Once summer has come and gone many are left fiending for that warm, sun-kissed glow that seems to only be possible in the summer months. Fortunately, self-tanner is an easy way to darken your complexion and care for your skin, even in the coldest months.
Unfortunately, DHA is a harmful and irritating ingredient found in many self-tanners. Our list of DHA free self-tanners focuses on products that leave your skin bronze and soft.
DHA Free Self-Tanner: Guide & FAQ
What is DHA?
Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is the active ingredient in many popular sunless tanning products. DHA is a sugar molecule that creates a chemical reaction with the skin’s amino acids to make the skin noticeably darker.
DHA naturally originates from plant sources like sugar beets and sugar cane. It can also result from the chemical fermentation of glycerin. This ingredient is included in sunless tanning products because it can stimulate a tan and temporarily darken the skin.
DHA is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a color additive for external use on the human body. DHA products should not be applied to the body’s face or sensitive parts because they can be harmful. DHA is strictly used to provide a tanned appearance on the skin when applied topically.
This ingredient is not particularly bad for the skin, but it can lead to adverse reactions if used on someone with sensitive skin or allergies to the ingredient. You can usually tell if DHA is causing issues for you based on any rashes or skin irritation that appears after using a self-tanner with that ingredient.
What Does DHA Do?
DHA is the ingredient that darkens the skin when using a self-tanner product that does not require UV radiation.
This tanning process works because the DHA sugar molecule reacts with the dead cells that rest on the top layer of your skin. As you rub in the self-tanning lotion, the DHA begins the chemical reaction process and stimulates your pores to create a darker skin effect.
The skin appears darker because the DHA reaction generates melanoidins on the skin. Melanoidins are pigments that appear dark because of the wavelengths of light they absorb on the skin. The skin will continue to appear darker as the process continues working up to 72 hours after the self-tanner is applied.
The darker coloring resulting from DHA typically wears off in a few days as your dead skin cells shed. Some brands boast their product can last up to ten days, while others will only last for about three or four days.
What Should I Know About DHA Free Self-Tanners?
DHA free self-tanner options can be challenging to come by because of the prevalence of the ingredient in tanning lotions.
However, some companies have found a way to work around DHA popularity. Other ingredients can be substituted for DHA still to create a noticeable darkening effect on the skin.
If you have sensitive skin or are allergic to DHA, you should use a DHA free self-tanner. Adverse reactions can still result from DHA free tanners, but the possibility of such is lessened significantly because most DHA substitutes are natural and less intense on the skin.
DHA self-tanners also always feature a distinct odor emitted as the lotion is worked into your skin. The odor comes directly from the DHA, but some self-tanning lotions use strong fragrances to mask the smell. DHA free self-tanners may also have a distinct scent, but it won’t be the same smell that comes from the DHA chemically reacting with your dead skin cells.
Just like other tanning lotions, DHA free self-tanners will not protect you from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun unless SPF is included. Even when using a self-tanner, you should still apply sunscreen when spending time in the sun to protect your skin.
Just because your skin appears darker does not mean it is any more protected from the sun than usual. Unlike a natural tan, self-tanning products do not offer any UV protection just because your skin looks like you have been in the sun.
Melanoma, or skin cancer, is the most common cancer in the United States. Though it cannot be eradicated entirely, taking care to protect your skin from the sun is an excellent way to lessen your chances of cancer and keep your skin looking young and healthy.
How to Apply DHA Free Self-Tanner
Applying a DHA free self-tanner is very similar to any other self-tanning product you may use. Just because there is no DHA does not mean the product should be used any more often than a self-tanner with DHA.
Follow these simple steps to make sure your DHA free tanning experience is worthwhile:
Step 1: Exfoliate
Use a body scrub or exfoliating glove in the shower before applying self-tanner to get rid of some dead skin cells resting on your skin’s surface.
Step 2: Dry off completely.
Make sure your body is entirely free of moisture before applying the self-tanner. Excess moisture on the skin will create issues with rubbing in the lotion thoroughly, leading to a streaky or uneven appearance.
Step 3: Apply carefully.
Use a tanning mitt to carefully apply your choice of DHA free self-tanner all over the body. Avoid the face and sensitive areas of the body. Rub in the self-tanner thoroughly to create a uniform tan over your entire body.
Step 4: Moisturize
You can extend the life of your tan by moisturizing regularly. Some brands offer “extender lotions” that include intense moisturizing agents to keep your skin hydrated in the days following your self-tanner application.
