How do self-tanners work?

by Gio

self-tanners 101

If there’s one beauty product I couldn’t care less about is self-tanner. You see, I don’t tan. My skin’s pale and I love that. Pale skin is awesome. And healthy. And awesome.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m not curious about how self-tanners work. What’s in them that turns your skin into that lovely Oompa-Loompa shade of orange sunkissed brown?

How Self-Tanners Work

It doesn’t matter how expensive or fancy your self-tanner is. ALL self-tanners, be they drugstore or high-end, use the same ingredient: dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

DHA is a sugar derived from sugar cane. Although it is colourless, when you apply it on the skin, it reacts with the amino acids present in the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin), turning your skin a brownish hue.

But, then, why do some products give you a better tan than others?

It all depends on how much DHA is in the product. Does it has a LOT of DHA? Then, your skin’ll get pretty dark after just one application. Is there only a sprinkle of DHA? You’ll get a tan, too, don’t worry. You’ll just build up your tan more slowly. It’s a bit frustrating, but the result is a lot more natural.

How long does the tan last?

Not long. It usually start to fade after 3 to 5 days. That’s because our skin naturally exfoliates itself. As DHA only darkens the outermost layer of the skin, the tan is shed together with those dead skin cells.

And, if you exfoliate in any way, either with an acid or a scrub, you’ll get rid of the tan more quickly. So, now you know why you have to reapply your self-tanner every 2 or 3 days.

Does a self-tanner has any side effects?

Yes. When it is exposed to the sun, DHA starts producing free radicals like crazy (180% more in the first 24 hours!).

Free radicals cause premature aging, so using a sunscreen with it is a MUST. I can’t stress this enough. If you use a self-tanner, apply sunscreen before leaving the house. And, an antioxidant serum, too. Just in case. It’s better be safe than sorry, don’t you agree?

Do you use self-tanners?

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4 comments

Dao October 20, 2009 - 9:21 pm

I used self tanner once and while it was fun, I did not enjoy it. Having to apply the creme over and over again is quite a nuisance to me.
.-= Dao´s last blog ..How to Revive Your Mascara =-.

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Anastacia October 21, 2009 - 1:03 am

I really want to buy that Natural Glow stuffffff…
.-= Anastacia´s last blog ..Nails Of The Day : Double Random Dots =-.

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PD October 21, 2009 - 3:23 pm

Out of all the self tanners you have tried, what one do you find the most effective? I’ve had mostly poor experiences with the stuff, but maybe its because i’m using the wrong brands!

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beautifulwithbrains October 21, 2009 - 5:49 pm

Dao: I’m with you on that one. Having to reapply so often is a pain. I’d rather stay pale instead. 🙂

Anastacia: it looks nice 🙂

PD: to be honest, I very rarely use self-tanners as I love my pale skin and don’t like the tanned look so much. But my sister and friends use them and they like Hawaiian Tropic’s Island Glow Daily Moisturizer and Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer. They look quite natural. I heard L’oreal Sublime Bronze ProPerfect Airbrush Self-Tanning Mist is quite good too.
But I don’t think it’s the brand that’s wrong but the formula. They all use DHA but maybe products that have the ingredient in low concentrations will work best for you. They tend to build-up a tan gradually instead than just giving your skin a brown/orange color straight away.

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