DHA: How Sunless Tanning Lotions Work
Author: Baxter Owens
Most people who benefit from the use of sunless tanning lotions don’t ever stop to think about how they work. After all, they’re just glad that they work, providing natural-looking tans without requiring them to go out into the sun. But perhaps you’ve mused upon the fact that sunless lotions are a really interesting product. And perhaps you’ve wondered how they do what they do. Do they dye the skin? Are they safe? These are the questions that a few people have wanted to know about sunless tanning lotions.
The answer that these people is looking for is simple. DHA. Okay, maybe it’s not that simple, but once you know a little bit about it, the sunless tanning lotion process is easy to understand. Basically, the important ingredient in any sunless tanning lotion that you might use is an ingredient called DHA, short for dihydroxyacetone. This is a natural ingredient (a carbohydrate actually, see there is such a thing as good carbs!). Believe it or not, it’s basically a sugar.
Way back in the 1920’s, DHA was being used for medical purposes and it was discovered that it turned the skin a darker color than it naturally was. It was then that the idea was sparked that would eventually lead to the creation of sunless tanning lotions. But original plans were derailed and the first sunless tanning lotions (which didn’t come out until forty years after that discovery) didn’t make good use of DHA. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the FDA approved the use of DHA for cosmetics and it wasn’t until the 1980’s that it became the primary ingredient in sunless tanning lotions.
Okay, so now you know the history of how DHA came to be an important part of sunless tanning lotions but how does it work? Basically, this sugar forms a natural reaction with your skin cells that results in the changing of skin color. Varying amounts of DHA within the sunless tanning lotions will produce varying shades of color because higher concentrations of DHA will have a greater reaction with the skin and create a darker coloring. Because the DHA is only reacting with the outer layers of the skin, the sunless tanning lotion is designed to have a temporary effect. Hence the maintenance that you do to keep the tan looking fresh.
So, in a sense, yes – DHA does dye the skin although it does so through a natural chemical reaction. Is that safe? DHA has now been on the FDA’s list of approved cosmetics products for over 30 years. The worst thing that your skin is likely to experience as a result of the reaction is a mild tingling or slight irritation. Other than that, the product is considered to be safe. People who have lingering concerns about the effects of UV rays from natural outdoor tanning and indoor salon tanning often find that the use of sunless tanning lotions is a preferable alternative to getting the tan that they desire.