Step 5: Protect
Keep your skin protected and your tan looking brand new by bathing with a sulfate-free soap every day. You should also use a sunscreen with a high SPF when spending time outdoors, even for short periods.
Best DHA Free Self-Tanners: Our Top 3 Picks
Finding a DHA free self-tanner can feel almost daunting because of the prevalence of DHA in tanning lotions. However, there are some options with significantly less DHA or lotions that use other ingredients to achieve the same bronze look.
Here are some products we’ve found that either cut back on or eliminate DHA:
Ed Hardy opted to use a more natural ingredient than DHA for this instant bronzing lotion.
- Trustworthy natural products
- Softening and hydrating agents included in lotion
- MelanoBronze and Melactiva stimulate activity to create a deep, dark tan
MelanoBronze and Melactiva work similarly to DHA by stimulating melanin activity in the skin to initiate a deeper, darker tan. The MelanoBronze enhances the skin’s pigmentation like UV rays, but the MelanoBronze does so without UV exposure.
The melanin-stimulating products in this self-tanner continue to build on themselves over time, meaning you can achieve a deep, natural-looking tan with just the use of this lotion.
This reasonably-priced self-tanner also includes advanced matrixyl synthe 6, which tightens the skin to prevent wrinkles and drooping skin. The argan and hemp seed oil are responsible for softening, hydrating, and moisturizing the skin with every use.
The lotion is said to be streak and stain-free, ensuring there won’t be a leftover residue on your skin or streaks along your body. The lotion’s floral fragrance is strong, but it’s a welcome change from the stinky after-tan smell that DHA products always leave behind.
If you’re looking for a color-extending bronzer, Ed Hardy also makes other DHA free self-tanner options. The natural New York State of Mind organic lotion has a Mahogany Beachwood scent and several moisturizing agents to keep skin looking young and bronze.
This DHA free self-tanning lotion promises a dark, easy tan after just one use.
- All paraben-free and hypoallergenic ingredients cater to even the most sensitive skin
- Mango seed butter acts as a non-greasy natural moisturizer
- Reasonably priced
The Pro Tan formula includes all gluten-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic ingredients to ensure anyone can use the tanning lotion.
Because the lotion is not too thick or greasy, it can be easily absorbed into the skin to create a longer-lasting color. After stimulating your skin to produce more pigmentation and melanin, oatmeal acts as a calming extract in the formula by soothing your skin.
Mango seed butter is also included as a hydrating agent that deeply moisturizes your skin with every use.
This hypoallergenic bronzer is one of the most natural options on the market for DHA free self-tanners. The ingredients should not cause any issues for even the most sensitive skin. However, be sure to still test a small amount of the lotion on your body first before applying it all over, to be safe!
This DHA free tanning lotion is perfect for anyone worried about the effects of too much sun exposure on their skin.
- High-quality hydrating and moisturizing agents
- Vanilla extract is included for a relaxing feel and familiar scent
- Firming agents focus on reducing the appearance of cellulite and scars
The Devoted Creations Shimmer Tanning Lotion includes several ingredients that are specifically geared toward enhancing your skin’s appearance.
The specific Devoted Creation BodyFit ingredients reduce the appearance of cellulite on your skin. The RevitaFit ingredients tighten the skin, and the Volufiline elements focus on the body’s curves to keep the lotion from appearing streaky or uneven.
This lotion has a birthday cake scent that isn’t too overwhelming, even when used in large quantities. There is also a little bit of vanilla extract in the lotion to promote relaxation.
To combat the pungent stench that is often found in self-tanners, this lotion also includes deodorizing and freshening ingredients that smell clean and fresh all day.
This DHA free lotion includes a bronzer, but the bronzer does not work as quickly as other competitors. Consistent use of this product can help your skin appear younger, firmer, and more healthy while also influencing a slightly darker complexion.
DHA is such a popular ingredient in self-tanners that it is almost impossible to avoid. However, natural and less intense options are available if you need to tend to your sensitive skin or use a more natural method of obtaining a deep, non-UV tan.
The best DHA free self-tanner is one that will leave you feeling better after you use it than before you put it on. Pay attention to what moisturizing agents work for you, then pick a self-tanner that utilizes similar elements and leaves your skin feeling soft, fresh, and clean.
You don’t have to use DHA to achieve the perfect tan, so venture out for more natural options that lead you to feel effortlessly confident in your skin.