Sunless tanning

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Can I Get a Tan Without exposure to UV rays? Sunless tanning is also known as self-tanning, being tangoed, or even UV-free tanning. It refers to the application of chemicals to the skin in a cream base to produce an effect similar in appearance to a traditional suntan obtained from the direct sun's rays and they provide a temporary, artificial tan.

Sunless tanning seems to have started in response to links between exposure of the skin to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays and skin cancer, discovered in the 1960s. This in turn produced alternatives to natural sun tanning such as the use of a sun bed, or tanning bed.

How Sunless tanning works

The skin is made up of two main layers: the epidermis on the outside and the dermis on the inside. Whether you are talking about sun tanning or self-tanning, the epidermis is where the action happens.

The epidermis itself also consists of layers. The deepest layer of the epidermis, called the stratum basale (basal layer), is affected during sun tanning. The stratum corneum (horny layer) is the outermost layer of the epidermis and it is this layer that is affected by most sun-less tanning products.

stratum corneum

The only color additive currently approved by FDA for these sunless tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Application can be difficult, and areas of the skin can react differently, resulting in an uneven appearance. The tan is not a dye, stain or paint, but a chemical reaction between the dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and the amino acids in the dead layer on the skin surface. This is similar to a reaction well known to food chemists called the Maillard reaction. This refers to the browning process during food manufacturing and storage. Similar to grilled sausages below!


Grilled sausages are brown due to the 'Maillard Reaction'

It does not involve skin pigmentation nor does it need Ultra Violet ray exposure to initiate the color change. DHA is a colorless sugar that interacts with the dead cells located in the stratum corneum of the epidermis. As the sugar interacts with the dead skin cells, a color change occurs.

This change usually lasts about five to seven days from the initial application. Every day, millions of dead skin cells are sloughed off or worn away from the surface of your skin. In fact, every 35 to 45 days, you have an entirely new epidermis. This is why tans from sunless, or self-tanning lotions will gradually fade. As the dead cells are worn away, so is your tan. For this reason, most of the sunless tanning products suggest that you reapply the sunless or self-tanner about every three days to maintain your "tan".

The whole reaction is claimed to be non-toxic and skin safe, without the potential risks associated with UV exposure. The tan is temporary and will fade gradually over 3 to 10 days.

However, what it doesn't allow you is the Vitamin D benefit from the UV rays, whether from the sun or from tanning booths.

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