There is a difference between sunscreen made for tanning and protective sunscreen that protects you from the sun’s UV rays. Tanners should be very careful to use the correct amount of sunscreen to avoid painful sunburns and long term skin damage. A good sunscreen will help protect you from the sun’s rays and ensure you can spend a longer time tanning.
Tanning sunscreens contain different SPF (sun protection factors), and the higher the SPF number, the more protection it offers. Once you’ve selected the ideal SPF for your skin, you can also choose the type of sunscreen formula. And trust us, there are so many good lotions, creams, and sprays, you’re sure to find something you’ll love.
If you like to tan, we’ll help you pick the best tanning sunscreen to get you a beautiful bronze glow.
Can you use sunscreen if you want to tan?
There is a popular myth that if you use sunscreen, you are not going to get a tan. This is a myth and absolutely not true. To keep your skin protected from the damaging effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, experts recommend that you use a sunscreen when you tan.
Even when you use sunscreen, you can get a dark deep looking tan, and you can actually spend more time under the sun.
What you need to keep in mind is that lower and medium SPF sunscreens are the most effective because they allow the skin to get a tan but also offer protection.
Check out our recommendations for the top 10 sunscreens for tanning below.
10 Best Tanning Sunscreens
Best Overall: Coppertone Tanning Sunscreen Lotion
This lotion has a low SPF 15, but it is an excellent tanning lotion because it is very affordable (under $10) and water-resistant. With this lotion, you can be in the water for up to 80 minutes. There’s no need to worry, as long as you re-apply the cream as soon as you towel-dry.
Since it is a low SPF sunscreen lotion, it will enable the skin to get a more intense tan, but make sure you keep re-applying for protection. We’ve chosen this product as our best overall because it is very budget-friendly and offers SPF 15 protection.
We also like that it has a very lightweight formula and does not leave you with greasy or sticky skin. The formula is also enriched with antioxidants to help your skin look its best after sun exposure. As well it contains vitamin E, which helps fight the signs of aging and potential sunspots.
- Lightweight formula
- Pleasant light scent
- Contains vitamin E
- The effects of this sunscreen don’t last as long as some other products because it absorbs into the skin very fast.
Best Affordable: Australian Gold Sunscreen Lotion with Kona Coffee Infused Bronzer SPF 30
Australian Gold is a well-known sunscreen brand with very affordable prices. This particular lotion offers broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection from UVA and UVB rays so that you can get a tan safely. It’s going to be harder to tan because of the high SPF, but gradually, you can achieve your desired glow.
People can’t get enough of this coffee scented lotion. Besides the pleasant fragrance, this lotion has a great oil-free formula that absorbs into the skin quickly. It won’t make you feel greasy or oily like some other products do.
This product contains bronzers, which give your skin the appearance of a dark tan. But, there’s no need to worry because the formula doesn’t stain your clothing or leave any streaks on your skin.
You don’t need to apply too much of this lotion, since a little goes a long way. For a good amount of coverage, use about a shot glass amount.
- Contains bronzers
- Very inexpensive
- Contains antioxidants
- Oil-free formula
- Very high SPF 50 protection
- The bronzer is light, so don’t expect a dark glow after application.
- Not good for the face.
Best Dry Oil: Hawaiian Tropic Protective Tanning Dry Oil Continuous Spray
Many tanners prefer an oil sunscreen formula. These sunscreens are very easy to apply and come in a spray bottle, so you don’t waste product. You can spray on exactly the amount you need to cover the skin. Plus, this formula is packed with antioxidants that prevent premature aging.
The oil texture makes way for a more even and visible tan. This particular Hawaiian Tropic product has an SPF 30, so it offers a good amount of protection, which lets you tan safely for longer.
As well, this formula is water-resistant for about 80 or so minutes, which means you can have fun at the beach and tan simultaneously. Re-apply this oil every hour for guaranteed protection.
- Offers UVA and UVB protection
- Formulated with botanicals and nourishing antioxidants
- Great dry oil formula with an easy to use spray bottle
- Coconut scent that doesn’t linger for too long
- Works on the face too
- You need to keep re-applying every 60 minutes or so for great results.
Best Instant Bronzer Sunscreen: Australian Gold Continuous Spray Sunscreen with Instant Bronzer SPF 30
Australian Gold products are oxybenzone and cruelty-free, making them a good option if you want a clean formula. This product is excellent if you are looking for an immediate tan. It makes the skin looked bronzed and glowy as soon as you apply it. Of course, it washes away, but it is handy if you have an unexpected pool party to attend.
The formula is not greasy and doesn’t feel oily, so it won’t clog your pores and cause pimples. Since it has an SPF 30, it offers a fair amount of protection while you tan. One of the ingredients in this sunscreen is Kakadu plum, which boosts the skin’s collagen production and protects the skin against free radicals.
It’s quick and easy to apply this product because it comes in a spray bottle, so you don’t waste any product. The light cocoa fragrance leaves your entire body smelling fresh, and best of all, this formula dries down super fast.
