Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) was discovered as a skin coloring agent in the 1920’s, by German scientists.
In the 1950’s Eva Wittgenstein at the University of Cincinnati did further research with dihydroxyacetone. She continued to experiment with this unique substance, painting DHA liquid solutions onto her skin. She was able to consistently reproduce the pigmentation effect, and noted that DHA did not penetrate beyond the stratum corneum, or dead skin surface layer.
DHA reacts chemically with the amino acid groups, which are part of the protein containing keratin layer on the skin surface. Various amino acids react differently to DHA, producing different tones of coloration from yellow to brown. The resulting pigments are called melanoidins. These are similar in coloration to melanin the natural substance in the deeper skin layers which brown or tan, from exposure to the sun. DHA could also help people suffering from vitiligo.
Current sunless tanners are formulated into sprays, lotions, gels, mousses, and cosmetic wipes. Professional applied products include spray tanning booths, airbrush tan applications, and hand applied lotions, gels, mousses and wipes. DHA does not damage the skin, and is considered a safe coloring agent for skin and nutritional supplement. DHA has been approved for cosmetic use by the FDA, the Canadian Health Ministry, and most of the EU member nations.