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Self-Tanning Lotions

Are They a Healthy Way to Achieve a Tan?


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.

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Correspondence to Zoe D. Draelos.

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Draelos, Z.D. Self-Tanning Lotions. Am J Clin Dermatol 3, 317–318 (2002).

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  • Stratum Corneum
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis
  • Methionine Sulfoxide
  • Seborrheic Keratose
  • Fitzpatrick Skin Type