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What is Dihydroxyacetone?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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Dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA or glycerone, is a common active ingredient in tanning lotions or sprays designed for sunless use. A simple carbohydrate, dihydroxyacetone is crated from sugar beets or sugar cane and the glycerin fermentation process. It can also be used in wine making.

Though colorless, DHA stains the skin on contact. It does so by reacting with dead skin cells in the epidermis. This creates the brown color associated with a dihydroxyacetone tanning agent. Since the dead skin cells fall off the body within a week, the color, too, fades as quickly. This is why people who utilize sunless tanners must apply the products so often.

In most sunless tanning products, dihydroxyacetone is used as the primary ingredient. It can be used alone for the desired effect. Other tanning additives, such as erythrulose, may also be used in conjunction with DHA for more specific results. With either product, tanning typically takes two to four hours to start appearing on the user's skin. Following the initial appearance, the color may darken for an additional 24 to 72 hours.

The use of DHA to alter skin tone is considered a healthier alternative to sun tanning or using commercial tanning beds. Though the carbohydrate does no damage to the skin itself, it can still present a health hazard. Within the 24 hours following application, the skin becomes highly sensitive and susceptible to sun damage. During this period of time, users of the product are advised to wear sunblock, and to remain indoors for as long as possible.

Sprays and lotions are a popular choice for users of sunless tanning products. Dihydroxyacetone is also available as a gel, cosmetic wipe, or mousse. Some people may opt to have it applied professionally; in this case, it may be administered through any of the previous means or via an airbrush or tanning booth.

While DHA is generally considered to be nontoxic and safe for human use, it can cause irritation if placed on sensitive parts of the body. The eye and lip areas, as well as any body parts covered with mucus membranes, should be kept free of the product. Inhalation and ingestion of the ingredient are also strongly discouraged.

During the wine making process, the formation of dihydroxyacetone results in a sweetness added to the finished product. It can also add a unique aroma to the wine. This scent has been described by as "crust-like."

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt , Writer
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for BeautyAnswered, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.

Discussion Comments

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 10, 2011

@Monika - Spray on tans don't look very nice when they are wearing off. I've seen plenty of people wandering around in public sporting that look this summer too!

There is one thing you can do to alleviate the problem a little bit: exfoliate! Before applying the tan exfoliate your whole body with an exfoliating brush. This helps the tan wear off more evenly.

By Monika — On Jul 10, 2011

I'm glad some people utilize DHA containing self tanners instead of using the tanning bed. Tanning is harmful whether you do it in a bed or in the sunlight.

However most self tanner looks horrible when it's wearing off. I tried it once a few years ago and it wore off at different rates on different parts of my body. So parts of me were still tan while other parts were pale again. In fact, I looked like I had some sort of weird skin disease.

Whenever they fix this problem with DHA based self tanners I may give it a try again. But until that time, no thanks!

Sara Schmidt

Sara Schmidt

Writer

With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for BeautyAnswered, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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