If you love having a golden tan in the summer, then you may opt to use sunless tanning lotions or visit salons for spray tans. You may not think twice about this habit, because sunless tans are widely believed to be healthier alternatives to natural sun tans. However, read on learn about why the most common active ingredients in sunless tanners are harmful to your skin, including one that is even in organic brands.
How DHA in Sunless Tanners Works
The main ingredient in most sunless tanners is DHA, which stands for dihydroxyacetone. Of course, sunless tanners don’t just stain your skin, but most rely on this ingredient to perform a chemical reaction with your skin cells to produce that golden or brown color.
You may have heard of the term Maillard Reaction in relation to cooking, and this is the chemical process that turns vegetables brown when you sautee them in oil (and plays a role in why many foods turn brown when cooking them).
While this chemical reaction may give food a nice flavor, it is known to produce carcinogens, so many health-conscious people avoid browning their food in this way (or eat raw diets altogether).
If you have ever wondered how DHA turns your skin brown, it may surprise you that it relies on the same Maillard Reaction that turns food brown while cooking it.
DHA has been shown in studies to cause skin cells to die and generate free radicals, which are substances that cause cancer and speed up the aging process in your skin. So, that same product you use to make your skin look more appealing to you now may be damaging it in the long run.
Erythrulose is Not Safer
There are DHA-free sunless tanners on the market, and most contain a substance called erythrulose, which can be derived from sugar cane or raspberries (although it can also be made in a lab), so it sounds much safer. However, it reacts with your skin in the same way as DHA and also produces free radicals.
There are even organic skin care brands producing products with “naturally derived DHA” and erythrulose, but realize that, in the end, the additional organic ingredients in the products may be safer, but the active ingredients, if they are DHA or erythrulose, are not.
If you use sunless tanning products that contain either of these ingredients, then realize they are harming your skin, even if they are DHA-free. If you still choose to use the products, just keep this in mind and try to use them as little as possible.