The Secret The Beauty Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know: Self Tans Can Actually Cause Cell Death & Premature Ageing

An added glow to the skin can not only positively impact your confidence, but help your summer wardrobe to look even better. Over the years we’ve all been actively encouraged to ditch the sunbeds and undertake a safer and ‘faker’ alternative; self tans have become incredibly mainstream and offer a sun-free way of achieving a golden and radiant glow. I’ve been a self-tanner for years, transforming my pasty pale skin into something a little less transparent – especially as we step into summer and start to slip into something a little more revealing. As scientific advances have made self tanners even more realistic and less troublesome to apply, the market has boomed to leave the self tanning shelves of your local Boots store bursting with newness. A little indulgent tanning time once a week can offer a golden glow, but did you know the main ingredient in the majority of your tan products is actually holding a dirty little secret?

DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is the main active ingredient in the majority of self tanning products; DHA is a colorless chemical (derived from glycerin) that interacts with the amino acids in dead skin cells to produce a brown color change. DHA has been used as the standard technology in self-tanning for years and it is the only approved ingredient to be able to make a self-tanning claim. It’s this ingredient that has the biscuity scent we so closely associate with self tan, and the ingredient that helps provide a natural glow all over the skin’s surface. However, the use of DHA brings with it two problems that are not widely reported within the beauty industry: firstly, like nearly all sugar-type compounds, it increases the presence of free radicals, and secondly, DHA is known to cause cell cycle block and cell death. That can’t be a good thing.

Put simply, the main ingredient in your self tan is actually causing the skin cells on the surface to become damaged and eventually die off. This leads to the dryness (and often uneven texture) that self-tans can cause, which is why we’re told to regularly moisturise and exfoliate skin to reveal the fresh and new skin beneath. Cell damage presents itself in the form of ageing, so if you’re a regular tanner you could start to see your skin prematurely becoming drier, crinklier and prone to pigmentation. Unsurprisingly this is an issue that’s not discussed in the beauty industry and is incredibly difficult to find too much about online, but it is absolutely based in scientific fact. (Can you imagine if this fact was widely known? The whole market would likely implode!) Although a little every so often isn’t going to make that much of a difference, if you’re a regular self tanner then it’s definitely worth understanding the potential negative impact of such a mainstream product and getting to know the alternatives. (I’m a firm believer in making informed decisions.)

Talking of which… Deciem as a company are increasingly known for pushing the boundaries, challenging the norm and refusing to just put up with what’s widely accepted within the beauty industry – which is why they’ve developed their own alternative to DHA enriched self tanners. Their Hand Chemistry Glow Oil is free from DHA and is enriched with a keto-sugar originally found in raspberries. This has been used in the past as a support mechanism to make the DHA induced tan more natural, but on its own there is very little effect from a tanning perspective. Deciem’s formula therefore uses a unique peptide technology that allows for an effect to occur from this keto sugar alone, which (like many of their advances and innovations) was discovered by accident. Melanin Hexapeptide (the peptide in question) supports the keto-sugar in forming a recognizable colour without DHA, as well as leading to production of your own melanin (which is where the natural bronze colour comes from when we’re exposed to sun.)

This means Hand Chemistry Glow Oil can create a natural bronzed look while encouraging your body to tan without exposure to sun. Bonus. Additionally, the formula helps to create an even skin tone and increase cell turnover (without peeling) to provide a healthy and even looking surface; it’s a tanning product and skincare saviour in one. It does take a little getting used to, knowing that we’ve been applying lotions, creams and mousses for decades, but the lightweight and non-greasy oil formula leaves behind a natural glow while the ingredients inside get to work; it does take some time to develop and won’t provide a drastic colour result, but it definitely adds a healthy glow to otherwise pasty pale skin. I’m not saying this will completely replace my much loved mousses, lotions and creams, but it’s worth having an option within your repertoire that provides a skin-loving alternative. Personally I only get out the tan during the short summer period we experience in the UK, but if you’re a regular year-round-tanner then it’s definitely worth picking up a little bottle of Glow Oil and seeing if it could help keep your skin looking fabulous for longer. Preventing fine lines and wrinkles on your face may be a priority, but it’s important to look after your limbs too.

Hand Chemistry Glow Oil is available to buy online, priced £20.00 for a 100ml bottle.

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  1. PeachPlz Beauty
    May 30, 2016 / 10:03 am

    i feel like i've just got smarter LOL, i fortunatly dont need a tan but this sounds like a great product for those who doXOXO Peachplz |

  2. Kinga
    May 30, 2016 / 10:34 am

    Gosh, this is a very useful post – thank you!

  3. Daniela Om
    May 30, 2016 / 10:47 am

    DHA is something I read about before and I also noticed that all beauty bloggers who mentioned their love for self tan are also using skincare for dry skin, however when that time of the year comes when baring legs is a necessity to survive the heat I cannot resist to slap some self tanner on my paper white legs and inner part of my arms? Might be worth investigating the alternatives though as I hate fake tan and all this thing that stain clothes.

    • Hayley Carr
      May 31, 2016 / 7:58 am

      Yep, it's not a coincidence. I've had a few people on social media say that they've been tanning for years and have experienced the issues described, so it transfers to practical examples too – not just theoretical! Good to be informed.

