Tanning Cream

Tanning cream is becoming increasingly popular with the masses, who hope to achieve a golden tan without any need to go outdoors into the sun and subject themselves to its potentially harmful ultraviolet rays. Fake tanners, sunless tanners or preparations used to imitate a tan, as in a tanning cream, are being sought more and more by people who are becoming more aware of the dangers of long term sun exposure and sunburn. So, if you want to get a darker shade of color without having to step foot in a tanning bed or lying out in the sun for hours, you may want to learn more about the innovative sunless, self-tanning products.

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There are a few ways to achieve a tan without exposing your skin to the sun. Some of these include:

  • tanning cream or stainer - with dihydroxyacetone
  • Bronzers - with dyes
  • Tan accelerators - with tyrosine and psoralens
  • Sunbeds and sunlamps - with artificial UV rays

The main ingredient used in tanning creams is DHA, which is an abbreviation for dihydroxyacetone. This ingredient is a colourless 3-carbon sugar that interacts with the skin's outer cells in the epidermis to create a chemical reaction with the skin's amino acids. This ultimately produces a darkening effect on the skin. Because there is no penetration to deeper layers of the skin and only the surface of the skin is affected, there is no risk at all to the other skin layers. Besides this, DHA carries less health risks than any of the other available methods and it is the only active ingredient approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for sunless tanning purposes.

Tanning creams come in a variety of formulations, with many containing special added ingredients such as natural moisturizing properties in order to keep the skin healthy, supple and soft as well as tanned. There are also different concentrations of creams, so it is important to read the label and know which level of concentration will work best with your skin. Your final look will depend on the formulation you choose, your application technique, as well as your complexion type. The following points of consideration may help you:

  • Choose a concentration of DHA that works for you. If a new user, start with a low concentration. They are also easier to obtain an even application. Concentrations range from light, to medium, to dark, coinciding with concentration levels of approximately 2.5% to 10%
  • Choose a moisturizing formulation if you have a dry skin
  • Choose an alcohol based formulation if you have an oily skin
  • For evenness of coloration, look for the ingredient alpha hydroxy acid which aids in the sloughing off of any excess dead skin cells to enable a smooth effect

Tanning creams are even used under medical advice for such conditions as:

  • Vitiligo
  • Spider veins
  • Photosensitivity disorders such as polymorphic light eruption, erythropoeitic protoporphyria, or even drug induced photosensitivities


A good habit to get into is testing your skin's reaction well beforehand with a small patch test somewhere on your body to prevent any negative skin reactions to the product. A color change is usually noticeable within one hour of application. However, maximum skin darkening can take anything from 8-24 hours to develop. If you want a darker color, you can apply several successive layers every few hours to achieve this.

The resultant tan will last until your dead skin cells rub off, which usually takes 5-7 days. If you wish to keep your tan going, you need to reapply every 1 to 4 days.

When applying the cream, be sure not to get any in your mouth, eyes or nose. It is also very important to wash your hands after applying as most tanning agents will leave your hands looking orange if you do not wash immediately.

Tanning cream can be used on the entire body, even the face. Although you may want to look for a specific cream that is formulated for the skin on your face.

Please note that this method of tanning does not affect your melanin, or natural pigment levels and so will not provide any added protection for your skin against the sun. Although DHA itself does provide a small amount of UV protection, it is wise to choose a cream that contains added sunscreen ingredients if you intend to go into the sun. Even better, apply a sunscreen over your tanning cream. Despite the darkening of your skin after using the tanning cream, you are as vulnerable as ever to the sun's potentially harmful UV rays.

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