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Tips on using Sunless or Self Tanners*

What formulations of DHA are available?

  • Concentrations of DHA can range from 2.5 to 10% or more (mostly 3-5%). This may coincide with product ranges that list shades as light, medium, or dark. A lower concentration (lighter shade) product may be better for new users as it is more forgiving of uneven application or rough surfaces.
  • Some formulations will also contain moisturizers. Users with dry skin will benefit from this.
  • Alcohol-based preparations will be more suitable for oily-skinned users.
  • DHA provides some protection against UV rays (UVA). To increase UV protection some products also include a sunscreen.
  • Alpha hydroxyl acids promote the sloughing off of excess dead skin cells so should improve the evenness of coloration.
  • Other ingredients may be added to facilitate application or to make the colour last longer. Consult your pharmacist for advice.

How do you use DHA-containing preparations?

The final result obtained from DHA self-tanning preparations is highly dependent upon the individual's application technique. Care, skill and experience are necessary when using these products. The following are some self-application tips to achieving a smooth and even look.

  • Prepare skin by cleansing, then by exfoliation using a loofah; this will avoid uneven applications of color.
  • Wipe skin down with hydroalcoholic, acidic toner, as this will remove any alkaline residues from soaps or detergents that may interfere with the reaction between DHA and amino acids.
  • Moisturize the area first, being careful to include the bony parts of the ankles, heels and knees.
  • Apply to skin in thin layers wherever you want color, less to thicker skin, as color is maintained longer in these areas.
  • To avoid uneven darkening on areas such as the elbows, ankles and knees, remove excess cream over bony prominences with a wet cotton pad or damp flannel.
  • Wash hands immediately after application to avoid tanned palms. Alternatively, wear gloves to apply.
  • To avoid staining of clothes, wait 30 minutes for the product to dry before putting on clothes.
  • Don't shave, bathe, or swim for at least an hour after applying the product.
  • Reapply regularly to maintain color.

Tanning salons, spas and gyms may offer professional application of sunless tanning products.

  • Lotion can be applied by an experienced technician.
  • Solution can be airbrushed onto the body.
  • Step into a sunless tanning booth for a uniform full-body application.

Be careful to cover eyes, lips and mucous membranes to prevent swallowing or inhaling the DHA-containing mist.

Is the tan instantaneous and how long does it last?

A color change is usually apparent within an hour of application. Maximal darkening may take 8-24 hours to develop. If a darker color is desired, several successive applications every few hours may be done to achieve this.

An artificial tan produced by DHA will last until the dead skin cells rub off, usually 5-7 days with a single application. Depending on the area, the same color can be maintained with repeat applications every 1 to 4 days.

What precautions are there when using DHA self-tanning preparations?

The most important thing to remember when using DHA self-tanners is that they do not protect your skin against the sun. Although DHA does provide some UV protection and many products contain additional sunscreen, the UV protection provided is much more short-lived than the skin color change. The stated SPF for the product is only applicable for a few hours after application of the self-tanner.

Despite darkening of the skin, an individual is just as susceptible to harmful UV rays, therefore, it must be stressed that an overall sun protection program is still very necessary.

Are there any side effects from using DHA self-tanning preparations?

DHA reacts quickly in the stratum corneum minimizing systemic absorption. Contact dermatitis caused by DHA has rarely been reported. Most causes of sensitivity are due to other ingredients such as preservatives in the preparation.

*Source: The New Zealand Dermatological Society, Facts About Skin.

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