Jennifer Coolidge Had an Allergic Reaction to a Spray Tan — Here's How That Can Happen

Dermatologists break down the risks of having an allergic reaction to a spray tan and share what to look for when trying new beauty products.

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Jennifer Coolidge won widespread praise (and an Emmy award) for her role in HBO's hit series, The White Lotus. However, it turns out the perennially funny lady ended up in the emergency room right before filming the dramedy, and it all had to do with a spray tan gone bad, she explained in a new essay for Allure.

The 61-year-old didn't give much thought to the ingredients in her beauty products until five or six years ago when she "started getting allergic" to certain makeup products, she wrote. "My eyes would always be tearing up, but it never occurred to me that it was my makeup."

It seems her allergies hit a fever pitch after she got a spray tan ahead of her flight to Hawaii to film season one of The White Lotus. "I got on the plane and I started to feel really weird. By the time I got off the flight, I had to go to the emergency room," she said, adding that she stuck to "regular makeup" and showered immediately after wrapping each day for the rest of production. Coolidge didn't share which specific ingredients she's allergic to or what type of reaction she had, but she did note she has "such a quick reaction to stuff" and tries to stick to paraben-free products now.

Coolidge's spray tan experience is not unusual, Michele Koo, M.D., board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of Dr. Koo Private Practice tells Shape. "Allergic reactions are extremely common. You may simply think your skin is sensitive, but it could actually be an allergic reaction," she says, adding that a contact allergy can develop after many years of exposure. That means you could use a product or ingredient for years, but you might suddenly notice your skin reacting to it.

Hormonal shifts with age can also change the way skin reacts to certain things, Rebecca Marcus, M.D., F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Maei MD tells Shape. "In addition, formulas often change, so it's possible to develop a reaction to a product that [you] previously did not react to."

Unlike, say, atopic dermatitis (eczema), which is not caused by a product or ingredient, reactions that occur when a product comes into contact with your skin are called contact dermatitis. This "can take the form of itchy bumps or redness and irritation on the skin," says Dr. Marcus. "It's also possible to have a systemic reaction, which may include eye, tongue, and lip swelling, generalized swelling, urticaria (hives), and trouble breathing. If this happens, definitely seek medical attention," she continues. This the "worst case scenario," according to Dr. Koo, noting "a true anaphylactic reaction would cause loss of blood pressure and an inability to breathe."

There's a reason spray tans, specifically, may cause allergic reactions. "Spray tan solution is full of chemicals," says Dr. Marcus. "The most frequently used active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone, has an unpleasant smell, so products almost always contain at least one, if not multiple, fragrance ingredients to mask the odor." ICYDK: fragrance is the number one cause of allergic contact dermatitis," Peterson Pierre, M.D., dermatologist and founder of the Pierre Skin Care Institute, previously told Shape. "You might also find common allergens such as phenoxyethanol, tocopherol, propylene glycol, and cocamidopropyl betaine," she continues.

What's more, the method of applying a spray tan might also contribute to a reaction, says Dr. Koo. "Aerosolized sprays with fragrance and preservatives (like formaldehyde) are the worst offenders for causing either an inhalation irritation or eye irritation because it can be so diffuse," adds Dr. Koo. "Pump spray tans tend to be less allergenic but any of the ingredients (if they are sprayed into the eyes, mouth, or nose) can cause a significant reaction." That said, before you panic and swear off spray tans for good, the faux tan method is still a safer bet than spending time in the sun without adequate SPF.

The Legally Blonde alum's recent experience appears to have her rethinking "clean beauty" altogether. "You have to be really careful because even if you buy makeup where they say it's clean…even the clean brands are not all the way clean," she told Allure. "They still have things in them that shouldn't be in there. You realize it's maybe not good for our health to be using all that stuff."

If you have sensitive skin, there are a few things you can look for when trying out a new beauty product. "For those with sensitive skin, look for hypoallergenic, fragrance-free products," says Dr. Marcus. "Clean beauty often refers to products that use 'clean chemicals' that are nontoxic to the body, but these products that rely more heavily on natural derivatives often contain ingredients that are more allergenic, such as botanical ingredients and essential oils." As a general rule, Dr. Koo also recommends products free of phthalates, gluten, triclosan, petroleum, formaldehyde, toluene, organic solvents, and talc, as these are known irritants, especially for sensitive skin types.

Both pros recommend checking in with a dermatologist or allergy specialist if you're concerned about reactions to your beauty products. They can pinpoint your specific allergens and irritants and help you find products that are safe and gentle for your skin.

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