The sunless tanning industry recognizes DHA (Dihydroxyacetone) as the colorless sugar that makes the magic happen in the self tanning process. The active “tanning” ingredient DHA is a simple carbohydrate. It’s often derived from plant sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane. DHA reacts chemically with the amino acid groups, which are part of the protein containing keratin layer on the skin surface, forming a brown color to the skin. This process is called the “Maillard Reaction.” It’s very similar to the reaction that you see when you cut a potato or an apple slice and leave it exposed to the air.

DHA was first discovered by the Germans in the late 1920’s when DHA spilled on the skin, temporarily darkened the skin’s appearance. In the 1970’s the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added DHA permanently to their list of FDA approved cosmetic ingredients. By the 1980’s new sunless tanning formulations appeared on the market; and refinements in the DHA manufacturing process created products that produced a more natural looking color and better fading.

Once sprayed, the client will have an instant bronzed look produced by the bronzer in the solution (unless you’re using a clear solution without a bronzer), and the tan will develop over the next 8-24 hours. After showering, it’s normal for the bronzer to wash away leaving the developed tan. The developed tan can last up to 10 days. This all depends on the skin type, DHA concentration, preparation to the skin prior to spray tan, and after care to the skin as well. The tan gradually fades as the dead skin cells slough off, just as in a normal tan.

Different concentrations of DHA are offered and can range from 3% to 12%. A lighter percentage of DHA would be recommended for fair skin, a medium percentage for medium skin tones, and a darker percentage for darker skin tones.


The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), Section 721 authorizes the regulation of color additives (other than coal-tar hair dyes), including their uses and restrictions. These regulations are found in Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR), beginning at Part 70. If a color additive is not permitted by regulation or is used in a way that does not comply with the specific regulation(s) authorizing its use, it is considered unsafe under the law. Such misuse of color additives causes a cosmetic to be adulterated.

DHA is listed in the regulations as a color additive for use in imparting color to the human body. However, its use in cosmetics--including sunless "tanning" products--is restricted to external application (21 CFR 73.2150). According to the CFR, "externally applied" cosmetics are those "applied only to external parts of the body and not to the lips or any body surface covered by mucous membrane" (21 CFR 70.3v).

In addition, no color additive may be used in cosmetics intended for use in the area of the eye unless the color additive is permitted specifically for such use (21 CFR 70.5a) DHA is not permitted for use in the area of the eye. The CFR defines "area of the eye" as follows: "the area enclosed within the circumference of the supra-orbital ridge, including the eyebrow, the skin below the eyebrow, the eyelids and the eyelashes, and conjunctival sac of the eye, the eyeball, and the soft areolar tissue that lies within the perimeter of the infra-orbital ridge." (21 CFR 70.3s).

As with the lips and other areas covered by mucous membrane, the industry has not provided safety data to FDA in order for the agency to consider approving it for use in the area of the eye. Extra care should be taken informing clients to avoid breathing (hold breath when spraying face) the sunless product during the application process. In addition, extra care should be taken to avoid direct application of the product into the eye area. Clients should be encouraged to wear eye protection during the spray tanning process. It’s recommended to use a lip balm or other barrier product on the lips and it is also recommended to use disposable foam nose plugs in the nostrils to avoid contact with mucous membranes.

A well ventilated spray tanning area is very important to you and your clients. The most important step you can take towards safe ventilation is to invest in an effective air cleaner. The Sunless Store offers a commercial extraction fan with a built in filter holder and comes with an Arm & Hammer pleated filter with a recommended MERV rating of 8. As a technician, you’re the most exposed since you’re regularly performing the procedure. Your options for protective technician gear are disposable foam nose plugs or disposable masks that cover your nose and mouth. Technician glasses are also recommended for eye protection.

