Without Tanning Ultraviolet Radiation

Michael Caswell, Ph. D Comments
Posted : 07/01/1998


by Michael Caswell, Ph. D.

Without Tanning Ultraviolet Radiation

Indoor tanning provides a service for many people; however, it does not meet the needs of every tanning client. Some may want a good-looking tan for the big date this weekend; while others may be sun sensitive for a variety of reasons. To help salon operators meet the needs of these tanning hopefuls, the lotion industry now offers two self-tanning alternatives for salons.

First is the instant self-tanning lotion which uses DHA. Second is the instantaneous tan lotion which uses a skin dye known as lawsone.

These two lotions work differently, color the skin differently and give different results in use. Furthermore, a salon operator's ability to match the correct product with a client's specific needs will enhance his or her image as a skincare professional.

Instant Tanning Lotions: DHA

Instant tanning lotions contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Over a short period of time, DHA imparts a tan color to the outer layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. Instant tanning lotions usually are white or cream colored because DHA does not produce a tan color until it has reacted with proteins in the skin.

Different individuals have different amounts of protein in their stratum corneum, so different people have different results with instant tanning lotions.

A DHA instant tanning lotion will generate some color within approximately four hours and will continue to generate more color for up to 24 hours. After the lotion is applied, the DHA must penetrate the stratum corneum to find a protein to react with. Then, the reaction must occur. These chemical and physical processes take time, but less time than traditional UV-induced tanning.

Because the color development of the DHA instant tan requires a chemical reaction with proteins in the stratum corneum, the resulting tan color is very persistent, meaning that the color stays with the protein and the skin cell. It does not rub off to stain clothing and it does not wash off with perspiration or with cleansers. However, if the lotion accidentally gets onto any natural cloth, such as cotton, or some synthetic cloth, such as shirts, curtains or some types of carpet, it can react with the proteins in the cloth and permanently stain it. For this reason, some people may wish to avoid spray DHA products for use in their homes, preferring lotion DHA products that offer more control.

DHA's reaction with proteins produces both a wonderful tan color and a strange unpleasant odor. The odor cannot be changed without changing the tan color, because the same chemical reaction causes both.

The chemical reaction between DHA and proteins in the stratum corneum is similar to the browning reaction of bread crust during baking. The enticing aroma of fresh-baked bread results from the browning of the crust. Without the browning, no aroma would result. Sadly, the smell of a developing DHA tan is not so enticing. Lotion manufacturers have tried to cover DHA's strange unpleasant odor with fragrance, but with little success. The difficulty in covering the strange odor with fragrance is due to constant changes in the odor as the reaction progresses. The strange odor early in the reaction is very different from the odor later in the reaction. A fragrance that covers or masks the early odor will not be capable of masking the later odor.

Everyone can achieve more tan color in their skin with an instant tan lotion containing DHA. A Skin Type I person (very fair complexion, burns, never tans) should use an instant tan lotion that contains less DHA as an active ingredient. These lotions are generally called "light" instant tan lotions. Using a light lotion will generate some color for the Skin Type I individual without creating an orange color or streaking. A Skin Type II or III, who already has some color, may use a stronger instant tan lotion.

Instantaneous Tanning Lotions: Lawsone

Instantaneous tanning lotions contain a chemical called lawsone, a dye originally derived from the leaves of Lawsonia inermis. Lawsone is brown and gives the lotion a brown color. As the brown lotion is applied to the skin, the lawsone absorbs into the stratum corneum immediately imparting a brown color to the skin.

Because no chemical reaction is required for the production of color from an instantaneous tanning lotion, the color is immediate. The color goes on as the lotion goes on. The advantage of this type of tanning lotion is that the user can see and control how much color is applied.

The persistence of the instantaneous tanning lotion color is much less than that of the DHA tanning lotions. Lawsone does not chemically react with any part of the stratum corneum, so the chemical is not bonded to the skin like DHA is. Lawsone can be removed by rubbing the skin surface, by sweating, perspiring or stepping into a pool. Perspiration will cause some of the lawsone to leave the skin and be deposited on clothing, staining the garments. For this reason, instantaneous tanning lotions are better suited to colder climates, where perspiration is less likely.

An advantage of using instantaneous tanning lotion is the absence of any chemical reaction type odor. Because no chemical reaction occurs with lawsone in the skin, no offensive odor is produced. Your clients can apply the product and immediately go out with color, without the worry about odor.

Anyone can use lawsone because no chemical reaction occurs and the color will not turn orange. If a user wants more color, suggest that he or she use more lotion.


Over 24 hours, a DHA tanning lotion will generate a good tan color that will not wash or rub off. In contrast, a lawsone tanning lotion will develop a good tan color immediately that may wash or rub off.

The differences between the instant DHA tanning lotion and the instantaneous lawsone tanning lotion are shown in the table. Matching the needs of your clients with the characteristics of the lotion will provide the greatest satisfaction for your clients and ensure repeat business.

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