This Is What Self-Tanner Actually Does To Your Skin

how self-tanner works

Unsplash/Brad Halcrow

It’s hard to resist the urge to bask in direct sunlight for hours at a time once the glorious summer months finally arrive. But if you’ve successfully protected your skin from unnecessary sun damage by staying under that beach umbrella, rocking SPF 50 at all times this year and making good use of self-tanner products instead, we applaud you.

Speaking of self-tanner, most of us know that the faux glow achieved with a lotion, cream or spray is way better for our health than absorbing all of the UV rays beaming down on sunny days. But what is actually in self-tanner products? And how do they work exactly? Since knowledge is power, we decided to find out.

The majority of self-tanners create that sunkissed glow with the help of an active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. It’s the color additive in the bulk of these products, and it works by attaching itself to all of the dead skin cells sitting on the top layer of your skin, darkening them and giving you that temporary “tan” until you eventually completely shed all of those dead skin cells and, therefore, the DHA attached to them. And then you repeat the wonderful self-tanning cycle all over again.

how self-tanner works


Honestly, once you start associating a perfectly even and oh-so-healthy fake tan with a bunch of dead skin, it loses its sex appeal pretty quickly. But hey, at least it’s not a bunch of sun-inspired wrinkles or skin cancer, right?

And at least we know now why self-tanner experts recommend exfoliating before coating your body in your preferred self-tanning potion. If you have excess dead skin around your knees and elbows, you’ll end up with a splotchy fake tan, and nobody wants that. The least you can do is make sure your dead skin is evenly distributed over your body so your glow looks good.

Okay, enough of the dead skin talk. It’s gross. We’re done here.


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