How Does Self Tanning Lotion Work? Expectations vs. Reality

Aimee Werner

Posted on July 16 2019

woman dipping tan legs in pool

We’ve all walked the aisle at the drugstore that houses the sunless tanning sprays, lotions, and oils, each promising to deliver the perfect tan. Thanks to savvy marketing and less-than-stellar results, many consumers are left splotchy and disappointed instead of bronzed and bikini-ready.  
But the question that so many people still have is how does self tanning lotion work to begin with? Here, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of how self tanning lotions work, answer some key questions and concerns that many users have, and even give you our top tips for applying a flawless sunless tan.  

The Million Dollar Question: How Does Self Tanning Lotion Work? 

Sometimes you snag a self tanning lotion so good (hey there, coconut tanning lotion), that you feel like your tan magically appeared right in front of your eyes.  
But actually, that beautiful tan you’ve always Whished for was created thanks to our incredible formulation. So…are you ready? Here’s the answer to how self tanning lotion worksthe active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). According to the Mayo Clinic, when you apply self tanner to your body, DHA works by reacting with dead skin cells on the surface of your body. Essentially, your dead skin cells are temporarily darkened to mimic a sun-kissed glow.  
Keep in mind, this momentary darkening of the skin is just that, momentary. As your skin cells shed, so will your sunless tan. That’s why it’s important to do things like moisturize skin frequently and re-apply self tanning lotion before your tan begins to fade.  
When it comes to how self tanning lotion works, the science is simple. The more DHA that a self tanner has in it, the faster you’ll achieve a dark tan. For instance, spray tans are notorious for using concentrated amounts of DHA to promote a quick, golden bronze color. 
As nice as the instant gratification can be with a spray tan, it’s extremely important to understand what you’re getting yourself into before you do it. Expect a significant change in your skin color. You can also expect a bit of a messy process, as a spray tan will get on your clothes and anything else you touch while you wait several hours for it to take to your skin.  
If you’re thinking what we’re thinking (skip the spray tan), then go with Whish Coconut Milk + Verbena Self Tanner Lotion. This product has the perfect amount of DHA to provide a gradual, streak-free tan for all skin tones. Unlike many tanning products, which can actually dry out skin, ours is deeply hydrating.  

And did we mention the smell? If you’ve been in search for a tanning lotion that smells good, then ours is the winner. One application will have you smelling like you’ve been on a tropical vacation!  
In just a few hours after self tanner application, you’ll notice skin getting progressively darker. Apply more and gradually build your color or stop after one application—either way, after just one application, you’ll definitely see a subtle and gorgeous glow.  
And while we’re on the subject of how self tanning lotion works, let us say this: self tanner is 100% safe. The FDA approved the use of DHA for external use only as long as it’s not applied to areas covered by mucous membranes like your mouth, nose, and eyes (obviously). And as always, follow the application directions on the product packaging and you will be just fine! 

How Does Self Tanning Lotion Work to Protect My Skin from Sunburn? 

In a nutshell, self tanning lotion does not protect skin from sunburn, so it’s imperative that you always wear sunscreen when exposing your body to UV rays.  
It’s a common mistake people make, but an important fact to remember is that most sunless tanning products are not formulated with sunblock. However, self tanning lotion used in conjunction with sunblock makes for a much safer alternative to tanning outside or even worse, using tanning beds.  
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, using tanning beds before the age of 35 can increase your risk of developing melanoma by 75%. That number alone should be scary enough to never use a tanning bed again.  
But skin cancer shouldn’t be your only concern, tanning also causes premature aging. Think about it, when your skin is exposed to UV rays (real or artificial), the skin’s natural reaction is to produce more melanin. When skin is overwhelmed with UV rays and there’s not enough melanin (your tan), your skin burns—ouch!  
Just imagine repeating this cycle over and over again throughout life (tan, burn, repeat) and your skin will surely start showing signs of UV damage like fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, and even lesions that can turn into skin cancer. Isn’t it so much easier to opt for a natural self tanning lotion than to worry about permanent and potentially dangerous skin damage? 
So, again, when it comes to the question of how does self tanning lotion work to protect skin from sun damage, it absolutely does not. In fact, it’s recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology that every single person who spends any time outside wears sunblock that is broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, and is water resistant.  

Now That You Know How Self Tanning Lotion Works, Here’s Our Top Tips for a Flawless Application

We’ve covered how self tanning lotion worksaddressed the important point that self tanning lotion does not protect skin from sun damage, and now it’s time to learn our pro tips and tricks for a quick, easy, and gorgeous self tanner application!  

Shower & Exfoliate

If you’ve ever wondered how self tanning lotion works best, then start with a clean slate by showering and exfoliating your entire body with Whish Exfoliating Body Wash.  This luxurious alpha hydroxy exfoliating wash will slough away dead skin cells, revealing new soft skin that’s perfect for a dose of sunless tanner.   

Shave Before Application

Shaving is a form of exfoliation and can also strip skin of natural oils, so it’s ideal to shave before you apply self tanner so you don’t strip it off after your initial application.  
Hair removal after-the-fact can remove your tan or leave it splotchy looking, and who has time for that? Get the smoothest shave the first time by using our all-natural, propellant free shave creams 

Moisturize Problem Areas

Elbows, knees, and ankles tend to have skin that’s thicker, darker, and dryer than the rest of your body – thanks to frequent use and clothing rubbing against those body parts.  
For those reasons, it’s common for those body parts to absorb more pigment than other areas, causing them to appear darker than the rest of your body. Avoid this telltale sign of a sunless tan, and moisturize skin thoroughly to keep skin hydrated and smooth prior to your self tanner application.  

Start from the Legs up 

Another tip on how self tanning lotion works best is to start from the legs up. Simply squeeze a dollop of Whish self tanner into gloved hands and rub into legs – saving the residual product for feet and ankles last.  
Next, apply product to torso, behind, neck, and back. Then, move onto arms and save the residual product for elbows, wrists, and back of hands and avoid product buildup between fingers.   

Keep up the Moisturizing

Prolong the life of your new tan by keeping skin moisturized with a super emollient lotion like this dreamy coconut body butter. Also, remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day especially in these summer months to stay hydrated and glowing.  

Boost Your Bronze

Once you know how self tanning lotion works and how to apply it, the process gets easier each time. Boost your color by re-applying your sunless tanner before it starts fading. Also, for deeper color, go ahead and apply another layer the day after your initial application. Whish self tanning lotion offers buildable color that looks like the real you (fresh from vacation, of course!).  
Shop the best lotion for tanning with Whish all-natural sunless tanner. Find your summer skincare essentials as seen on broadcast television and in publications such as People, Marie Claire, and US Weekly. You glow, girl!