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How Does Tanning Lotion Work?: Review Guide

by  Doris Harris -  Last Updated On 17th December 2020
How Does Tanning Lotion Work

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When you’re bronzed, you look healthy.

But how can you get a good tan without wrecking your skin?

Obviously, taking it slow is good advice.

But you might also want to know how does tanning lotion works.

Today, we’ll discuss the different types of tanning bed lotion.

We’ll also go over how to tan outdoors.

Let’s get started now with the crucial question—How does tanning lotion work?

Does tanning lotion Actually work?

Compared to tanning with bare skin, tanning lotion works.

Here’s why it does:

  • First, tanning lotion moisturizes the skin. That’s essential as dry skin doesn’t tan as well.
  • Second, it contains ingredients that help the skin absorb more UV rays.
  • Third, these accelerators stimulate the production of melanin or pigment.

You see, the skin makes melanin to protect itself from sunburn. Tyrosine is an accelerator, one of the building blocks of melanin, and that’s why it appears in many tanning lotions.

Typically, tanning lotions also try to minimize the damage caused by UV radiation. They provide a dose of antioxidants to prevent the breakdown of the tissue. In that way, they attempt to avoid premature aging caused by sunbathing.

What are the different kinds of tanning lotion?

There are two main types of tanning lotion: indoor and outdoor.

But don’t before, there is some crossover between the two categories. I’ll explain in a moment.

Meanwhile, there are subtypes like bronzing, shimmer, cooling, tingle, and those with sunscreen.

Some are formulated as oils instead of lotion, while others are gels.

Now, here’s the catch. There are several indoor tanning lotions you can use outside, but the reverse is usually not possible.

For example, indoor tanning lotions don’t have sunscreen. They are risky to use outdoors as you never know how much UV you’ll be exposed to, unlike in a tanning bed.

But they are formulated without oils that could damage the acrylic in a tanning bed.

Therefore, don’t plan on using outdoor tanning lotions inside a tanning bed. But you can use indoor tanning lotion outside if you’re careful.

What is a bronzer tanning lotion?

A bronzer tanning lotion does just what it says – it browns your skin.

There are two types of browning ingredients in bronzer tanning lotions. One kind is cosmetic. It merely darkens your skin temporarily, kind of like makeup.

Cosmetic bronzers are often included in indoor tanning lotions and self-tanning lotions. They help you see where you’ve applied the product already. Plus, they give you a little color to take the edge off that winter pale skin.

Cosmetic bronzers include walnut shell extract and coffee.

The second type of bronzer is more long-lasting. It’s what you’ll find in sunless tanning products.

It’s usually DHA (dihydroxyacetone) or erythrulose, or both. Make sure your mucous membranes stay away from DHA as it can cause serious problems.

DHA is approved as safe for use on the skin by the FDA. Even pregnant women can use it as long as it’s not in a spray tan where they might breathe in the mist.

Both DHA and erythrulose interact with the amino acids in the top layer of the skin. This creates chemicals called melanoidins.

If you want to get technical, they cause a Maillard reaction.

It’s the same thing that happens to meat when it browns while it’s cooking. But your skin isn’t actually being cooked. It’s merely changing color over the course of a few hours after you apply the treatment.

After 4 or 5 days, or as long as a week, the color will fade as the dead skin sheds. The more you moisturize, however, the longer the color will last.

To sum up, bronzer tanning lotions are convenient because they give you a sun-kissed look before you absorb any UV rays. You’ll never have to look zombie pale in a swimsuit again.

What is a tingle tanning lotion?

I once heard someone describe a tingle tanning lotion like rubbing VapoRub into sunburned skin.

Believe me, tinglers aren’t for beginners. But if you’ve reached a plateau where you have trouble getting darker, they are just what you need.

The tingling ingredients cause a rush of blood to the surface of your skin. The extra blood circulation brings more oxygen and melanin to your epidermis.

As a result, you tan faster and darker.

If you’re curious if the lotion is a tingler, check the label for ingredients like methyl nicotinate, hexyl nicotinate, or benzyl nicotinate. Hopefully, though, there will be some other indication to warn you!

What kind of tanning lotion is best for outdoors?

If you want to tan outdoors, it’s smart to use sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

Apply the sunscreen first and let it dry. Then put tanning lotion over the top before you step outside.

Don’t worry, you’ll definitely still tan while wearing sunscreen with a low SPF.

Also, sunscreen is critical if you’ve applied a product with DHA as it interacts with the amino acids in the top layer of the skin.

That’s because a self-tanner can make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure. You’re more likely to burn and more likely to have long-term skin damage.

As we go through the reviews below, I’ll point out other types of tanning lotion that may interest you.

