The 5 Key Components for Tanning Products

Made trendy by Coco Chanel in the 1920s, sunbathing used to be the best way to get a healthy glow.

Now, however, we are very aware of the damage that can be caused by the natural rays, so fake tan has become an ever more popular and ever more sophisticated way to boost your mood without risking lines and wrinkles.


Most effective home fake tan products have a combination of ingredients in order to effectively darken the skin and maintain suppleness and elasticity, as well as to provide protection against UV rays.

The 5 main components of most fake tan products are:


A non-toxic sugar, dihydroxyacetone (or DHA) is the key ingredient in most fake tan lotions.

Through a chemical reaction with the outer layer of the epidermis, DHA darkens the skin in a two-to-four hour process that can continue over a 24 hour period.

The depth of the shade achieved depends on the amount of DHA present in the lotion, but as the reaction is confined to the uppermost dead layer of cells – cells which are naturally shed within a week – a tan will fade quickly, meaning that the process will need to be regularly repeated in order to keep a constantly sun-kissed appearance.

Suitable for most skin types, the hormones produced in pregnancy sometimes increase skin sensitivity, making a pregnant woman more susceptible to an allergic reaction.

In such circumstances it is advised that products containing DHA are either tested on a small patch of skin before applying all over the body, or avoided altogether.


Also known as D-Erythrulose, erythrulose reacts to the amino acids in the topmost layer of the epidermis and may be used instead of DHA as the active ingredient in a tanning product like Tanning pills.

As erythrulose takes longer to have an effect on the skin, however, the tan takes longer to develop so it is often combined with DHA in order to give a fast tan that lasts for a longer period of time.

Tanning products with erythrulose often last for up to 10 days rather than the 7 expected with only DHA as an active ingredient.

As with all fake tanning products, however, building up the required color may take more than one application over a period of days.


A type of chemical that is most commonly used as a preservative, a paraben is utilized for its bacterial and fungicidal properties.

As well as turning up in fake tanning products, parabens are used in moisturizers, makeup, shampoos, and toothpaste, as well as being used as food additives.


In order to maintain skin elasticity and smoothness, as well as to provide a base for the DHA or erythrulose, fake tan products tend to contain moisturizing agents and lotions.

By hydrating the skin not only do the tanners smooth the epidermis, but they also help the tan last longer and have a more natural-looking application.

For those a little nervous about using a fake tanning lotion, there are moisturizers available that have a minor amount of active tanner in them to allow a more subtle build of color.

Sun protecting factors

Fake tan products do not always provide specific protection against UV-B rays unless it is stated in the ingredients.

Although many people think a ‘base’ coat of self-tanner will help to prevent sunburn, only those products which list an SPF actually act as a sunscreen.

In the same way that the qualities of any sun protection product are defined by their Sun Protecting Factor (the higher the number, the more protection offered), fake tans with inclusive SPF will list the level of protection.

It should be noted, however, that the effectiveness of any sunscreen will depend upon the skin tone of the user and their natural susceptibility to burning.