing imidiazolidinyl urea (or Germall II). Ditto.

7. Products containing butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Used in eye makeup, eye pencils, lots of skincare products, fragrance and fragrance-masking chemicals, which can be present in products listed as “fragrance-free.” Some people say it’s not a formaldehyde donor, some people say it is. I’m not a chemist but I tend to err on the side of caution, and you should too.

We might be preaching to the converted here (“might,” ha) but you all know people who know people, so please—share this information with them.

Image via

Good morning! Is it overcast and dreary where you are too? This might brighten your spirits:

In a big, bold move, the American Academy of Pediatrics is saying the U.S. is failing to protect kids from toxic chemicals.

From the wires:

“Children are not little adults,” Paulson, of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health. “Their bodies are different and their behaviors are different. That means that their exposures to chemicals in the environment are different, and the way their bodies (break down) those chemicals are different.”

Kids may be especially vulnerable to chemicals during important periods in development, when their brains and bodies are changing quickly, Paulson added.

Of course we know this already, and we also know it’s not just children (and fetuses) that are at risk, but it’s amazing to see it getting more muscle behind it. Plus, the kid angle is always an especially compelling one, and one that will certainly increase pressure to update the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Happy news, right?

Happy baby pose via this amazing site, with stick drawings of yoga poses

Below is a post from Well+GoodNYC, a web site devoted to beauty, health, wellness in its many forms that we absolutely love. Founded by journalists Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue, W+G has become a go-to for us, and we hope it will be for you, too. You’ll see them around these parts every week, and we’re thrilled to have them!

Cetaphil probably has the best PR of any facial soap. Beauty magazines gush over it as a no-frills $8 must-have. Dermatologists love to recommend it as a mild and non-irritating facial cleanser for two reasons: it doesn’t contain fragrance and, more tellingly, because MDs have a big Pharma love affair with the manufacturer, Galderma, the offspring of Nestlé and L’Oréal, which also makes acne drugs like Differin.

And yet there’s nothing healthy about this face-washing prescription.

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser contains just eight ingredients: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

All but the water are chemically manufactured (let’s hope), and propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and the three parabens have a seat on the dirty dozen, a list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid as potentially toxic.

Read the rest of the post here.

Image via