What is Dihydroxyacetone?

Dihydroxyacetone is commonly abbreviated DHA. It comes in a white powder form and when dissolved in water is clear.

DHA is a three-carbon sugar, also known as glycerone or dihydroxy-2-propanone and is often derived from plant sources, such as sugar beets, sugar cane or canola . DHA is formed when glycerol from these plant sources is fermented.

This unique ingredient was discovered over 100 years ago and has been gradually improved to offer excellent tanning results that rival or exceed that from UV sources.

DHA was originally used in oral medications to assist in the treatment of some childhood diseases (specifically glycogen storage disease). Its tanning effects were accidentally stumbled upon when, by chance, it was spilled onto the skin.

How does DHA work?

DHA reacts with the amino groups of the proteins in the stratum corneum in a Maillard reaction to produce pigments called melanoidins. Remember the stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the skin.

These pigments impart the brown color we associate with self-tanning products. This Maillard reaction is actually the same chemical reaction as the one responsible for making food like bread and meat turn brown when cooked.

The extraordinary benefit of DHA tanning is that it can not be washed off, but fades as the upper layers of the epidermis are naturally exfoliated– water, soap and moisturizer won’t wash or remove  it off.

The skin starts developing the tanned color after 2-3 hours, and the reaction continues for the next 1-3 days.


The depth and tone of the color reaction is determined by a number of factors:

  •  % of DHA applied – the higher the % the more reaction generated
  • how long left on the skin for – longer product left on for the more DHA absorbed
  • amount applied – again the more applied the more the reaction
  • skins natural tone- the fairer the skin the lower the strength needed to create the maillard reaction
  • pH levels in the skin or formulation can affect the end color – Alkaline (more orange), Acidic (more natural). Optimum pH for the best color is development 6. Most skin is 5.5 (can vary based on diet).

UV light exposure is not needed to initiate this chemical

Why Orange Tone?

We have all seen those garish orange tones. We call it overdosing the epidermis. What this means is that the skin has been exposed to too much DHA.

This can be the result of:

  • too strong for the skin type
  • left on for too long
  • too much applied

Altering one of these factors will change the end color result.