DHA stands for dihydroxyacetone. It is a simple carbohydrate derived from natural plant sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane. It interacts with dead skin cells and causes the skin to turn brown. Our bodies naturally shed dead skin cells every day, so the DHA on the skin usually lasts about 5-7 days.
DHA was found to be a skin coloring agent by German scientists in the 1920s. During x-ray procedures, it was sometimes spilled on the skin, and at that time was found to turn the skin brown!
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No further research was done in this area until the 1950s. At this time, DHA was being used orally to assist children with a glycogen storage disease. Of course, the children would sometimes spill or spit the DHA onto their skin, and then their skin would turn brown after a few hours.
Coppertone was the first company to introduce sunless tanning lotion in the 1960s. However, the early formulation produced unattractive results and was not on the market for long.
DHA has been listed with the FDA(Food and Drug Administration) since 1973 and has been used cosmetically for several years, specifically in sunless tanning. DHA is the main active ingredient in all sunless tanning products, and it comes in several concentrations. The most common concentrations for professional use are 8%, 10%, and 12%, 8% being lighter, and 12% being darker.
Lighter concentrations tend to appear more natural but may need several coats to acquire the desired shade. The higher percentage of DHA products produce a darker tan with one coat but can look "orange" or appear streaky and uneven, especially if attempted at home instead of being applied by a professional.
In the case of DHA, a higher percentage is not always better. If you are a naturally very light person, it is much better to go with the lower percentage and gradually increase the DHA to provide the most natural-looking color.