What is Sunless Tanning Lotion and does It Work?

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  • Written By: Di L.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2019
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Sunless tanning lotion is used by those who wish to achieve a bronzed appearance without the danger of exposing themselves to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Frequent, prolonged exposure to sunlight or tanning beds, both of which produce UV light, has been scientifically linked to skin cancer and premature skin aging. However, many people still find bronzed skin to be healthy-looking and aesthetically pleasing. Because of this, sunless tanning lotion has emerged as a good way to obtain the benefits without the risks.

Earlier versions of sunless tanning lotions often left the skin looking orange and unnatural. Fortunately, today’s lotions have come a long way. All of the lotions on the market contain a simple sugar molecule known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which has been known, since the 1920s, to darken skin color. Major cosmetic companies today produce sunless tanning lotion containing refined DHA which is formulated in ways that allow it to produce a more natural-looking tone. The concentration of DHA found within the lotion varies according to the desired effect, where higher concentration provides darker coloration. For example, the “light to medium shades” lotion will contain slightly less DHA than the lotion meant for “medium to dark shades” of skin. DHA has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a cosmetic ingredient and produces few and infrequent adverse effects.


DHA reacts with the proteins in dead skin cells and produces yellow to brown colored pigments, but it does not penetrate deeper into the skin. Application of DHA will begin to produce an effect within 24 hours and skin will continue to darken for several days afterward. The desired skin tone may require several applications to achieve. Since the color is only present on the superficial layer of dead skin cells, it will fade away over the course of a week, consistent with the normal process of skin cell loss. Because of this, sunless tanning lotion is something that must be used several times a week in order to maintain the desired skin color.

In order to obtain the best effect using sunless tanning lotion, wash and exfoliate skin to remove the top layer of dead skin cells before applying. Dead skin cells may not always be equally distributed and can produce an uneven effect. Hand-washing is also recommended after applying lotion, since there is nothing more unnatural than tinted palms. It is important to remember that a fake tan does not protect against UV radiation and that sunscreen should always be used before sun exposure. Sunless tanning lotion is a quick, safe, and effective way of getting that nice bronzed color without submitting skin to the ravages of UV radiation.


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Post 3

Bronzers are also a form of sunless tanning and are found to be very useful. Unlike normal sunless tanning lotion, a bronzer immediately tans your skin and is removed with the first wash of soap and water. Bronzers are available as powders, creams, and lotions. Since the tint of a bronzer only lasts until it is washed off, they are essentially considered a form of make-up.

Post 2

@gardenturtle: Yes, tanning pills are a legit source of tanning. Tanning pills contain the pigment canthaxanthin and although the FDA has approved the use of canthaxanthin as a color additive in food, it has yet to be approved as a tanning agent. After canthazanthin is consumed it is distributed through the body in places such as the skin and internal organs. It turns the skin an orange-brown color.

However, it is important you note that Canthaxanthin-based tanning pills have been linked to dangerous side effects such as including hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and canthaxanthin retinopathy (formation of yellow deposits in the retina of the eye).

Post 1

My sister heard about a new type of pill that tans your skin. I was wondering if this is real and can they be harmful?

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