DHA: How Sunless Tanners Make You Tan

DHA: How Sunless Tanners Make You TanAnyone who knows me can vouch that I ask a ton of questions- but it’s because I’m a curious soul and (hard to admit) have trouble grasping extreme concepts.  I have an unending list of unanswered questions… maybe not unanswered but I don’t understand the real answer so I consider them unanswered to my standards :)

Like “How does a fax machine work?” and “How does a camera take a still picture of a moving object?” and “How the heck am I the only left-handed family memeber in five generations?”


For answers to these mind blowing questions I usually turn to Google (especially the questions I’m too embarrassed to ask a human).

The most recent addition to my list of unanswered questions was:


This is what I found…

Sunless tanners and spray tans contain Dihydroxyacetone- or DHA.  This 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 1973 and is widely accepted as nontoxic when applied to the skin.

There are different percentages of DHA in the product for different skin types:

5-8% – skin types I and II (white and very white)
10% – skin types III and IV (European skin)
12% – skin type V (everyone else)

The maximum amount of DHA percentage that a person should be exposed with is 11-13% as the pores will only absorb so much DHA – the rest will wash off.

DHA is applied and usually takes 6-10 hours for the tan to fully develop.  The tan lasts between 5-7 days but can be extended with the use of moisturizers and tan extenders, which contain small amounts of DHA (1-1/2-2%).

It is recommended not to shower, bathe or swim during the first 12 hours after a tanning session.  Also, swimming in chlorinated water will cause the tan to fade more quickly.

DHA solutions have a shelf life of 7-8 months.  Heat or sunlight degrades DHA so never leave it in the sun.

So there you have it…

It’s the DHA ingredient in self tanners that’s responsible for this fabulous faux beach tan I’m rocking :)

Now, if only digital cameras were this easy to understand……

Do you have any questions about DHA or how it works?  Stop by SelfTanning.com on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus and let us know.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Facts About Self Tanning

About the Author

Emily Andrews is the Editor-In-Chief of SelfTanning.com. As you can imagine, Emily loves anything and everything having to do with self tanning! She's also a big fan of shopping (duh), tiny Yorkies and football.