High DHA percentage tanning solution - myth or reality?

Tanning solutions with high DHA content are all the rage. Just like the number of blades on your razor, the alleged DHA percentage of tanning solutions keeps going up and up. If one company brings out a 14% DHA, the next company will bring out 16%. When 16% becomes old news, 18% comes out. What are we at now? 20% plus?


Why darker tanning solutions simply cannot work:

The truth of the matter is, no solution is viably able to go above the 12-14% mark. Tanning solution is made up of two vital ingredients - DHA (your active tanning ingredient), and pigments. Unfortunately, the two don't get on. As soon as you mix the two together in a bottle, they begin to fight, and the energy they are constantly using in this battle slowly begins to degrade the quality of your solution (and this is why if you've ever kept a bottle of solution for too long, the pigmentation in it turns green, and the DHA is weakened so much that you will not get a tan).

At 12% and below, this degradation process happens slowly enough so as to preserve the solution at sufficient quality to deliver a perfect tan for around 6 months from opening (provided proper storage procedures are followed). But at 20%, the shelf life of the solution is so dramatically reduced so as to degrade the quality of the tan almost immediately. Have you ever tried asking an 18% or 20% user about their tan's fade-off and lasting power, for example?


What many tanning companies don't want you to know...

Another reason for darker tans' poor staying power is the simple but relatively unknown fact that nobody’s skin can absorb much more than 10% DHA content anyway. Higher percentage solutions just rely on excessive guide colour to give you that "wow, this tan is so dark" impression. But after a couple of showers when the guide colour is washed away, you are left with a dramatic drop-off of colour.


"But my friend so and so swears by her bottle of 18%... "

Of course, you will always find people who are absolutely convinced by their bottle of 16%, 18% or 20% solution. The phenomenal power of a placebo effect is observed in just about every walk of life - tell someone something will make them look or feel a certain way, and there's a higher than chance probability that it will. And there may be nothing wrong with that per se. If the technician believes in it, and her or his clients believe in it, then what's the big deal, right?

Unfortunately, the law may be about to change all of this. The latter half of 2012 may well see the introduction of new legislation which begins to limit the freedom of tanning companies to sell products which treat people’s skin with unnecessary and ineffective doses of chemicals. The SCCS has already published its report, which deems any tanning solution higher than 14% potentially unsafe (and any tanning cream greater than 10%), and this may well become law within the next two years.


How much further will the climb towards the most chemically-filled solution on the market continue until that day? Nothing would surprise me.



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4 Comments To "High DHA percentage tanning solution - myth or reality?"
Kimberley - 15/10/2013

I have used 20% on dancers but make them well aware that the initial few days they will get an exceptionally dark tan but the fade off is quicker and it may go patchy and the overall performance is generally lower than a lesser % tan. However, most performers are aware of this and may only want it for auditions, or a single performance and would always be encouraged to have a lighter % for regular use. Of course there is always going to be an exception to the rule when Jo Blogs says their 20% tan was fab and lasts a week and isn't patchy at all. I don't think high % are all about chemicals and there are plenty of quality products available to the user but having recently spoken to a UK manufacturer about the % in tans, they basically said anything past 16% is a waste of money and yet they still manufacture over and above! So are they just pandering to our ever increasing demands, or just blatantly ripping us off?
katie - 04/07/2013

I would be really interested to hear from anyone who uses spray tan for competitive body building. Currently I specialise in spraying bodybuilders and use a minimum of 20% DHA solution - specialist bodybuilding liquids such as jantan, pro tan and liquid sun rayz - if you look at the colors achieved by bodybuilders you will see that they require a much much darker color......will specialist competitive tans continue to be able to produce higher level DHA sprays if this law comes into affect?
Catherine - 06/09/2012

That is very interesting, Lisa - thank you for sharing this! The most common feedback with very dark tanning solution is that they do not last very long, which does support the hypothesis that it's something other than DHA which is making you so dark. Indeed, in the experiences you described above, you were reapplying after only two days. I would be interested in hearing how dark your 20% keeps you after, say, one week or ten days - as this would be the real indicator of what the DHA is doing. I have absolutely no doubt that your 20% will make you a lot darker than a 11.5%, this was never in question, but what is discussed here is the action (or lack of) of DHA.
Lisa - 06/09/2012

I beg to differ. I have used a 11.5 percent dark pigment spray for years that I like very much. recently, I began using a 20% spray that my friend uses (she looks great). The 20% solution had a lighter pigment than my 11.5, so initially I wasn't as pleased with the result. HOWEVER, I noticed that after my first shower, the 20% kept me MUCH darker after pigment wash-off than the 11.5. And, after a second application of the 20% two days later (after 2 showers and swimming in a pool all day), I was TREMENDOUSLY darker. I have swapped back and forth several times (don't want to waste a purchase!), and confirmed that the 20% does get me much darker than the 11.5. So, I'm sure your statements are based on some research or experience, but in my personal experience, I found exactly the opposite of what your article posits.

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