  4. Anonymous
    May 30, 2016 / 6:44 pm

    This sounds alot like an advert

    • Hayley Carr
      May 30, 2016 / 7:18 pm

      Well, it's not. It's called thorough research, good writing and a product I believe in. But thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Emma
      May 31, 2016 / 7:36 am

      II thought the exact same thing. "These concerns, however, have been widely dismissed as scare-mongering. Dr Emma Meredith, Head of Scientific and Technical Services at the CTPA, says: ‘DHA has recently been reviewed by the European Commission’s independent scientific committee, which oversees the safety of cosmetic ingredients and confirmed it is safe in cosmetic products.’ used properly, DHA is considered safe. “Most dermatologists agree that the spray-on tans or the tans in a bottle, which basically cause coloration of the outer layer of the epidermis –- the stratum corneum -– are safe and effective,” says Leffell."I don't use self-tanners so it's not really a concern of mine.

    • Hayley Carr
      May 31, 2016 / 7:54 am

      The two papers: UV generated free radicals in skin: Their prevention by sunscreens and their induction by self tanning agents (2007) DHA, the active browning ingredient in sunless tanning lotions, induces DNA damage, cell cycle block and apoptosis in cultured HaCaT keratinocytes (2004) 1. You can't believe anything the Daily Mail says. Ever. 2. There are many conflicting arguments, but the majority of widely understood information (as per the examples you quoted above) relate only to ingestion of chemical; not to the side effects of dry skin and premature ageing. 3. The reason it's not reported by mainstream media is because the majority would lose a tonne of advertising revenue.

    • Anonymous
      May 31, 2016 / 12:26 pm

      The thing is, you're a blogger not a scientist. I feel like you're trying to understand complex dermatology that's challenging you. You can't just pick one article you like the sound of and regurgitate it, you need to read all around the issue to give a balanced perspective. I know that dramatic headlines make for excellent click bait but your readers deserve facts.

    • Hayley Carr
      May 31, 2016 / 7:37 pm

      "You're a blogger not a scientist." Not all bloggers are the same. My background is actually in product development, ingredient legislation and the science of beauty; I studied for a long time and spent ten years working in the industry, so I do know more than your average blogger. Judging someone's knowledge, understanding and background based only on your perceptions of what a 'blogger is' can distort your view of what they write. My readers do deserve facts; everything I write is based in fact. I do not regurgitate anything, and if you think I do then you've not spent long enough on this site to understand what LBQ is all about. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Leanne Marshall
      June 1, 2016 / 8:05 am

      ha ha ha – Your a JUST blogger Hayley so you should know you can not have knowledge about anything other than how pretty something is!!! …..Why do people comment such ridiculous things! Leanne xx

  5. Emma K
    May 31, 2016 / 12:18 am

    Nice post it's an interesting subject what refs did you use? I had heard about the free radical % increase from DHA and that it can also build up as a residue in the epidermis and dermis. But not sure how DHA could possibly make the cells on the surface layer (stratum corneum) die off or block their cycle as their already dead keratinocytes…..slight science mix up?I think one of the key concerns is the fact it mutagenic when inhaled (which is why it isn't for use for spray tans) but it is considered safe for use by medical associations in the UK so I think we could all indulge on our pastier days!

    • Hayley Carr
      May 31, 2016 / 7:56 am

      References above; and no, not a science mix up! I don't just chuck stuff on the blog without responsibly researching and ensuring I understand first – that would be irresponsible. If you read the papers it's documented in fact. Most focus on the ingestion or inhalation of the chemicals used, rather than actually the side effect on the skin.

    • Emma K
      May 31, 2016 / 10:22 am

      I never insinuated you don't research properly I was just interested in the references thanks for sharing them. I love bloggers who actually care about the science behind products. It was only a minor point about the science. The skin surface cells are a layer called the stratum corneum and it is made up of dead keratinocytes that don't have a cell cycle and naturally slough off anyway. So they won't be dying off and causing dryness. Took a look at the papers and the one talking about mutagenic cell death relates to the fact that DHA can penetrate to active keratinocytes below the initial skin layer and into the dermis and this research is also about cultured cells and hasn't been demonstrated in human models. The main worry is about cancerous effects which is obviously the most important thing!

    • Hayley Carr
      May 31, 2016 / 7:43 pm

      Yes absolutely!

  6. Beekeyper
    May 31, 2016 / 4:45 am

    Hooray for well written articles, excellent content and actually learning something over my morning cuppa. Excellent post. I'm yet to find a Deciem product I don't love, and this sounds like no exception! Beekeyper – Latest post – wedding planning – things that helped me.

    • Hayley Carr
      May 31, 2016 / 7:57 am

      Thank you!

  7. Pam Scalfi
    May 31, 2016 / 9:17 am

    I don't fake tan at all. Not only am I a total disaster when it comes to it, I don't find it necessary to be putting these nasty things on my skin. I'd rather get a tan the old fashioned way, of course putting loads of SPF on too :pPam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

  8. Emma Bought What
    June 1, 2016 / 11:01 am

    This was so informative to read! I might have to try the Glow Oil next time I feel like I need to tan x

    August 18, 2019 / 10:17 pm

    Thanks for a brilliant and informative article Hayley. I think I am allergic to DHA as it causes eczema like rash on the lower part of my neck which lasts for ages. Will give this product a try with it being DHA free.

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