Self-coloring lotions are the modern way to achieve a safe tan year-round. Sunless tanning lotions have come a long way in recent years in achieving a realistic fake tan, without the dreaded orange streaks. A common complaint, however, is the awful smell associated with some of these products. The odor is attributed to the active ingredient in self-tanners; luckily, not all products leave your skin with an unpleasant odor after use.
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If your skin has ever smelled bad after applying self-tanning products, you can thank dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This color additive is the active ingredient in all self-tanning products, including lotions, mousses and sprays. It works by reacting with the epidermis, or surface, of the skin to darken dead skin cells. Unfortunately, when DHA gets to work on your skin, it naturally causes an after-smell. The severity of the odor can vary by person because of your own unique skin composition.
Since DHA reacts with dead cells on the epidermis, the effects of tanning lotion lasts until the dead skin sloughs off. Depending on your skin cell turnover, the effects can last one to three days between applications. The after-smell, however, usually recedes after you take a shower.
It seems there’s no avoiding DHA in sunless tanning lotions. Cosmetic companies have taken notice of the fact that some consumers avoid self-tanners because of the risk of bad-smelling odors. This is why some manufacturers have come out with odorless tanning lotions. However, this doesn’t mean such products are free of the smelly DHA -- instead, NBC News explains that these types of lotions contain added fragrances to mask the after-smell of the active ingredient. Additionally, new fragrance technologies are being perfected to not only disguise, but also counteract unpleasant tanning-lotion scents.
Finding a nose-friendly tanning lotion takes persistence. First, you can check product labels to see if any fragrances are added to help mask DHA. Try a sample of the tanner when possible. You can tell if a product will smell bad within a few hours after use. Remember that expensive brand-name sunless tanners carry as much risk for unpleasant odors as do over-the-counter versions. It can take time to achieve a faux tan without the smell, so trying several types of lotions might be necessary. Be patient as you find the best fit for you.