The Chemistry of Tanning Cream
It seems almost magical. You squeeze out a seemingly ordinary lotion into your hand and do your best to apply it evenly and quickly in an attempt to become tan without exposing yourself to the deadly UV effect of the sun. Some of us make the mistake of putting on multiple coats, as we can’t see the effects of the tanning cream. Unfortunately, that is a mistake. Why? Because tanning creams work a lot like a developer. It takes time for the reaction in the chemical components of the cream and the receptive cells of your skin to occur. The active ingredient in tanning cream is dihydroxyacetone,DHA and is often used in combination with erythrulose. When the cream contains erythrulose, it takes longer for the tan to develop. These chemiclas react with the amino acids in your dead skin cells on the surface–the stratum corneum or outer most layer of the basal layer of your skin. DHA can be found in concentrations ranging between 1% to 15% but is most commonly sold over the counter at 5%. Most tanning creams contain a sunscreen with low level, normally around the level 3.
Getting That Healthy Glow
Getting that healthy glow is as easy as one, two, three:
- Step One–Apply the cream evenly
- Step Two–Wait two to four hours for the reaction to proceed
- Step Three–Enjoy your tan for three to ten days
A Little More Chemistry
The reaction will continue to darken the tanned appearance of skin for 24 to 72 hours after application and will last anywhere from three to ten days, depending on how quickly your body rids itself of dead skin cells. The tanning reaction is the same one that occurs when baking or roasting food and is known as the Maillard reaction. During this reaction, a chemical called melanoidins is produced, causing the coloring in the skin to change. So this begs the question, if the reaction is the same as that which occurs in baking and roasting, what is happening to the skin? Is it dangerous to tan using tanning cream?
Possible Side Effects and Dangers Of Using Tanning Cream
Studies have shown that after using tanning cream, the skin becomes more sensitive to UV rays for at least 24 hours after application, increasing the risk of sunburn. Studies have shown an increase in UV absorption of an astounding 180% higher than subjects who did not use tanning cream. When getting a spray tan in a booth, inhaling the chemicals may result in unwanted side effects. DHA has been known to be a mutagen in certain concentrations in the laboratory experiments, but not at concentrations used in tanning creams. DHA may be absorbed by living tissue, which at this time has not been fully studied so the effects remain unknown. Unlike a real tan in which the melanin is produced and affords a bit of UV protection, a chemically induced tan produces melanoidins that do not provide any protection. An odd note is that one study found that Mexican Hairless dogs have an allergic reaction to tanning creams, so if you have one of these dogs, be extra cautious to ensure none of the product accidentally gets transferred to the dog. Self tanning creams appear to be safe to use during pregnancy. Although there have been no reports about the effects of using self tanning cream while breast feeding, it would probably be a good idea to keep the product away from breasts, as it can be absorbed by the skin.
What To Look For In A Self Tanning Cream
There are a number of self tanning products on the market today. You can find them with moisturizers and sun block. They also have varying percentages of DHA. Some are formulated with erythrulose, and some without it. It is best to avoid sunless tanning creams that have oils in them to help accelerate tanning as these can easily lead to burning. Whatever type of tanning cream you choose, you should always wear sunscreen when going out for some sun.