Dihydroxyacetone can be obtained biotechnologically or synthetically and is a coloring agent found in some hair care products and self-tanning products. Here is all the information you need to know about this molecule.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA): What Is It?
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is a carbohydrate monomer with three carbon atoms, also known as triose, and has the molecular formula C3H6O3. The molecule, which is soluble in water and ethanol but insoluble in oil, may be of synthetic or plant origin. Naturally occurring dihydroxyacetone is usually obtained through a biotechnological process involving the steps of bacterial fermentation and bioconversion of glycerol obtained from plants such as canola, corn or even beets.
How Does DHA Affect the Skin?
DHA is currently the most important active ingredient in self-tanning products. When this tanning agent is applied to the skin, it reacts on contact with the amine functions carried by the amino acids present in the dead cells of the stratum corneum to form pigments called melanoidins. The tanning effect of the skin is the result of this reaction, which is called the Maillard reaction. The pigmentation of the skin appears within 6 to 12 hours after the application of the self-tanning care. However, this color gradually fades and completely disappears within 5 to 7 days. This phenomenon can be explained by the frequent renewal of the stratum corneum (natural desquamation process). Thus, this method of tanning without sun exposure does not lead to the production of melanin and therefore has no protective effect against UV radiation. Always remember to protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen to avoid the harmful effects of UV rays.
In the 1960s, DHA was not popular because of the unnatural orange tint it left on the skin. It wasn't until the 1980s that it became popular because when combined with erythrulose, it produced a more even and natural tanned complexion. Erythrulose is also a biotechnologically produced compound. This natural sugar is found in the cells of plants such as raspberries and beets. This erythrulose/DHA synergy is also found in our self-tanning serum and gel. These skin care products lift the complexion as early as 12 hours after the first application for a progressive effect.
How Does DHA Affect the Hair?
DHA is also a component of hair dyes. It acts on the hair fibers in a similar way to the skin cells, namely via the tanning reaction, the so-called Maillard reaction. The colorations achieved with DHA-rich products are usually temporary. However, they allow coloring without attacking the hair fibers. This is because this type of care acts only on the surface of the hair, without damaging its structure. Thus, the hair retains its shine and health. Note that the permissible concentration of DHA in hair dyes should not exceed 6.25%.
Are There Risks to Using DHA on the Skin?
In self-tanning products, DHA is regulated up to a maximum concentration of 10%, but normally it is present at a concentration of 3-8%. The SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) stated that DHA in self-tanning care does not pose a risk to consumer health at a maximum concentration of 10%. In addition, DHA has not been shown in any scientific study to penetrate the protective barriers of the skin.
However, self-tanning products containing DHA may cause irritation if applied to sensitive areas of the body. For this reason, all parts of the body covered with mucous membranes should be free of self-tanning products. Inhalation and ingestion of this type of skin care is also discouraged. This is because it can cause asthma as well as DNA damage and an increased risk of cancer.
In addition, DHA can dry out the skin, increasing sensitivity to the sun. This property is often offset in self-tanning formulas by moisturizing compounds such as glycerin and/or sugar derivatives. To counteract this potentially drying effect, moisturize your skin daily, morning and night, both facial and body. The 9-ingredient facial moisturizer is enriched with hyaluronic acid and coconut oil, and is a minimalist formula that hydrates and nourishes the skin. The light, non-greasy texture is suitable for dry, normal and combination skin, even sensitive skin. For the body, prefer the 10-ingredient moisturizing body cream that hydrates all skin types, even sensitive skin.
KOCHEVAR I. E. & al. Factors influencing sunless tanning with dihydroxyacetone. British Journal of Dermatology (2003).
Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. Opinion on dihydroxyacetone (2010).
CIRIMINNA R. & al. Dihydroxyacetone: an updated insight into an important bioproduct. ChemistryOpen (2018).