We’ll start with the best lotions for people just beginning to tan.

What ingredients are essential in a tanning lotion?

The best tanning lotions contain vitamins C and E to protect against burning and skin damage.

They are antioxidants that defend against UVB and UVA radiation. But no, they are not sunscreen filters.

They are photo-protectants that you’ll find in sunscreens and tanning lotions alike.

In fact, almost every plant and animal on the planet uses vitamins C and E to defend themselves from the sun.

Together, these vitamins protect against swelling and inflammation, as well as premature aging and skin cancer.

Moreover, every good tanning lotion is rich in moisturizers. They contain humectants and the closest as well as emollients.

Humectants like glycerin, honey, and panthenol, draw in moisture. They humidify the skin.

Although humectants work best on damp skin, if the tanning lotion is water-based, sometimes that’s enough.

(You can tell if it’s water-based if the first active ingredient is water.)

Then, after the skin is infused with water, you need occlusives to seal in the moisture. These are fatty alcohols, silicone, and oils.

For example, most indoor tanning lotions are silicone-based. They leave the skin feeling like silk, and they aren’t greasy at all.

Finally, emollients like silicone or dimethicone fill in the skin’s microscopic gaps to make it smooth.

That’s why a high-quality tanning lotion makes your body feel incredibly soft without making your skin tacky or oily.

Which are the best tanning lotions for beginners?

Beginning tanners are eager to go dark as fast as possible. But their virgin skin needs a little pampering.

We’ve all seen people with leather-like complexions. Unless you want to look like you’re 60 when you’re 30, you need to take it slow.

Start with the tanning lotions below to build a solid base tan and take good care of your skin. They have plenty of moisture and vitamins.

Some of them also protect tattoo ink from fading.

Tanning Lotions For Beginners

1. Ed Hardy Coconut Kisses Golden Tanning Lotion

Coconut Kisses is one of the most popular indoor tanning lotions. If you’re new to tanning, you can’t go wrong with this one.

It has a delicious coconut fragrance that appeals to both women and men.

Moreover, the color you achieve with it is all your own.

There are no bronzers. Instead, it’s packed with tanning accelerators like tyrosine and a melanin synthesizer.

Also, this sunless tanning lotion features protection for your tattoos to keep them from fading.

The nutritious moisturizing formula contains coconut milk and cocoa butter to keep your skin silky soft, and healthy. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

2. Hempz Dark Tan Maximizer, Hypoallergenic

If you have sensitive skin, try this tanning accelerator lotion.

This sunless tanning lotion is made without nuts, gluten, and parabens. This sunless tanning lotion is also 100% vegan.

Again, there are no bronzers, just plenty of skin-soothing moisturizers. Calming oatmeal and luscious mango seed butter keep you touchably soft.

Meanwhile, hemp seed oil absorbs quickly to seal in moisture without clogging your pores. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

3. Devoted Creations #TANLIFE Hydrating Tanning Butter

Another solid choice for beginning tanners is #TANLIFE that pampers sensitive skin.

It’s also exciting for mature tanners as it features plenty of anti-aging benefits.

For one, there’s AcquaCell to reduce lines and wrinkles. At the same time, Advanced Matrixyl Synthe 6 and RevitaFit encourage collagen production to firm the skin. (The former is a clinically-proven ingredient.)

What’s more, there’s even tattoo fade protection, but no bronzers in this sunless tanning lotion. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

4. The Fox Tan Originals Pack | Natural Tanning Lotion & Accelerator

Next up is a two-part package that guarantees you’ll be brown. If you’ve ever struggled to tan your legs, this is the cure.

The two bottles include Rapid Tanning Elixir and Rapid Tanning Mist.

The plan is as follows: Apply the elixir each day for a week as if it were your regular body lotion. It starts prodding your melanin production into action. It also develops a golden base color.

Then, the day you go tanning, apply the tanning mist first.

You can use these products indoors or outside. They’re also designed for both your face and body as they won’t cause breakouts.

Some of the soothing ingredients include aloe, cocoa butter, jojoba, and almond oil. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

Tanning Lotions With Bronzers

Get your bronze on ASAP.

You don’t need to wait to go dark when you use a bronzing tanning lotion.

5. Somewhere on a Beach Instant Dark Tanning Lotion

Here’s a bronzer lotion that’s made for indoor or outdoor use. It has a tropical fragrance.

This sunless tanning lotion contains cosmetic bronzers (but not DHA) for an instant dose of color without streaking or stains.

Then, there’s Advanced Matrixyl Synthe 6, a proven anti-aging peptide that shrinks wrinkles.

