American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp 317–318 | Cite as

Self-Tanning Lotions

Are They a Healthy Way to Achieve a Tan?
  • Zoe D. Draelos
Leading Article


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.


  1. 1.
    Maibach H.I., Kligman A.M. Dihydroxyacetone: a sun-tan-simulating agent. Arch Dermatol 1960; 82: 505–507PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wittgenstein E., Berry K.H. Reaction of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) with human skin callus and amino compounds. J Invest Dermatol 1961; 36: 283–286PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Meybeck A. A spectroscopic study of the reaction products of dihydroxyacetone with amino acids. J Soc Cosmet Chem 1977; 28: 25–35Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wittgenstein E., Berry K.H. Staining of skin with dihydroxyacetone. Science 1960; 132: 894–895PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kurz T. Formulating effective self-tanners with DHA. Cosmet Toilet 1994; 109 (11): 55–61Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Maes D.H., Marenus K.D. Self-tanning products. In: Baran R., Maibach H.I., editors. Cosmetic dermatology. London: Martin Dunitz, 1994: 151–154Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Goldman L., Barkoff J., Glaney D., et al. The skin coloring agent dihydroxyacetone. GP 1960; 12: 96–98Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Morren M., Dooms-Goossens A., Heidbuchel M., et al. Contact allergy to dihydroxyacetone. Contact Dermatitis 1991; 25: 326–327PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Muizzuddin N., Marenus K.D., Maes D.H. UVA and UVB protective effect of melanoids formed with dihydroxyacetone and skin [poster presentation]. 55th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology; 1997 Mar; San Francisco (CA)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Johnson J.A., Fusaro R.M. Protection against long ultraviolet radiation: topical browning agents and a new outlook. Dermatologica 1987; 175: 53–57PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zoe D. Draelos
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of DermatologyWake Forest University, North Carolina and Dermatology Consulting ServicesHigh PointUSA

Personalised recommendations