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    Self-tanning cream safety

    Allergic contact dermatitis may be under-reported

    Are self-tanning creams safe?

    Yes, self-tanning creams are safe, but perhaps an explanation is in order. There have been a very few reported cases of allergic contact dermatitis to self-tanning creams. I think the incidence is somewhat under-reported, however, as I see at least five cases of allergy every summer in North Carolina. The active agent in self-tanning creams is dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and there are no self-tanning creams that do not possess this potential allergen.

    DHA is considered a nontoxic ingredient both for ingestion and topical application. The LD50 in rats is more than 16 grams per kilogram. The phosphate of DHA is actually one of the intermediates in the Kreb’s cycle, known as dihydroxyacetone monophosphate. 

    Topically applied DHA has not been detected in the urine or serum of volunteers following topical application. The staining reaction that occurs with DHA is limited strictly to the stratum corneum and can be readily removed with tape stripping and exfoliation. Thus, self-tanning creams can be considered safe in those individuals who are not DHA-allergic.

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    Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D.
    Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., is a consulting professor of dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. She is investigator, ...


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