Self-tanning lotions: are they a healthy way to achieve a tan?

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2002;3(5):317-8. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200203050-00003.


Self-tanning creams utilize dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as an active agent, to produce a temporary staining of the skin. DHA is a 3-carbon sugar that interacts with the protein-rich stratum corneum to produce melanoidins, which are brown chromophores. Lower concentrations of DHA produce lighter skin-staining, while higher concentrations produce darker skin-staining, resulting in the simulation of a tan for persons of all skin types. DHA is well tolerated, for both internal ingestion and topical application, with the exception of infrequent allergic reaction in some patients. However, self-tanning creams only offer a sun protection factor (SPF) of 3 to 4, with protection at the low end of the visible spectrum and limited ultraviolet A protection. In addition, this SPF is only present for several hours after application of the product, and does not last for the duration of the tan. Self-tanning creams are a method of safely simulating the appearance of a tan without photoprotection. However, other sun protection will be required.

MeSH terms

  • Dermatologic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dihydroxyacetone / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Sunburn / prevention & control
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Dihydroxyacetone