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October 1960

Dihydroxyacetone: A Suntan-Simulating Agent

Author Affiliations


From the Department of Dermatology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Donald M. Pillsbury, M.D., Professor and Chairman.

Arch Dermatol. 1960;82(4):505-507. doi:10.1001/archderm.1960.01580040023004

A recent cosmetic development indicates the possibility of acquiring a suntan from a bottle without exposure to the sun. Dihydroxyacetone, the active agent in these suntan-simulating proprietaries, has enjoyed wide popularity since its introduction. Dermatologists have been asked how this material acts and whether it is harmful. This paper considers some of its properties.

Chemistry  The structural formula of dihydroxyacetone (1,3-dihydroxy-2-propanone) abbreviated hereafter as DHA is Chemistry. DHA is, thus a 3-carbon sugar. It has been shown to be an intermediate in the metabolism of carbohydrates in higher plants and animals.1 Oral intake of large quantities of the drug is well tolerated in man.2 DHA is very soluble in cold water, ether, alcohol, and acetone; it is quite stable under normal storage.

In Vivo Observations  The best-known proprietary* is essentially a 5% aqueous solution of dihydroxyacetone. It is colorless when applied, but after a variable number of hours

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