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How Tanning Oil Works

author image Chris Sherwood
Chris Sherwood is a professional journalist who after years in the health administration field and writing health and wellness articles turned towards organic sustainable gardening and food education. He now owns and operates an organic-method small farm focusing his research and writing on both organic gardening methods and hydroponics.


Sun tanning has been a popular fashion trend since well-known fashion designer Coco Chanel accidentally introduced it to the fashion scene after spending too much time in the sun while yachting between Paris and Cannes in 1923. Since that time tanning has become a popular summer past-time, with thousands of products introduced to the market to help promote a darker tan. One of these products is tanning oil. Tanning oil comes in many packagings, fragrances and brand names, but each works by the same basic principles.


Tanning oils work by attracting and focusing the ultraviolet rays of the sun onto the skin. Although the skin receives more than enough UV exposure in most sunny climates to create a tan, the properties of tanning oils accelerate the process by intensifying the rays. As the UV rays penetrate the skin, they accelerate the melanocytes' ability to produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin color. The greater the presence of melanin in the skin, the darker your skin will appear.


Tanning oils may also use bronzers to help accelerate the tanning process. One common bronzer used in tanning oil is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is a colorless natural sugar that chemically reacts with the natural amino acids on the outer layer of your skin. This reaction produces the bronzing color effect, which wears off as the affected skin cell layer naturally dies and peels off.


Another important aspect of tanning oils are the moisturizers that are often included as active ingredients. The process of tanning can quickly dehydrate the skin. The addition of moisturizers, such as vitamin E and glycerin, helps protect the skin by keeping moisture in, or by drawing moisture from the air to moisturize the skin.


Although more tanning oils are starting to use SPF protection, most still do not provide enough of a barrier against the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, especially UVB radiation. In fact, few tanning oils provide more than an SPF 4 level of protection. Ultraviolet radiation has the ability to damage skin cells, which can mutate the cell's structure. These mutations can create a cancerous cell, which can lead to skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million Americans diagnosed with the disease each year.

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