- Water-resistant for up to 80 minutes
- Non-greasy and non-sticky formula
- Contains healthy ingredients like Kakadu Plum, which is rich in Vitamin C
- Dries quickly
- The bronzer can transfer onto your clothing, so be careful to let it absorb into the skin before you get dressed.
- Some customers noted problems with the spray cap.
Best Milky Formula: Lancaster Sun Beauty Melting Tanning Milk SPF 15
This silky milk formula is specifically made for those people looking for a rich, dark tan. As you apply this product, it feels luxurious because it has a silky but runny milk-like texture. It is definitely a step up from thick and greasy creams.
The sunscreen contains a tan activating complex that helps you achieve a tan faster and offers a healthy-looking glow. It is effective, even though it only has an SPF 15 because it protects from infrared rays. Be sure to re-apply often to make sure your skin doesn’t burn.
Another great feature of this sunscreen is that it is water-resistant. As well, it is suited for people with sensitive skin because it is dermatologically tested to ensure it doesn’t cause any irritation.
- Contains a tan activator complex
- Offers a medium SPF 15 protection
- A unique milky formula that’s easy to lather on
- Leaves a nice shimmer on the skin
- This is more of a luxurious sunscreen
- Smells very nice, not chemical-like at all
- More expensive than most other tanning sunscreens
Best Low SPF: Coppertone Tanning Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 8
This product is specifically formulated for tanning. So, if you want a general sunscreen for swimming at the beach, don’t go for this. But, if you plan on lying out in the sun to tan, then this is a cheap and quick way to get a nice-looking glow. Because this product only offers SPF 8 protection, you’re sure to achieve a tan.
Even if you take a dip in the water, this formula still offers 80 minutes of protection. So, it’s ideal if you go tanning at the pool or the beach. You’ll also be glad to know that this formula has a pleasant scent that’s not too overpowering.
The formula is packed with vitamin E and antioxidants to help your skin look its best while you tan. It prevents premature aging and sunspots. For the right amount of protection, use two tablespoons of product per application.
- This is a cult-classic tanning lotion with low SPF
- Has a pleasant scent
- Non-greasy formula
- Works even for people with fair skin
- The lotion absorbs into the skin quickly and evenly
- Doesn’t make your skin glow
- Not the original Coppertone fragrance many older tanners are used to
Best for Fair Skin: Hawaiian Tropic Sunscreen Silk Hydration Moisturizing Broad Spectrum Sun Care Sunscreen Lotion (SPF 10)
Anyone with fair skin knows that even limited exposure to the sun can cause a sunburn. But, with this tanning sunscreen by Hawaiian Tropic, even fair-skinned people can enjoy a glowy tan.
It has a low SPF 10 protection, but that’s enough to give minimal protection and allow the skin to darken. This lotion is also suited for people with sensitive skin because it has hydrating ingredients and offers up to 12 hours of moisture.
If you tend to burn very quickly during sun exposure, try this sunscreen because it can help. The best way to use this product is to minimize sun exposure time the first few times you use this. Build up your tan gradually, and don’t forget to re-apply every two hours.
- It moisturizes the skin and doesn’t leave you feeling dry
- Applies smoothly and evenly
- Great for fair skin
- Can be used on indoor tanning beds
- Offers 12-hour moisture
- The scent fades rather quickly
Best Clear Spray: Banana Boat UltraMist Dry Oil Continuous Clear Spray SPF 8 Sunscreen with Argan Oil 6 Ounce
Not everyone likes a sunscreen with bronzers. Sometimes, you want a simple, clear, color-free spray formula with a low SPF to help you get that perfect-looking tan. Well, Banana Boat’s easy spray-on sunscreen is just that: a low SPF 9 sunscreen with minimum levels of protection that’s perfect for laying out in the sun on a sunny day.
The spray bottle applicator makes it easy to apply all over the body in even layers, without wasting any product. This sunscreen has a non-greasy and non-sticky texture, so you won’t even feel that it’s on your skin.
The best part about using this spray is that no rubbing is required after you apply it. It sinks into the skin and nourishes it; therefore, you end up with soft and glowy tanned skin. So, if you use this product, you’ll be safe against sunburns and peeling, as long as you don’t overexpose yourself to the sun’s rays.
- The product comes out as a fine mist, and it is easy to apply
- Colorless and clear
- Contains antioxidant grape seed oil
- Dries quickly and doesn’t require rubbing
- Pleasant coconut rum scent
- Great for gradual and gentle tanning
- Doesn’t offer a bronzed glow or the appearance of a fake-tan
Best Reef-Friendly: Caribbean Sol 100% Sol Chemical Free Natural Guard SPF 8-4. oz Sun Block Sunscreen Organic Aloe Reef Marine Safe1080
If you’re worried about the negative impact of sunscreen on coral reefs, we have a solution. The chemicals in sunscreen can cause coral bleaching. But this Caribbean Sol product is natural and reef-friendly; therefore, you can feel better knowing your products are not damaging the environment.
