How Do Tanning Lotions Works?

by Nina

There are a lot of people today who would like to get a healthy and glowing tan without going to the beach. What are the different types of self-tanners and how does it work?

There are more people today who are using tanning lotions to get darker, glowing skin. How does this type of lotion work? The skin is made up of two main layers – the epidermis on the outside and dermis on the inside. When you are tanning – be it naturally or with the use of a tanning lotion, the action happens on the epidermis. The epidermis itself is made up of different layers. Its deepest layer called the stratum basale or basal layer is affected during tanning. However, it is the stratum corneum or the outermost layer of the epidermis layer which is mostly affected by sun tanning products.

The most effective sunless tanning lotions are the ones that contain DHA or dihydroxyacetone as its active ingredient, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. DHA is a colorless sugar which interacts with dead skin cells in the stratum corneum. When it interacts with the dead skin cells, it prompts a change in color which can last from around five to seven days from application.

While most people prefer to use tanning products in the form of gel, lotion or sprays because of its ease of use, there are many other types of self-tanners in the market. Accelerators are tanning products that contain amino acid tyrosine. Apparently, this stimulates and increases the formation of melanin which helps speed up the formation of melanin. However, there are not scientific data to support this claim.


Tanning Lotions
Tanning Lotions

Tanning Lotions

The most effective tanning lotions have DHA or dihydroxyacetone as its active ingredient, as mentioned. It works by interacting with dead skin cells on the top layer of the epidermis which is also called the stratum corneum. While its result can last up to a week, it is important to know that the color wears off as dead skin cells naturally shed away. Aside from that, the skin is still vulnerable to the harmful rays of the sun even if you have a great tan because of the DHA. This is the reason why you should use sun protection particularly when your skin is exposed to the sun for a long period of time.


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Bronzing Lotions

Bronzers usually come in lotion form although it can also be used in powder form. This type of tanning product does not cause permanent damage in the skin cells. In fact, it darkens the skin the same way that liquid makeup does. Because the skin is only tinted, its effect on the skin is lighter than that of a tanning lotion that has DHA as its main active ingredient. The lotion can easily be removed with soap and water which is why it will only last until you take a shower.


Accelerator Lotions

As its name suggests, accelerators claim to speed up the natural process of getting a tan. Unlike other tanning lotions, you will not get an instant tan when applying an accelerator. Instead, it contains an amino acid called tyrosine. This apparently helps stimulate the body to produce more melanin and this makes the skin darker. However, experts are yet to prove how effective accelerators lotions are in helping speed up the tanning process.



There are a lot of people who are unable to get an even tan after applying a tanning lotion. Applying tanning lotions perfectly takes practice. Aside from that, there are also a few tips that people should keep in mind. Before applying a self-tanner, it is important to take a shower and to exfoliate. This is to helps the color last longer and make the application more even. If you will be applying the tanning lotion to a part of your body that you normally shave, you should shave prior to application.

Most beauty experts are divided as to whether or not the skin should be moisturized before applying a self-tanning lotion. There are some experts who say that hydration helps in having a more even application while there are others who suggest it interferes with the chemical reaction. It would be best to follow the instructions on the product that you will be applying. Makeup should be avoided before using self-tanners. It is recommended to avoid taking a showering at least 6 hours after applying a tanning lotion to give the skin more time to absorb the product. If you want to have an immediate result, apply products that contain coloring or bronzer as it provides an immediate result and it makes it easier to see where the lotion has been applied.



There are some self-tanning lotions that provide sunscreen protection. However, the protection may be effective only for a short period of time. This is why it is recommended to use sunscreen. You may want to get one that has SPF based on your level of exposure. If you will be outdoors for long hours, apply one with higher SPF. Sunscreen should also be reapplied regularly particularly after swimming or perspiring. This will help keep the skin protected from the harmful rays of the sun. It is a good idea to read reviews in magazines and online to know what the best self-tanning products are according to beauty experts and consumers.


Updated: 12/05/2011, Nina
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