DHA: Self-Tanning’s Active Ingredient
Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is a simple carbohydrate and one of the primary ingredients in most modern sunless tanning products. This colorless, nontoxic sugar is often derived from plants, such as sugar cane or sugar beets, giving this ingredient its signature, sweet-smelling odor.
DHA is the main cause of the darkening of your skin when you use a tanning product. When it comes in contact with the skin, a natural reaction happens that produces melanoids that stain the color of your skin to a darker shade of brown. As DHA reacts with the amino acids that are present in the surface layers of your skin, the tanned look you love will start to develope after a few hours. It is best not to swim or bathe for a few hours after application because if you do you will wash off the active ingredient before it has had a chance to react with the amino acids in your skin and really sink in.
Since the skin is constantly regenerating new skin cells and self-tanners do not penetrate any further than the top surface layers of your skin, sprays and lotions must be reapplied every few days to maintain your sun-kissed look or your tan will fade with the natural life cycle of your skin cells. The most redeeming quality of this ingredient is that it is considered totally safe by the FDA and is non-carcinogenic, or not cancer-causing, unlike the harmful UV rays of the sun.
Dihydroxyacetone comes in different percentages in self tanners. A low percentage of DHA will create a fairer glowing tan while a higher percentage will create a deep dark tan. For those with extremely pale, white skin, a lower percentage is usually recommended. Those with darker skin would be better off choosing a product with a higher percentage of DHA to really deepen the color of their skin. Check the concentration of this ingredient in the product you choose to make sure it is the right choice for your skin type. If you are unsure about what level of DHA you should be using to best match your natural skin tone, there are many online tan selectors, like MineTan’s, that can help you find the best style of tan and the right level of dark for you.