Self-Tanners: Are they Safe For You?


Tan skin is in year round. Weather it is winter or summer sun kissed skin is a beauty staple. Ever since the discoveries surrounding tanning beds and sun tanning and the links that these tanning methods have towards gaining a higher risk of skin cancer people have sought out new ways to tan their skin that hold less risk of health care problems. Spray tans and self-tanning are two of the most popular alternative methods of tanning. Self-tanning is particularly popular because of the convenience that it holds and the affordability of self-tanning. However is method without risk? Is self-tanning actually safe?

What Are Self-Tanners Made Of?

Self-tanners do not all come in the same form; some come in the form of lotions, sprays, liquid gels, and even tanning cloths. The different variations call for varying ingredients but they usually are made of the same base products. The most widely used active ingredient in self-tanners is DHA. What is DHA? DHA is the common name for the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone. It is a color additive which has the ability to darken the surface of the skin. It is most commonly derived from plants a few of which include sugar cane and sugar beets; it can also be harnessed from fermented glycerin.

How Does Dha Alter The Color Of The Skin?

Skin Darkening

The skin darkening effect that DHA has on the skin has been revealed through decades of research by scientists. The tanning ability of DHA was noticed first by German scientists in the 1920s, the scientists used DHA during x-rays and when the DHA leaked onto the skin they noted the change in skin tone after the DHA was wiped off of the skin. The bulk of the research that scientists reference today on DHA was conducted by Eva Wittgenstein at the University of Cincinnati in the 1950s. She devoted much time and effort to unveiling the science behind the effect that DHA has on the skin.

When applied to the skin DHA has a chemical reaction with amino acids which are located in the epidermal layer of the skin. The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin and the amino acids are a portion of this layer of skin because the epidermis produces keratin (fibrous structural protein) and amino acids are building blocks of proteins. The chemical reaction that DHA has with the amino acids causes the skin to darken and the effect will last for about a week and a half, though it will not be washed off with water or sweat.

The effect of DHA on the skin is only temporary. As we previously discussed, the reaction occurs in the epidermal layer of the skin. This layer of skin is in a constant process of renewal. New cells are constantly being grown and pushed up to the skin’s surface. The last step of this process is shedding off the old skin cells. As the dead skin cells shed the cells that have been colored by the DHA will fade away and your skin will gradually return to its natural color as the new skin cells emerge.

The harnessing of DHA as a method to tan the skin was a revolution in skin care products. The first products containing DHA as a method to tan the skin was released in the 1960s by the popular skin care brand Coppertone, their sun tan lotions and sunblock are still widely used today by consumers.

Is DHA toxic?

DHA toxic

DHA is non-toxic. In fact, it is the only skin darkening solution that has been cleared by the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration).

Is There Any Risk To Using Self-Tanners?

There is risk involved when applying any sort of skin care product to your body that you have not used before. Be sure to read all of the warnings, labels, and ingredient lists on the product. As a consumer you should be informed about every product that you are using on your body. Manufacturers often put the most vital information about the product in small obscure text so before you apply your self-tanner ensure that you have read all of the information listed on the product.

You should also check to see if any of the ingredients are not ingredients that you are allergic to. Even if a product is safe to use, and has been cleared for human use by official organizations that doesn’t mean that you won’t have a bad reaction to the product. Just to be safe you should always try to do a patch test on a small portion of skin before applying it to a large area of your skin to see whether or not the ingredients will irritate your skin or not.

Lastly, there has been research that suggests that using DHA may make the skin more susceptible to damage from free radicals. Most self-tanners contain around 1%-15% of DHA. Although there is not a plethora of scientific research on the matter, some professionals have conducted studies that products that contain higher amounts of DHA leave the skin more prone to damage by free radicals.


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