Clients with respiratory problems, pregnant women or those with serious health issues should consult with their doctor prior to getting a spray tan. Contact dermatitis caused by DHA is rarely reported. Most causes of sensitivity are likely due to other ingredients such as preservatives in the formulation. If a reaction occurs, have your client shower immediately.


The rule of thumb is to select a color based on the color of the skin. Some fair clients may not want to be so dark and a darker percentage may not look natural on them; therefore, it would be best to spray with a lighter DHA percentage such as 8% DHA, medium skin tones 10%, and darker skin tones 12%. Keep in mind that if you use too high of a percentage of DHA for client’s skin tone, they may have an orange cast to their skin. It’s better to be safe and spray a lighter percentage of DHA if you’re not certain. If your client has an event coming up, and they are new to spray tanning, you may want to recommend they come in for a trial tan at least 3 weeks prior to their event so they are comfortable with color and the process.


For the most flawless spray tan results, proper exfoliation, proper spray tan application, and application of a moisturizer or tan extender (with DHA) is essential.Exfoliation removes excess oils and dead skin cells to prepare skin to accept a sunless tan. Moisturizing prolongs the skin renewal cycle, resulting in a longer lasting sunless tan. Follow spray tanning tips below for the most flawless, longest lasting tan ever.

Before Spray Tanning

1. Deodorants, make-up, perfumes, and lotions should be avoided as these can act as a barrier and inhibit the development of your tan.
2. Thoroughly exfoliate with an exfoliating scrub or a loofa towel or mitt the night before.
3. Any hair removal should be done 24 hours prior to your tanning session.
4. Wear dark, loose fitting clothing to your appointment as tight clothing can rub the tan off in some areas.


After Spray Tanning

1. Do not shower or exercise for 8-10 hours after your tan. Shower with a body wash or shower gel (preferably SLS free). Bar soaps are not recommended. When you shower for the first time, you will see a brown residue wash off. This is the temporary bronzer or color guide that was applied.
2. When showering, use hand instead of washcloth or loofa or mitt. Pat dry with a towel instead of rubbing. Do not shave with a dull razor.
3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize twice a day for maximum color retention. Starting about the third day, alternate with a tan extender. Hydrated skin makes your tan last longer and slows down the process of natural skin exfoliation. Alcohol-based products are drying to the skin and can cause the tan to fade quicker and unevenly.
4. Avoid anything that can exfoliate your skin such as long, hot baths, soaking in hot tubs, exposure to chlorinated water, hair removal products, acne products, masks and scrubs, skin renewing products or exfoliating gloves and sponges.
5. When swimming or soaking in a hot tub, use a thick waterproof sunscreen to help seal tan in. This will slow down the fading process.
6. Do not sit directly on leather or light-colored seats or furniture after your tanning session. A towel is recommended.

With the right care and handling, you should get the intended spray tan results - with normal use under standard conditions. If the product is mishandled or stored incorrectly, the performance and stability of the solution will be affected.

It’s important to store solution at room temperature in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight (preferably in a cool, dark cabinet). Solution can be stored in a refrigerator; however, extreme care should be taken so solution doesn’t freeze.

Exposure to heat, light or air can cause shelf life to lessen and can affect the DHA’s performance and stability. Make sure the cap is replaced immediately after use and is secured tightly to ensure air is not getting into container.

Exposure to heat, light or air can cause shelf life to lessen and can affect the DHA’s performance and stability. Make sure the cap is replaced immediately after use and is secured tightly to ensure air is not getting into container.

Shelf life is approximately 6 months, after which the tanning action of DHA slowly loses its effectiveness. Shelf life is longer if the bottle is unopened as it hasn’t been exposed to air.

Remember to keep your solution in a cool place.

