Underneath the Color of Self-Tanned Skin

Did you know that the same chemical reaction that gives beer its brown color can also give our skin a temporary “tan” color? Referred to as the Maillard reaction, self-tanning is a $763.4 million dollar industry consisting of lotions, sprays, and gels that give our skin a golden glow without the damaging effects of the sun’s UV rays.

For the Maillard reaction to occur, self-tanning products contain the active ingredient DHA (dihydroxyacetone). This is a nontoxic simple sugar that, when applied to our skin, chemically reacts with the amino acids in the dead layer of our skin’s surface. Well known in the food processing industry, this reaction also creates the brown shades found in beer, toast, and other foods or beverages. Since this chemical reaction is only happening on the top layer of skin, however, the bronze-like color doesn’t last long. Every 35 – 45 days, the skin’s surface is renewed and any natural or added pigment fades away.

For individuals concerned about premature aging, skin damage, or are just looking for a more immediate “tan,” self-tanning is a good alternative to spending hours under the sun. Although sometimes criticized for causing an unnatural orange hue, self-tanner product formulations are continuously improved to give users a more natural-looking tan long after summer has passed.

To measure and evaluate changes in skin color, the following products are recommended:

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