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How Do Tanning Lotions Work?

How do tanning lotions work? Here's how they give you that glow. Choose a tanning lotion to help you get a healthy, sun-kissed look any time.

Tanning Lotions: How Do They Work?

Tanning lotions can make your skin appear tan without exposing it to the sun's potentially harmful UV rays. Chances are you have used tanning lotions at one point in your lifetime. While using this product, have you ever wondered how tanning lotions actually work? How are they able to increase your chances of getting a tan? What ingredients are found in them? Are they safe? Well, you don’t have to wonder any longer. This article will explain how tanning lotions work, including everything you need to know about its most active ingredient: DHA.

It’s All About DHA in Tanning lotions

The main chemical used in tanning lotions is dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA. Tanning lotions typically contain about 5- 15% DHA. Obviously, the higher the percentage, the more effective they are at browning your skin. Although its skin-browning effect was noted by German scientists in the 1920s, DHA became an active ingredient for tanning lotions by complete accident in the 1950s.

Dr. Wittgenstein, a scientist studying the use of DHA for children with glycogen defects, noted that spillages of DHA on the skin led to deepened pigment. Further research into this observation led to the first tanning lotion being introduced in the mid-1960s. The first formulas lead to vibrant orange and streaky tans. Its formula has changed drastically over the years.

So how does DHA work now to increase the appearance of a tan? DHA actually acts on the dead skin cells that reside on the top of our skin. The amino acids in this dead layer of skin react with DHA in order to produce melanin. The melanin produced by tanning lotions absorb wavelengths of light, resulting in a visually browning effect on the skin.

The effect of DHA doesn’t happen instantly. It takes a couple of hours for the browning effect to accelerate. Since it’s the dead cells on the skin’s surface that it affects, the tan it produces only last a little over a week. It fades as those dead skin cells are shed; that’s why you have to keep reapplying this product.

What Other Active Ingredients are in Your Tanning Lotion?

Other common active ingredients in tanning lotions are methyl or benzyl nicotinate. These two ingredients will usually make you feel warm and tingly: a clear sign that the ingredients are working. They also can alter the melanoidin in your skin; their impact is just more subtle than DHA. That’s why you hardly ever see these ingredients listed without some DHA to back them up.

All of the other ingredients in a tanning lotion are there to keep you moisturized and protected. Since tanning can dry out your skin, tanning lotions include lots of moisturizers and antioxidants to make your skin healthier. Each tanning lotion works differently based on the user’s skin type, so keep that in mind when trying out various tanning lotions.

Are Tanning Lotions Safe?

Tanning lotions are considered safe alternatives to tanning out in the sun, as long as they're used as directed. The Food and Drug Administration has approved DHA for external application to the skin. However, one study found that DHA added to skin cells slightly damaged the cells' DNA. This suggests that more research is needed before DHA can be declared safe for long-term use. The FDA specifically states that DHA shouldn't be inhaled or applied to areas covered by mucous membranes This includes the nose, lips, or eye region.

If you're using tanning lotions at home, follow the directions on the label. If you're going to a tanning booth, ask how your eyes, mouth, and nose will be protected from inhaling the tanning spray. Also, ask to see a list of ingredients of the tanning lotion they use, so you can see if you are allergic to any of those ingredients.

Wrap Up: How Tanning Lotions Make Skin Darker

Tanning lotions are able to alter your skin tone thanks to the active ingredient DHA and its impact on the melanoidins in your skin. Other ingredients also help bronze the skin. Now that you probably have a better understanding of how tanning lotions work, we bet you want to know which types of tanning lotions are the best. Check out our other articles for more information on the best tanning lotions of 2019 and how to stay safe in the sun.

Resources— JustTanningLotion, Mayo Clinic

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