The 4-night protocol for more radiant skin

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La dihydroxyacétone pour un teint hâlé naturel.

Dihydroxyacetone for naturally tanned skin.

Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is a sugar that tans your skin without exposing it to the sun. It’s the active ingredient in self tanning products, and is generally paired with another sugar, erythrulose. In this article, you’ll find out more about how DHA works to give you naturally tanned skin, as well as the different products you’ll find it in.

Published December 1, 2022, by Maylis, Chemical Engineer, — 4 min read

What is dihydroxyacetone and how does it work on your skin?

Dihydroxyacetone is a ketotriose, which means it’s made up of three carbon atoms with a carbonyl group in the middle of the chain. It’s found in most self tanning products, and can be plant-derived or synthetic. The plant-derived version is obtained by bioconversion of the glycerol found in sweetcorn, sugarcane, rapeseed, beetroot, palm oil, etc…

Upon contact with the skin, DHA causes a chemical reaction that leads to the glycation of the amino acids contained within the corneocytes (the cells of the stratum corneum). This reaction produces melanoidins, which are the heterogeneous polymers responsible for the skin’s brown coloration. This pigmentation appears in the 6 to 12 hours after applying a self tanning product. However, the color fades progressively and is gone completely in 5 to 7 days, thanks to the frequent renewal of the stratum corneum (the natural desquamation, or shedding, process). This artificial tan has no effect on the skin’s melanocytes, so offers no protection against UV rays. We therefore recommend using a suitable sunscreen when exposing your skin to the sun.

Which products contain dihydroxyacetone?

In skincare applications, DHA is regulated for use at a maximum concentration of 10%, but is generally found at concentrations between 3% and 8%. As we’ve explained, it tans the skin by reacting with the amino acids in the stratum corneum, so is the active ingredient in self tanning products, of which there are different types: milks, creams, serums, gels…

Our progressive self-tanning serum contains 10% DHA paired with erythrulose for a natural finish. It also contains carob pulp extract to help prolong the tanned effect. The serum will tan your complexion from 12 hours after first application, and is a progressive treatment.

Please note: DHA is also a hair dye ingredient. It works in a similar way as with skin cells, meaning it has the same browning reaction known as the Maillard reaction or glycation. Changes in hair color obtained by using DHA are generally temporary, and they don’t irritate the hair fibre, meaning that your hair stays healthy and shiny. It’s worth noting that the concentration of DHA authorized for use in hair dye products cannot exceed 6.25%.

Are there any risks when using DHA on your skin?

The SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) has declared that DHA in self tanning products does not present any risks for the health of consumers at a maximum concentration of 10%. Plus, there have been no scientific studies which prove that DHA penetrates through the skin’s protective barriers. It is not contraindicated for pregnant women. However, a self tanning product with DHA could cause irritation if it’s applied to sensitive areas of the body, which is why it should be kept away from any parts of the body with mucous membranes.

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