How Do Sunless Tanning Products Work?

Sun-kissed skin is one of our favorite parts of summer. While spending too much time in the sun can be bad for your health, sunless tanners are... How Do Sunless Tanning Products Work?

Sun-kissed skin is one of our favorite parts of summer. While spending too much time in the sun can be bad for your health, sunless tanners are a great alternative. These products help you achieve that bronzy glow without the sun damage, and there’s a wide range of products available. But how do sunless tanning products work?


What is a sunless tanner?

Sunless tanner is a product used to give your skin a sun-kissed look without having to lie out in the sun or use a tanning bed. It comes in a variety of forms, including lotions, creams, sprays, drops, and more.

What is DHA?

Most sunless tanning products contain the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. It’s a form of sugar that works by reacting with the protein keratin on the skin’s surface to produce pigments[i], temporarily giving your skin a tan appearance. This “tan” typically lasts for a few days, then fades away as the skin sheds dead skin cells. The Food and Drug Administration has approved DHA for use in externally applied cosmetics[ii], including sunless tanners.

How do sunless tanning products work?

Sunless tanning products help you take advantage of DHA’s “tanning” benefits through easy-to-use lotions, sprays, drops, and more.


Lotions, creams, gels, and moisturizers are applied by evenly distributing the product over your body, starting at your feet and working your way up using circular motions with your hands. Sunless tanning sprays and mists are applied by evenly spraying the product over your skin and letting it absorb on its own rather than rubbing it in. To apply self-tanner drops, add a few drops of the product to your lotion or serum and apply the mixture to your skin, again starting at your feet and working your way up using circular motions to evenly distribute it. 

After applying your sunless tanning product, it needs time for the DHA and other ingredients to absorb and for the color to start to develop. It can take several hours for your tan to fully develop, so be sure to avoid showers and getting sweaty for about 6 to 8 hours after applying the product.


The color provided by self-tanner will naturally fade over time, so you’ll have to reapply your product in order to keep your sunless tan. While the frequency of application will depend on the specific product you choose, most sunless tanners can be reapplied every few days to help you maintain the color.

How do sunless tanning drops work?

Sunless tanning drops are a great option for people who want more control over the level of tan they get from a tanning product. Sunless tanning drops are a concentrated form of self-tanner. Rather than using the product straight out of the bottle, you mix it with your favorite lotion, cream, or serum, then apply to your skin. The DHA and other color-darkening ingredients are then absorbed into the skin. Because you are in control of the drops-to-lotion ratio, you determine how dark your tan will be – simply use more drops for a darker tan, and fewer drops for a lighter tan. It’s a convenient option for a customizable tan. 

Is sunless tanning safe?

Using sunless tanning products is generally considered to be safer than sunbathing or using tanning beds[iii]. Why? Sunbathing exposes you to ultraviolet rays from the sun. While some of the sun’s UV rays are absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer, UVA and UVB rays can still reach your skin. Even short-term exposure to these rays can cause sunburns, and long-term exposure can cause premature aging – including leathery skin, wrinkles, and dark spots[iv] – as well as skin cancer.[v]

According to the FDA, melanoma accounts for most of the deaths due to skin cancer each year.[vi] And while heredity may affect how likely to are to get cancer, there’s also strong evidence linking exposure to UV rays and skin cancer.[vii] 

Since tanning beds use lamps that emit UV radiation, they are dangerous to use as well. Studies have found that people who use tanning beds or booths have an increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma and squamous and basal cell skin cancers.[viii]

Sunless tanners are a safer option because they don’t require exposure to UV rays in order to work.

When considering the safety of sunless tanning, it’s also important to pay attention to the ingredients in the product. For example, some sunless tanning products are made with dyes. Some products are also made with perfumes or synthetic fragrances, which can irritate sensitive skin. It’s best to look for a self-tanner that’s free of dyes and synthetic fragrances, as well as paraben-, sulfate- and phthalate-free.


CLEANTAN is a non-toxic, plant-based, antioxidant-rich luxury tanning concentrate. It can be easily applied by adding a few drops to your favorite lotion, cream or serum, then distributing evenly over your skin. It’s a customizable tanning option that puts you in control of what your tan looks like.

CLEANTAN is a sunless tanner that works using 100% plant-based pigments. Our TEATAN Complex features green, black, white, and rooibos teas plus caramel, cocoa powder, beetroot, and organic blue-green algae that work together to offer natural-looking color. With CLEANTAN, you get a gorgeous golden-brown tan, NOT a horrendous shade of orange.

Our sunless tanning drops are made using zero-odor technology to create a product that doesn’t have the harsh “fake tan” odor of other products. CLEANTAN’s TEATAN Complex provides a natural, herbal scent of chai tea, which quickly dissipates after application.

CLEANTAN also provides a dose of antioxidants and is made with squalane oil to moisturize your skin. It’s dye-free and toxin-free, so you can feel great about using it.

Sunless tanning products are a great alternative to lounging in the sun or spending time in a tanning bed. They’re formulated to give you a sun-kissed look without the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays. If you want a natural-looking tan without the synthetic dyes, perfumes, and odors found in many other self-tanners, try CLEATAN for a tan that’s good for your skin.

Tanning Questions?