This sunscreen is chemical-free, as well as non-nano and non-toxic. Thus, it’s safe to use on all skin types. The way that this formula works is that it reflects the UV rays with non-nano zinc oxide, instead of harsh chemicals.
Since it is made with natural ingredients like kukui oil, aloe vera, cucumber, and coffee beans, you know that it nourishes the skin and helps protect it from sun damage and aging. It feels like putting on a hydrating moisturizer; therefore, it doesn’t leave you feeling dry and flaky.
- Formulated with natural ingredients
- Coral reef and marine life friendly
- Chemical-free and nano-free
- Has a light and pleasant scent
- Contains aloe vera, which prevents skin from burning and helps nourish
- No need to rub it in; simply swipe over the skin gently
- Some customers reported that their skin still got burnt, so you need to use a fair amount of product.
- More expensive than some other similar products.
Best Paraben Free: Panama Jack Sunscreen Tanning Oil – SPF 4, Reef Friendly, PABA, Paraben, Gluten & Cruelty-Free
Many consumers stay away from parabens, so if you want a formula that gluten and paraben-free, this Panama Jack product may be a good option for you. If you love the sun and the beach, this oil will help you get flawless tans every time.
This is a go-to sunscreen tanning oil for frequent tanners because it helps you achieve a great base tan and then a gradual tan until you reach a dark brown shade. We recommend this particular oil for those who don’t burn quickly and don’t have sensitive skin. After all, the SPF factor in this product is very low (only 4). Therefore, you should not be exposed to UVA/UVB rays for more than one hour at a time.
The spray pump works well as it can be sprayed from any angle. The oil comes out evenly and absorbs into the skin almost instantly. It makes your skin look very shiny and glowy, so it appears healthy even as you tan.
- Contains fruit and nut extracts to nourish and moisturize the skin
- Has a pleasant tropical scent
- Works very well to protect the skin from burning.
- The oil formula is non-sticky and non-greasy
- Affordable price and comes in 2-packs, which is great value
- You need to re-apply this oil often
Buyer’s Guide: What to look for in tanning sunscreen
Selecting a tanning sunscreen is not like choosing a regular sunscreen for a swim day at the beach. When you want protection from the sun, you need to select a sunscreen lotion or oil with a high SPF (SPF30 + is recommended). However, when you want to tan, you need a lower SPF product that allows the skin to capture the sun’s rays and develop a tan.
It would help if you considered the SPF factor of a sunscreen lotion because it determines how long it takes to get a tan.
Here is a general guide:
- SPF 4 means it takes 4 times longer to tan than without sunscreen
- SPF 15 means it takes 15 times longer to tan than without sunscreen
Don’t worry about the tan time because when you tan, you will lay out in the sun for about 60 minutes anyway. So, it’s better to be protected and get a slower tan than to burn your skin without protection. If you tan without sunscreen, you risk developing skin cancer.
It’s crucial to apply sunscreen correctly. If you use an SPF 50 product but don’t apply enough product, it will not protect you adequately.
Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
When looking for a good sunscreen, make sure it is a broad spectrum product that protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays.
UVB radiation gives your skin the tan, but it’s also the type of ray that burns the outer layer of the epidermis.
UVA radiation is potentially dangerous because it penetrated deep into the skin and causes aging and sunspots. It also puts you at risk for skin cancers, especially melanoma.
Most tanning sunscreens offer broad spectrum protection even if they have a low SPF.
If you see a product that is not broad spectrum, keep in mind that it doesn’t protect you against sunscreen as it only protects the top outer layer of the epidermis. We recommend using broad spectrum products, especially when you tan as you’re exposing yourself to the sun for an extended period.
What’s better sunscreen spray or cream/lotion?
Both sprays and lotions are good sunscreen formulas and offer great protection, especially if they have a high SPF factor. It depends on personal preference and the type of texture that is easier to use on your body.
Lightweight sprays or oil formulas are easier to use because you can spray them on hard to reach places like your back. For example, if you need to reach your upper back, it’s much easier to spray from the top and let it sink in. You don’t need to rub in most oil sprays, so it’s less work for you.
Creams and lotions are also good options because you can rub them in properly. They apply evenly on the skin and offer protection for a longer time, even in the water. It’s a bit easier to use lotions because you can really feel how much product is going on to the skin, and you can clearly see it. A spray can be misleading, especially if it’s a clear formula, because you may apply more to one area than another.
Both formulas must be re-applied regularly to ensure the skin stays protected the whole time you are outside.
Next time you go tanning, make sure to use a protective broad-spectrum sunscreen. You’ll be able to enjoy more time in the sun, and you’ll get an even and glowy deep tan that’s sure to please.
There are so many options on Amazon, including sprays, oils, lotions, and even many natural and environmentally friendly products. Most of the products on our list are budget-friendly and cost less than $20, so there’s no excuse not to wear sunscreen while tanning.
Now, all you have to do is pick the best tanning sunscreen for your skin from our list and lather on the SPF and bask in the sun to get beautifully bronzed skin.