1. Keep yourself tanned. You are a walking advertisement for your products and services. By wearing the tan, you are able to promote it. If you’re spraying at a salon, keep other employees tanned. Also offer it to friends and family.
2. Signage, including banner out front, and signage inside your business promoting the spray.
3. Brochures and retain products on display in your business.
4. Give an introductory offer for the first month of offering this service - $5 off, ½ price tans, referral offer or pay for 5 tans get 1 free.
5. Exchange business cards with florists, wedding stores, clothing stores, hairdressers, weight-loss clinics, any where you target market may go. Introduce yourself to local dermatologist. Offer free tans to their receptionist or nurse; have them display your brochure or business card.
6. Fitness clubs and gyms are a great place to display a flyer or offer to give them a discount vouchers to hand to clients buying a gym membership.
7. Talk to photographers/modeling agencies. Beauty pageants, media personalities, sales people.
8.Real estate firms – ask them to put a voucher in the basket they present to buyers of homes – they may be new to the area and not know where to go.
9. Teens – give flyers to schools at formal time.
10. Editorial with photo of tan being done in local newspaper.
11. Give voucher to charities as door prizes – word of mouth advertising is incredible.
12. Local newspaper or radio advertisements.
13. Magnetic signs on your car, or stickers on your car windows.
14. Local mailer coupon books.
15. Join Chambers of Commerce and exchange business cards and information with other businesses for them to display your brochures and you display theirs.
16. Have a referral program.

A Sunless Tan will only look as good as the health of the skin it is being applied to. Following is a brief list of some of the more common skin problems, and tips on how to best treat/tan the skin.


Dry Skin

Dry skin tends to absorb the tanning solution quickly. The skin also exfoliates faster, so the tan may fade faster and more unevenly. DHA can also cause more dryness, so skin can feel tight and itchy if the skin is dry to begin with. Instruct client to moisturize twice daily after shower.

Oily Skin

The excess oils on the skin surface create a barrier to the DHA, which may cause the tan to develop lighter. Client should be freshly washed and exfoliated before their appointment so that excess oils are removed from skin prior to spraying. Client may also use a Sluff Wipe to remove any excess oils from the skin.

Large Pores

Clients may have larger facial/back pores due to age or oily skin. This may cause excess solution to pool in the pores and look like blackheads. If client has large pores, it’s helpful to gently pat with a soft cloth or disposable towel as this will blend the solution into the skin.

Freckles & Age Spots (Sunspots/liver spots)

These are caused by UV exposure and may darken slightly when spray tanned. A barrier cream can be applied to larger freckles or age spots with a cotton swab before being sprayed.

Scars & Stretch Marks

The solution may not absorb through scars. The spray tan may disguise the appearance of scars and stretch marks. Do not apply solution on fresh scars.

Acne or Sensitive Skin

Acne prone skin is very similar to sensitive skin. Bronzers, fragrances and natural plant products can all cause an acne breakout or irritation to sensitive skin.


Eczema is an inflammation of the skin, characterized by redness, itching, and the outbreak of lesions that may discharge fluid and become crusty and scaly. There are many variations of the condition, some not as bad – possibly just dry patches. It’s a quite common condition. If extreme, client should get their doctor’s approval. Client should exfoliate their skin prior to being tanned, however should not do so on Eczema-prone areas. Some dry areas may appear lighter than other tanned areas.


Rosacea is a form of adult acne causing redness, inflammation, sensitivity, and broken capillaries. Spray tanning will work well on the body, but facially the DHA can cause irritation and flare-ups. Rosacea patients should always consult their Dermatologist before being sprayed. If they are given approval, it’s advisable to first do a patch test on the face to check for any reactions.


Vitiligo is a chronic disorder that causes de-pigmentation in patches in the skin. The cells that produce melanin have died in some areas of the skin, causing areas of the skin to be white or paler in comparison. As DHA works on the protein in the dead layer of the skin and not the melanin, sunless tanning is suitable for this client. The un-pigmented skin will still appear lighter but the contrast should be reduced depending on the amount of initial contrast.

Recommendation: Spray the un-pigmented areas only, buffing to blend contrast edges as you go, and then finish with an all over body spray.