It is quickly becoming common knowledge that spending too much time in the sun or an indoor tanning bed can be detrimental to your skin’s health and appearance. But what if we’re unhappy with the look of pale, sun-protected skin? In an attempt to reap the beauty benefits of tanning under UV rays without putting the skin at risk, sunless tanning lotions and sprays were born.
Recent research, however, is now questioning the safety and effectiveness of self-tanners that contain a particular ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which may even contribute to signs of premature aging. Read on to get to the bottom of why your sunless tanner may not be the safe alternative to UV tanning that was once thought.
How a Fake Tan Works
On the surface, it seems like a pretty simple idea: coating your skin in a tan-colored substance to mimic the natural glow that would result from harmful sun exposure. However, there is actually a precise chemical reaction that is occurring in your skin when you apply these self-tanning products.
They work by triggering the process of non-enzymatic glycation known as the Maillard reaction, which occurs when DHA, a simple sugar, interacts with the amino acids in your skin. Keep in mind that because amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins, including the collagen and elastin that give your skin its firm, supple structure, these molecules are necessary for preserving smooth, healthy-looking skin.
During this reaction, melanoidin molecules are formed, resulting in the appearance of a darker skin tone. This is the same reaction that causes foods like french fries and battered chicken to brown . The problem, however, is that researchers have now found evidence that DHA may have a toxic effect when applied to the skin.
In an extensive study, researchers found that this reaction between DHA and amino acids triggers cell death, reduces cell turnover rates, and causes DNA damage . Thus, although the use of this ingredient in skin care was previously labeled as safe by the FDA, this information may now be outdated and inaccurate. Further, this FDA approval does not apply to spray-on tanning products, and there are additional health concerns related to DHA exposure to the lungs .
Glycation and the Skin
When it comes to your skin’s health and appearance, glycation is an enemy. In this process, sugars like DHA bind to and damage proteins like collagen and elastin, which are made up of amino acids . When this occurs, a variety of unwanted effects can result, including the formation of premature lines and wrinkles, skin discoloration, and virtually every other sign of skin aging.
This is why eating a diet high in refined sugars can be detrimental to your skin’s appearance, and, as new research suggests, sunless self-tanners may have the same negative effects. In addition, it’s important to remember that exposure to UV rays can also accelerate the process of glycation and lead to signs of skin aging. So while sunless tanning lotions might not be the best option, neither is basking in the sunshine.
Reversing the Effects of Glycation on Your Skin
Before you get discouraged that previous tanning or sunless tanning may have permanently damaged your skin, there is good news. The unwanted effects of glycation on your skin can be reversed using the right topical skin care formulas, which typically contain Albizia julibrissin, a plant extract believed to combat glycation when applied to the skin. You can find a variety of specialized anti-glycation formulas available from AminoGenesis.
In truth, any sign of a tan is a sign that skin damage has occurred, so even though society seems to bombard us with pictures of the perfectly golden-brown beach body, this isn’t a true mark of good health. Instead, arm your skin with the ingredients it needs, including anti-glycation formulas and amino acid blends, to restore and maintain a smooth, youthful, and healthy-looking complexion.
 Forbes Magazine