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It’s hard to determine what it is that drives the latest craze for sunless tanning products. Maybe health concerns about the damaging effects of prolonged exposure to the sun have made the sunless tanning market lively. Maybe it’s that sunless tanning can happen indoors at any time – morning, noon, or night – so daylight hours can be spent doing something other than tanning.
All sunless tanning products are designed to work on the skin’s outermost layer, the stratum corneum. Skin cells here are dead or dying and will be sloughed off in a matter of days. In fact, an entirely fresh new layer of skin is produced every 35 to 45 days. It’s this reason that a one-time application of any sunless tanning product needs to be reapplied every few days in order to maintain the appearance of a continuous glowing tan.
The American Academy of Dermatology claims the most effective sunless tanning lotions, gels, and sprays contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Although colorless itself, DHA reacts with the dead skin cells in the stratum corneum, darkening them so they look like a suntan. Because these dead skin cells are being constantly lost, one application of a DHA-containing sunless tanning lotion generally lasts five to seven days.
Sunless tanning accelerators are lotions or pills that contain tyrosine, an amino acid said to stimulate the release of melanin, thereby speeding up the tanning process. There is no scientific data that supports this theory, however.
A pill containing canthaxanthin is another popular method in the sunless tanning arsenal. Canthaxanthin is used in very small quantities as a food coloring agent but much larger quantities of the substance are required in sunless tanning. These larger dosages have been linked to side effects such as hepatitis and canthaxanthin retinopathy, a condition of the retina of the eye in which yellow deposits form. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve of the use of canthaxanthin as a sunless tanning agent.
Bronzers are a safer and quicker alternative to other items used in sunless tanning and are actually more like a cosmetic than a tanning process. Bronzers are most often moisturizers or powders that stain the skin so that it looks more tanned. The bronzer “tan” washes off with soap and water.
All these sunless tanning products take several hours to become effective. Nevertheless, it is possible to apply your chosen sunless tanning agent tonight and wake up “tanned” tomorrow, all the while avoiding entirely the harmful rays of the sun or missing a day at the office.
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