Dihydroxyacetone and Methods to Improve its Performance as Artificial Tanner

Craig G. Burkhart*, 1, Craig N. Burkhart2
1 University of Toledo College of Medicine, USA
2 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

© 2009 Burkhart and Burkhart

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the University of Toledo School of Medicine, 5600 Monroe Street, Suite 106B, Sylvania, OH 43560, USA; Tel: 419-885-3403; Fax: 419-885-3401;


Dihydroxyacetone binds to proteins in the stratum corneum of the skin imparting a non-toxic, bronze color to the skin. The resulting pigments are called melanoidins, or brown chromophores. Since the 1980’s, improved formulations of sunless tanners are available due to more purified sources of DHA and refinements in the DHA manufacturing process. The color is not removed by simple washing, swimming, or natural perspiration, but it only lasts for 5 to 7 days, as skin cells are continuously being shed. Exfoliation, tape stripping, prolonged water submersion, or heavy sweating can lighten the tan, as these all contribute to rapid dead skin cell pealing. Indeed, patients may opt to reapply the product on a regular basis (such as daily or every fourth day) to maintain the skin color.

Possible improvements in dihydroxyacetone products include addition of perfluoropolyether phosphate to lower the formulation’s pH, exfoliation with polyethylene beads prior to treatment, wiping skin with an acidic toner just prior to application, addition of strong antioxidants such as caffeic acid phenethyl ester, using a polymer base, and pretreatment of the skin with amino acids to increase binding sites of DHA to the skin.