Draelos, Z.D. Am J Clin Dermatol (2002) 3: 317. doi:10.2165/00128071-200203050-00003
Self-tanning creams utilize dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as an active agent, to produce a temporary staining of the skin. DHA is a 3-carbon sugar that interacts with the protein-rich stratum corneum to produce melanoidins, which are brown chromophores. Lower concentrations of DHA produce lighter skin-staining, while higher concentrations produce darker skin-staining, resulting in the simulation of a tan for persons of all skin types. DHA is well tolerated, for both internal ingestion and topical application, with the exception of infrequent allergic reaction in some patients. However, self-tanning creams only offer a sun protection factor (SPF) of 3 to 4, with protection at the low end of the visible spectrum and limited ultraviolet A protection. In addition, this SPF is only present for several hours after application of the product, and does not last for the duration of the tan. Self-tanning creams are a method of safely simulating the appearance of a tan without photoprotection. However, other sun protection will be required.