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Can I Use Self-Tanners and Age Spot Treatments Together?

yves rocher autobronze Want to use a self-tanner with an age spot treatment? Fine - but you won't get nearly as tan! (Photo credit: Idhren)
From the FutureDerm.com Facebook page:
Hi Nicki, I was wondering if people who suffer from hyperpigmentation can use bronzers/self-tanners, since [I think] they stimulate melanin production, which we try to stop with serums and creams to fight hyperpigmentation? -Càtia
Dear Càtia, The short answer is that you can use bronzers without a problem with age spot treatments.  This is because bronzers are typically nothing more than powders with darker pigmentation and warm undertones.

What about Self-Tanners?

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 15:  Bruce West CEO/Pr... Snooki beware: You won't get as tan if you simultaneously use age spot treatments, because DHA colors the skin while it is producing melanin. However, it is not interfere with melanin production itself. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
On the other hand, using self-tanners with age spot treatments does not get you the same level of tan.  This is because the self-tanners color the skin while your skin is forming pigment (The Danish Ministry of the Environment, 2006). There is an internet rumor, even on some very reputable sites, that says self-tanners work because DHA interacts with dead skin cells, and then a color change occurs. This is not entirely correct.  DHA interacts with amino acids in the top layer skin cells, and only colors the skin while these skin cells are forming pigment (The Danish Ministry of the Environment, 2006). So if you are reducing melanin production with age spot treatments, you will not get the same level of tan. For you real science buffs who would like to know more about the self-tanning how-to process, please read How Do Self-Tanners Work?

Don't Self-Tanners Stimulate Pigment Production?

English: General structure of L -amino acids D... Self-tanners react with amino acids in the skin while the skin is producing melanin. It does, again, NOT increase with melanin production. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
No.  Despite popular belief, self-tanners do NOT stimulate melanin production.  So if you are using age spot/hyperpigmentation treatments, they will still work with self-tanners.  It is the self-tanners that will not work as well. Remember:  Self-tanners turn your skin yellow to brown because various amino acids react differently to DHA, giving off colors.  These colors mimic pigmentation of the skin from melanin, but they are not due to melanin. On the other hand, age spot treatments inhibit melanin formation or break down melanin itself.  It is much more common to find products that inhibit tyrosinase, an enzyme crucial to the formation of melanin.  These treatments include kojic acid, hydroquinone, azelaic acid, and arbutin. Ingredients that stop melanin in later steps include methyl dihydroxybenzoate and lignin peroxidase. Therefore, self-tanners cannot prevent age spot/hyperpigmentation treatments from being effective.  Self-tanners react with amino acids and brown skin cells while melanin is being formed, but do not interfere with melanin production itself.

Bottom Line

  • Self-tanners do not make age spot or hyperpigmentation treatments less effective.
  • On the other hand, age spot or hyperpigmentation treatments will make it harder for self-tanners to work.
Hope this helps!  
Date: July 18 2012 at 9:28 AM
Q&A, age spot treatments, can you use age spot treatments and self-tanners together, can you use hyperpigmentation treatments and DHA together, DHA, dihydroxyacetone

Comments (5)

  1. Catia
    July 18 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Thank you so much for answer! It was reaaly helpfull. And I'm sory if my english was not that good. I'm not a native english speaker. I'm portuguese and I love to follow your blog. I have a passion for skincare and I find that your blog has really teach me so much! I'm gratefull to you for that. Congrats for your blog and keep posting!

  2. Catia
    July 18 2012 at 1:02 PM

    By the way wich self-tanners do you recomend? I'm very white and I like a natural result. thanks

  3. Jessica
    July 19 2012 at 7:20 AM

    Hi Nicki, I know the hydroquinone controversy has been covered on this website several times before but I was reading a beauty site I frequent and the editor mentioned yet again that it is dangerous. This is a position I believed she had changed over time due to the facts about it but apparently not. I went back to the 2010 article and these are the claims she made: "It whitens skin by killing—yes, KILLING—your skin’s pigment cells. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to intentionally off my own cells. It can cause irritation and contact dermatitis. It degenerates collagen and elastin fibres (which, uh, we’re supposed to be *strengthening* to keep ourselves looking young and fresh). In darker-skinned individuals, it may cause ochronisis, which is a skin disorder characterized by “progressive sooty darkening.” Right. It’s known to cause DNA damage and mutations. Most scary of all, it’s linked to cancers in humans such as leukemia." I am wondering if ANY of these claims are true. Thanks!

  4. Jessica
    July 19 2012 at 7:20 AM

    oh and I know the ochronisis claim is true. And that you should only use a hydroquinone product in 3-4 month cycles.

  5. Nicki
    July 19 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Hi Jessica, I'll address each of these piece by piece. 1.) “It whitens skin by killing—yes, KILLING—your skin’s pigment cells. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to intentionally off my own cells. Response: Hydroquinone works by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme essential for melanin (skin pigment) production. 2.) It can cause irritation and contact dermatitis. Response: Yes, in some individuals, it can. 3.) It degenerates collagen and elastin fibers (which, uh, we’re supposed to be *strengthening* to keep ourselves looking young and fresh). Response: From the research that my colleagues and I have done, I have never found this is to be the case. Tyrosinase (enzyme) inhibition occurs within the cell. I don't know why this person is saying enzyme inhibition kills cells, nor why they are saying it degenerates surrounding collagen and elastin fibers. In order for these facts to be true, you'd have to have something like a widespread apoptotic process, in which cells are signaled to die and surrounding cells are as well. This is one of the reasons why chemotherapy can be so difficult for cancer patients. But hydroquinone does not, to my knowledge (or anyone else working here, including the physicians) work this way at all. 4.) In darker-skinned individuals, it may cause ochronosis, which is a skin disorder characterized by “progressive sooty darkening.” Right. This is true. It is a very low occurrence, but enough where I would never recommend it to anyone with darker skin types. 5.) It’s known to cause DNA damage and mutations. Most scary of all, it’s linked to cancers in humans such as leukemia. Benzene has been linked to leukemia, not hydroquinone. Benzene is a substance that is broken down in the manufacturing of hydroquinone, but there is no benzene in hydroquinone products. I hope that this helps you. All the best, Nicki

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