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How does my spray tan work?

Our skin is made up of two main layers: the epidermis (the outer layers) and the dermis (the deeper layers) – see below picture:

The Epidermis

This is the barrier layer and has no direct blood supply, but instead is supported and fed by the dermis. The epidermis is our interface to the world and has two main layers, the inner layer (of which is living) and the outer layer (of which is dead). The stratum corneum (horny layer) is the collection of cells that we see as our skin; the outer layer of dead cells. The cells in this layer are filled with a protein called keratin. Keratin is a protein and our hair and fingernails gain their strength from this. It also forms the visible skin but in a much thinner and more flexible layer. This layer is the one affected by most sunless tanning products.

The Dermis

The dermis is the layer containing all the ‘equipment’ – it contains sweat glands, hair follicles nerve endings and so on.

This is a colourless sugar that interacts with the dead cells located in the stratum corneum of the epidermis (mentioned earlier). It is often derived from plant sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane, and by the fermentation of glycerin.

DHA causes a chemical reaction with the amino acids in the skin, which are part of the protein containing keratin in the skin’s surface. The resulting pigments are called melanoidins. These are similar in colour to melanin (the natural substance in the deeper skin layers of the skin which go brown or ‘tan’ from exposure to UV rays). This change usually lasts about five to seven days from the initial application, until the natural dead skin cells naturally wear away from the surface of your skin. Did you know that every 35 to 45 days, you have an entirely new epidermis?

Today, DHA is the main active ingredient in all sunless tanning skincare preparations. It may be used alone or combined with other tanning components such as erythrulose. DHA is considered the most effective sun-free tanning additive.

Sunless tanning products contain DHA in concentrations ranging from 1% to 15%. Professional tanning solutions range from 5% to 15%. The percentages correspond with the product coloration levels from light to dark. The artificial tan takes 2 to 4 hours to begin appearing on the skin surface, and will continue to darken for the next 24 to 48 hours, depending on formulation type. Exfoliation, prolonged water submersion or heavy sweating can lighten the tan, as these all contribute to rapid dead skin cell exfoliation.

Traditionally, a spray tan is left on for about 6 – 8 hours. After this period, the bronzer / colour guide is washed away revealing the developed tan underneath. This will continue to develop over the next few hours.

With a 2 hour tan you are able to wash the solution off after just 2 hours. However, this does not mean your tan would be rapidly developed. It will develop at the same speed as a ‘traditional’ spray tan, but you are able to wash off the bronzer / colour guide and get on with your day whilst the tan continues to develop over the next few hours. Once washed off after 2 hours, you may feel that your tan has not developed much but 3-4 hours after application you will begin to rapidly see the tan developing; it will be at its peak development at around 8-12 hours.


Are ‘Spray-On’ Tans Safe? Experts Raise Questions as Industry Puts Out Warnings

By MARK GREENBLATT and GITIKA AHUJA | Good Morning America – Mon, Jun 11, 2012 3:07 PM EDT

Snippet of the report:

The FDA told ABC News it never could have envisioned the chemical’s use in spray tan back in the 1970s, and says “DHA should not be inhaled or ingested” today. It tells consumers on its website, “The use of DHA in ‘tanning’ booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the agency for review and evaluation.”

The agency advises consumers who spray tan they are “not protected from the unapproved use of this color additive” if they are inhaling the mist or allowing it to get inside their body. The agency recommends, “Consumers should request measures to protect their eyes and mucous membranes and prevent inhalation.” *


Snippet from the response from Simone Llewellyn, Oztan Director regarding the Channel 9 News report on the above American report:

Currently DHA is approved by the Australian Government departments NICNAS and the TGA as well as the American FDA and the European EU Directives. These are the regulations we follow and cannot even access ingredients not approved by these departments.

At Oztan we only use Ecocert organic DHA which is sourced from sugar. We do not use synthetic DHA, Propylene Glycol, Parabens or synthetic fragrance.

DHA is perfectly safe to use on the skin and has been used since the 1950s. For safe practice while spray tanning I would recommend good ventilation and an extraction filter unit.

*Please note:

That Spray Tan Place stocks TechnoTan and this contains only certified organic DHA and no parabens or alcohol. That Spray Tan Place By also uses an extractor filter unit, has good ventilation and stocks nasal filters, eye wear and face masks (as recommended by the FDA) should you require them.

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