Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2002.

Why use fake tan?

Fake tanners, sunless tanners or preparations used to imitate a tan are becoming much more popular as people are becoming more aware of the dangers of long term sun exposure and sunburn. There are now several ways of achieving a tan without having to expose your skin to the sun, these include:

What is dihydroxyacetone? 

The sunless tanner dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is currently the most popular way of gaining a tan-like appearance without sun exposure as it carries less health risks than any of the other available methods. To date, it is the only active ingredient approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for sunless tanning.

How does DHA work?

All effective sunless tanners contain DHA. It is a colourless 3-carbon sugar that when applied to the skin causes a chemical reaction with amino acids in the surface cells of the skin producing a darkening effect DHA does not damage skin as it only affects the outermost cells of the epidermis (stratum corneum).

What formulations of DHA are available?

There are many self-tanning preparations containing DHA on the market and many will claim to be best formulation available. Consider the following points when deciding upon the preparation most suitable for you.

Who should use DHA-containing preparations?

Anyone wanting a tanned appearance without having to expose himself or herself to UV light can use these preparations. However, the final look will depend on the formulation used, individual's application technique, and the user's complexion type.

Clinical uses may be for vitiligo and as camouflage of some skin irregularities such as spider veins.

It may provide some protection for individuals with certain photosensitivity disorders such as polymorphic light eruption, erythropoeitic protoporphyria or drug-induced photosensitivity.

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.

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

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 colour change is usually apparent within an hour of application. Maximal darkening may take 8-24 hours to develop. If a darker colour 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 colour 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 colour 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.

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