Of course, there’s plenty of hydration, too, from aloe, coconut oil, and walnut seed oil in this sunless tanning lotion. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

6. Millennium Tanning Products: Dark Tanning Lotion, 100x

When a sunless tanning lotion has a number by it like this one, it’s an indication of how dark the cosmetic bronzer is and how dark it can take your color.

This sunless tanning lotion does not contain self-tanning ingredients, but rather tanning accelerators.

It’s also a silicone emulsion lotion. What that means is that it’s never greasy or oily. Instead, it will leave your skin incredibly smooth. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

7. Supre Smoke Black Bronzer Tanning Lotion

Don’t be fooled—even with “Smoke Black” in the name, this is a white-colored lotion that won’t stain your towel.

But this sunless tanning lotion is packed with DHA bronzer to start on your tan before you lay down in the bed.

While you enjoy the fruity scent from this sunless tanning lotion, there’s science happening to your skin. A patented active ingredient called Unipertan deepens your color.

Look it up, it’s a real thing. Unipertan is a cocktail of bioactive ingredients that boost tanning efficiency to 40%. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

Shimmer Tanning Lotions

Do you know that luscious sheen on all the hot bodies at the beach?

Some of them might be using shimmer tanning lotion.

8. Yes Way Rose, Champagne, and Diamond-Infused Tanning Bronzer

The shimmer in the sunshine with a subtle sheen of crushed diamonds on your skin.

This sunless tanning lotion doesn’t just give you instant color. It also illuminates your body.

It’s like a BB cream in that it perfects your appearance while you wear it. It makes you look your best between the cosmetic bronzers, the tattoo fade protection, and the Body Fit Technology.

In the background, DHA bronzes you deeper and deeper over the next several hours. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products out there.

Even if you never stepped out in the sun, this lotion would bronze you.

But this sunless tanning lotion also has accelerators to ensure that the time in the tanning beds don’t go to waste.

Finally, there’s one other benefit you should know about of this sunless tanning lotion. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products that remove dead skin cells.

Odor protection is essential when you go tanning. Otherwise, you’ll smell a little burned after your session. This lotion contains ingredients to neutralize the smell.

9. Brown Sugar Black Chocolate Glisten 200X Bronzer

Here’s another shimmer lotion with deep bronzers.

The silicone emulsion melts into your body to leave it ultra-smooth.

The only thing that’s a little weird is that the fragrance is pineapple smoothie, although your color will be more like dark chocolate.

Be sure to wash your hands after applying it to avoid stains. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products that remove dead skin cells.

10. Coppertone Glow Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion with Illuminating Shimmer Minerals and Broad Spectrum SPF 30

I couldn’t resist including this shimmer sunscreen lotion. It will make your skin ever so slightly sparkly while it protects it from sunburn.

The high SPF factor of this sunless tanning lotion and the fact that it’s water-resistant for 40 minutes allows you to enjoy more time at the beach or by the pool. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products that remove dead skin cells.

Tingle Tanning Lotions

Deepen your tan with a tingle tanning lotion.

Warning: it burns. All that blood rushing to the surface ensures a dark, even bronze.

If you’re curious, yet inexperienced, start with a blush lotion instead.

11. Swedish Beauty Pink Diamond Tanning Lotion

How about a little tingle while you tan? The Swedish Beauty lotion smells like green citrus. It promises to get you darker, faster.

Experienced tanners appreciate tingle tanning lotions. They contain ingredients that cause a rush of blood to the surface.

As a result, they speed up tanning for impressive results the next day.

But there’s a cost.

Sometimes it hurts, and it turns you bright red. The effects last for hours.

Tingle lotions should never be applied to your face or other sensitive areas and will give you that perfect sun-kissed look.

Besides, never pick up your pet or a small child while you’re wearing a tingle lotion. We feel these are some of the best self-tanning products that remove dead skin cells.

12. Tanovations Ed Hardy Body Shots Double Shot Warning Mega Extreme Hot Tingle

There’s a debate in the tanning community about which tingle tanning lotion is the hottest.

Without a doubt, this one is in the top three.

Please don’t use it unless you’re experienced at tanning indoors. It would also help if you tried less potent tingle lotions before experiencing this one.

With that said, this is a silicone-rich tanning lotion packed with cosmetic bronzers and DHA. You will absolutely go darker after using it.

Pro tanners use it to help them break a plateau and will give you that perfect sun-kissed look.

13. Get Ripped Cooling Bronzer Tattoo Fade Protection Tanning Lotion

Now it’s time to cool off. This tanning lotion has a cooling formula to refresh your skin.

It has a masculine fragrance and a lightweight consistency that won’t cause breakouts. It absorbs quickly and keeps tattoos looking bright and fresh.

