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Sunless tanning has exploded in popularity throughout the last decade as more consumers learn about the dangers of tanning beds and UV exposure. In the Western world, tanned skin has been a popular beauty trend for over a century. Tanned skin gives the impression that someone has a lot of leisure time or spends a lot of time outside, something that is becoming increasingly rare in a society that primarily works in an office for long periods of time.

Today SPF is one of the most popular beauty products on the market, and the demand for SPF-infused sunless tanning products is bigger than ever. However, the ingredients in sunless tanning products make it challenging for formulators to add SPF as well.

In the late 1900s and early 2000s, tanning was mostly achieved through tanning beds in salons that would let people get and maintain a tan in just a few hours per week. However, as more studies emerged on the negative effects of UV exposure and radiation, tanning beds became less popular and a demand for sunless tanning products grew. The sunless tanning products that are popular today are able to deliver a natural looking summer glow without exposing the skin to harmful UV radiation. As health and wellness continue to dominate the beauty industry, the demand for sunless tanning products will only grow.

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Just like tanning, anti-aging isn't a new trend in the beauty world. The popularity of skincare and beauty products that are marketed to prevent aging or treat the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles has only gotten more prevalent in recent years. As health and wellness become the focus of how beauty is marketed, products that are designed to make the skin appear healthy and youthful become the most popular. 

The skincare industry has grown exponentially thanks to health becoming a beauty trend. Companies like Goop sell health and wellness as a luxury, with skincare being an affordable and approachable luxury expense for even the most frugal consumers. The latest trend in anti-aging skincare is SPF, and sunscreen companies are reaping the benefits of consumers that suddenly want to protect their skin.

Experts have also identified that younger generations are the most interested in skin protection, so the trend isn't likely to go anywhere soon. But that doesn't mean that SPF-crazed consumers don't want to tan. In fact, they want to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to skin protection and getting a summer tan.

As SPF trends, so does sunless tanning.

Key market insights anticipate the sunless tanning industry to grow significantly throughout the next decade. Right now the sunless tanning industry represents around a $1.04 billion dollar valuation, with projections putting it at over $1.5 billion by the end of the 2020s. Sunless tanning products, from tanning foams to tanning wipes, drops and gradual tanning lotions, represent a massive industry of products that consumers are willing to buy and use regularly.

Today's sunless tanning products are primarily made with an active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone, also known as DHA. This ingredient reacts with amino acids on the skin and creates a tanned color similar to how skin looks after UVA/B exposure. Sunless tans last around a week, and can help consumers achieve a tanned look without ever stepping a foot outside.

Other sunless tanning products include ingredients that can bronze the skin, such as makeup and other temporary solutions. One popular sunless tanning product is tanning lotions and bronzers that contain body glitter. These formulations give the skin a healthy looking glow with a touch of iridescence. Formulations such as this one from Kobo as well as Bioglitter ingredients from Blue Sun are popular products on Covalo. It is worth noting that the FDA considers DHA to be the only sunless tanning agent, though there are makeup products that can help consumers achieve a temporary tan.

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Formulating with DHA

DHA, while popular, is a difficult ingredient for formulators to work with for a number of reasons. While DHA products have come a long way, consumers will likely be the first to tell you that finding a DHA product that works properly or gives a truly realistic tan is often difficult. This is for a number of reasons, such as formulation stability, the odor that is produced when the ingredient is exposed to the skin, and misinformation in product marketing.

Challenges in working with DHA

DHA is a difficult ingredient to work with because it should be stored and processed at a temperature above 40°C and needs to be buffered in order to keep its pH level between a 3 and a 4 to keep the ingredient stable. This poses extra challenges in the formulation process, and makes it even harder for formulators to add in SPF to sunless tan products. Currently there are only a handful of DHA products that also contain SPF, because the ingredient is incompatible with many UVA/B blocking ingredients such as zinc oxide.

Despite the fact that sunless tanners containing DHA don't often provide UVA/B radiation protection, many consumers assume that the products are also useful as an SPF. In the United States sunless tanners that don't contain SPF must carry the following warning: "Warning — This product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn. Repeated exposure of unprotected skin while tanning may increase the risk of skin aging, skin cancer, and other harmful effects to the skin even if you do not burn."

DHA and SPF together

Although sunless tanners that don't contain SPF ingredients must carry a warning, the products don't often have adequate marketing alongside them to show consumers that they need to be applying SPF in addition to the product. Sunless tan companies can and should incorporate sun-safety into their marketing, and make it clear to consumers that they'll need to pair most DHA products with a good SPF routine. Currently, an estimated one third of sunless tanning products users often wrongfully assume their tanning products will also protect their skin from the sun.

It's likely that the reason consumers are reaching for DHA is to protect themselves from the sun in the first place, but added marketing around how to use the products safely will help decrease how many consumers wrongfully assume DHA products are able to protect them from the sun.

This product from Tan Cream contains both SPF and DHA, and the fact that the product offers sun protection is clearly marketed in the product's labeling.


As we mentioned before, DHA products are likely to only become even more popular as consumers become more health conscious. With skincare and wellness at the forefront of the beauty industry today, sunless tanning lets consumers continue to tan without exposing their skin to cancer-causing free radicals. However, sunless tanning still has a long way to go scientifically, and formulating these products is only the first step in creating a truly healthy product for consumers to protect their skin.

Sunless tan products that contain DHA may not advance to a point where they can easily contain SPF ingredients such as zinc oxide. If that continues to ring true in the years to come, companies will still have a responsibility to make it clear to their customers that while they may get a tan, their skin is not being protected from the sun. The FDA requires that sunless tan products clearly label if their product does not contain SPF, but globally those regulations should encourage sunless tan products to enhance their marketing around skin protection.

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