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Sunless Tanning Lotion

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With so many products on the market, it may seem mind-boggling to determine which sunless tanning lotion is right for you.  Perhaps knowing how they work and what makes them different will make the decision a little easier.

Two chemicals, dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose, often found in a sunless tanning lotion, have met approval with the American Academy of Dermatology.  DHA is the more common ingredient but you will sometimes find both substances in a sunless tanning lotion.

The DHA works with the amino acids in the dead layer of the skin’s surface, where the colorless sugar causes the skin’s cells to turn darker, thereby giving it the appearance of a tan.  Because the DHA-containing sunless tanning lotion is caused by a chemical reaction, not by dyeing or painting the skin, the appearance of a tan will last about a week, until all cells on the surface of the skin have sloughed off in the body’s naturally occurring rejuvenating processes.

Erythrulose works the same way as DHA in a sunless tanning lotion but the chemical reaction it causes works more slowly.  Using the two products together is thought to generate a longer lasting tan.

These two products are used in lotions, gels, mousses, and wipes.  They are also used in spray booths, where the product is sprayed over the entire body and allowed to dry before the tan develops.  It generally takes between one and six hours after application of any product containing DHA and erythrulose before evidence of the chemical reaction is seen.

The DHA in a sunless tanning lotion works only on the outermost layer of the skin, where the cells are already dead.  It does not affect melanocytes, pigment-producing cells located deeper in the layers of the skin.  For this reason, patients with vitiligo, a disease of the skin’s pigment, can use it as a cosmetic cover-up for discolored areas.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar agencies in Canada and the European Union member countries have approved DHA, and any sunless tanning lotion that contains it.  It also gets approval from the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the Skin Cancer Organization, and the Canadian Dermatology Association.

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