Outdoor Tanning Lotions

Whether it’s in your backyard or on a Tahitian beach, outdoor tanning lotion is a classic necessity.

Before there were tanning beds, there were tanning accelerators to bronze your body under the warmth of the sun.

14. Australian Gold Dark Tanning Accelerator Spray Gel With Bronzer

Skip the greasy oils. Tan faster outdoors with this lightweight gel. It comes in a spray bottle for quick application.

There’s no sunscreen in it, so be sure to keep track of your time outside. Sunburn defeats the purpose of tanning as it makes the skin peel off.

The ultralight formula hydrates and nourishes the body with peach and Kakadu plum. It also smells like a tropical vacation.

15. Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil, Spray Pump, SPF 6

How about a tanning oil with a hint of sunscreen?

This has SPF 6. It extends your time in the sun up to 6 times longer than you could generally tolerate without sunscreen.

Therefore, if you burn in 20 minutes, this allows you to stay out for 2 hours.

Keep in mind, I’m not recommending that you tan for 2 hours straight. The problem with tanning outdoors is that you never know how much UV rays you’re actually getting. It’s better to limit your time and tan slowly to prevent problems.

Hawaiian Tropic’s tanning solution is a dry oil that doesn’t feel greasy. It will leave your skin with a subtle sheen from the natural oils.

The active ingredients are oxybenzone and octocrylene, which means that you have full-spectrum sunscreen protection.

Regrettably, this is not a reef-safe product. Some chemical sunscreen filters like oxybenzone poison wildlife in lakes, rivers, and oceans.

FYI, full-spectrum protection is essential to avoid both sunburn and skin cancer. While UVB causes you to burn, UVA is the culprit behind skin cancer.

Sunless Tanning Lotion

You don’t need sunshine or tanning beds to go dark. You’ll never have to deal with sunburn, either.

Sunless tanning lotion in its modern formulation doesn’t streak and doesn’t look orange.

It bronzes the top layer of your skin temporarily. Then, it fades naturally, just like a real tan.

Within just a few hours, or overnight, you can achieve a golden base tan.

16. St. Tropez Self Tan Express Advanced Bronzing Mousse

For those of you convinced by the science that shows tanning with UV rays isn’t healthy, I’ve included a sunless tanning lotion.

Correction, this self-tanner is actually a mousse. It’s an award-winning self-tanner that let you control how deep your color goes.

Leave this self-tanner on for one hour, you’ll get a golden tan.

Leave this self-tanner on for 2 hours, you’ll enjoy a medium bronze.

Leave this self-tanner on for 3, and you’ll go dark.

All you need to do is take a shower once you’ve reached the shade you desire.

17. Jergens Natural Glow +FIRMING Body Lotion

Maintain your rich color for as long as possible with this self-tanning lotion.

It’s good for a gradual tan if you aren’t bronzed at all yet. Or it can help you extend your tan as well.

Also important, it visibly reduces the appearance of cellulite by firming the skin. What more could you ask for in a lotion?

Oh wait, did I mention that it smells good too?


Now you’ve had an introduction to how tanning lotion works.

You’ve discovered the different types of lotion and how to get the most from them.

Keep in mind When DHA is inhaled or exposed to mucous membranes, it can cause serious harm to your respiratory system.

I hope you discovered the perfect tanning product to achieve the bronze you desire.

If you found something new that you love using, come back and tell us about it in the comments below.


1. https://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/beauty/sun-care/does-tanning-lotion-work.htm by Sarah Siddons,

2. https://www.leaf.tv/articles/how-does-tanning-oil-work/ by Rachel Nall,

3. https://www.compoundchem.com/2014/08/07/faketan/ by Compound Interest,

4. https://ezinearticles.com/?Tanning-Lotions-With-Tingle,-Are-They-Safe?&id=6350509 by Goran Olsson

5. https://www.leaf.tv/articles/how-does-tanning-oil-work/ by Yvonne Van Damme,

6. https://time.com/3896827/self-tanner-tanning-lotion/ by Markham Heid,

7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8869680/ Effectiveness of Antioxidants (Vitamin C and E) With and Without Sunscreens as Topical Photoprotectants, by D. Darr, et al.,

8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12789176/ UV Photoprotection by Combination Topical Antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E, by Jing-Yi Lin, et al.,

9. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/moisturizers-do-they-work

One response to “How Does Tanning Lotion Work?: Review Guide”

  1. Felicity says:

    I have white skin and I quickly burn in the sun. Therefore, you often have to use sunscreens. When the skin acquires a tint of a light tan, I start using tanning lotion. Then the skin color is beautifully aligned. But I can’t be in the sun for a long time.

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