How Does Tanning Lotion Work?

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Tanning Lotions

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most effective tanning lotions have dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as their active ingredient. DHA works by interacting with dead skin cells that are at the top layer, or stratum corneum, of the epidermis. DHA is a colorless sugar that causes a color change in the dead skin cells, causing them to darken and simulating a tan. This effect can last for up to one week. It wears off as the dead skin cells are naturally shed away by the body. Even though you appear to have a tan after using DHA, your skin is still vulnerable to the sun's UV rays. Use sunscreen whenever your skin is exposed to the sun for long periods, to protect it from burning.

Bronzing Lotions

Bronzers often come in lotion form, although they may be available as a powder too. Rather than causing any permanent change in the skin cells, they darken the skin cosmetically in the same way that liquid makeup does. The effect is usually lighter than what you achieve with a DHA tanning lotion, because the skin is only stained or tinted. The tanned effect lasts until the bronzing lotion is washed off. It can be easily removed with soap and water.

Accelerator Lotions

Some tanning lotions claim to accelerate the natural process of getting a tan. They contain an amino acid called tyrosine, which is supposedly able to stimulate the body to produce more melanin, or skin pigment, which causes the skin to darken. According to Teen Health, no objective evidence exists that tanning accelerator lotions work, and they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.