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How Self Tanners Work

how do self tanners work

Everyone has the desire to look their best.

The sun can be an enemy in this quest, making our skin less than its best and providing us with wrinkles and age spots that we don’t want.

One way people combat these problems is by using self tanners. But how do they work?

The tan you get from self-tanners is a lot darker than the sun, but it goes away after just one or two days.

The key thing to know about this product are its ingredients – DHA in particular will react with dead skin cells until they turn brown and begin to give the skin a temporary tan.

With this, there’s no risk for wrinkles!

A Closer Look at How Self Tanners Work

Self-tanning products come in many different forms, with creams, lotions and sprays being the most popular.

There are also pills that can be taken orally! Spray self tanners are mostly for those who want more reach more parts of their body.

The human skin is made up of two main layers: the dermis and epidermis.

The epidermis is like the top layer of skin that you see – it’s constantly growing new cells, which are created in the dermis.

Stratum Basale

During sunbathing, the stratum basale (the bottom layer) is stimulated and rejuvenated with melanin (a pigment that gives the skin its color).

This causes a very fast tanning effect, which you can see developing right before your eyes.

Over time though, this layer of cells will begin to break down, as it’s constantly growing new cells.

When this happens, the tan goes away and the skin begins to revert back to its lighter state.

Stratum Corneum

The stratum corneum also while sunbathing, the stratum corneum is what causes your skin to tan.

This layer of skin can be found on top of the two others, and it’s very protective. It protects the epidermis while allowing it to breathe so that water can evaporate.

When you go out in the sun to get a tan this layer doesn’t get darker because the melanin doesn’t affect it.

The result of this is that when you come in from the sun, your skin begins to become lighter again, and the cells in the stratum corneum begin to fall off – which is why you get a tan in the first place!

This process can be prevented by applying sunscreen or using self-tanning products.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

The key to this process is something called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It reacts with dead skin cells and leaves everyone tanned.

When a self-tanner is applied, the DHA causes your dead skin cells to tan as well!

As these dead cells build up, you’ll have a darker and darker tan until it goes away in about three days (you can make it last longer by exfoliating).

You can also use different ingredients such as bronzers and moisturizers to make your tan last longer.

You can even choose from a variety of bronzers, such as brown or red-brown – the color you build up will depend on which shade you use.

Self tanners help people avoid developing dark spots and wrinkles that come with aging, but they do affect the human body.

Ingredients of Different Self-tanning Products

DHA is the most effective and safest ingredient of self tanning. However, other products do contain some more active ingredients:

  • Amino Acid Tyrosine – products like self tanning lotions and pills are high in this ingredient.
    • It can cause pores to become more open, which potentially leads to acne breakouts.
  • Canthaxanthin – this is present in self tanning pills and creams.
    • It’s what gives the skin that reddish tint that we see in some people who use self tanning products.
    • This product can be carcinogenic to humans and other animals, so it should be used with caution.
    • Remember though, exposure to sunlight during summer months can easily cause melanoma – so don’t forget your sunscreen!
  • Skin Bronzers – this is a makeup product that also is present in self tanning products which can help create a tan skin tone.
  • Sunscreen – most of the self tanning products don’t have sunscreen, while some have it.
How Do Self Tanners Work

How to Apply Self Tanning Lotion

1. Exfoliate the skin – this process will get rid of all the dead skin cells that are currently hanging out on your body.

This will allow your self-tanning lotion to go over these cells smoothly, without getting stuck in pores.

2. Apply the self tanner – do this in circular motion.

This should be done several hours before bedtime because you want to make sure it’s fully developed by the time you go to sleep.

3. Be careful in the joint areas – these areas have the most amount of friction and chances are they will look a little dark.

4. Wait for 10 minutes – just to make sure the color develops and dries.

That’s why it’s important to use comfortable clothes that aren’t tight when doing this, so as to avoid sweat.

5. Wash your hands – this will prevent the staining of fabric and other items after you wash your hands.

6. Let it do its magic overnight – when you wake up, rinse off in a shower or bathtub with lukewarm water.

You’ll notice that the color has already developed on your skin, but it’s not that dark yet.

7. Rinse off – after you’ve rinsed, dry off with a towel and wait for another ten minutes.

The color should be at its darkest point now. After this, you can go ahead and put on your desired clothes.

You’ll need to repeat the whole process every three days if you want to maintain your color.

Even though self tanners will make you look great, don’t forget to stock up on sunscreen in the summer!

Some Self Tanners Side Effects

Some people can develop a rash or blemishes from using self tanners, and others may experience headaches and nausea.

They should also be used with caution if you’re undergoing dialysis because they may interact with the dialysis process.

The best way to avoid these side-effects is by first patch testing the product on your skin before using it.

This will either be done at the store you buy the product from or on a small portion of your arm.

If there’s a problem, you’ll notice it immediately and can back away from the self-tanner before it’s too late.

Another way to avoid having any problems is by taking your time while applying it.

You should always avoid your eyebrows, eyelashes and hairline while applying it, as it can cause discoloration.

It’s also best to use self tanners at night because they can make you more sensitive to the sun.


Self-tanners are an easy way to give yourself a tan without risking sunburn or premature aging – even if you don’t want to go out in the sun.

But before you try one, make sure you patch test it first and apply it slowly so that you don’t hurt your skin!

Make sure to follow the instructions on the label of the self tanner product you choose, and be sure to use sunscreen with it.

Self tanning products are a great alternative to sunbathing, especially if you don’t have the time or desire to do it.

Just make sure to take your time and carefully apply the self tanning product, and you’ll enjoy a beautiful tan without getting burned in the sun!

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