Picking The Best Tanning Lotion

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
women tanning on the beach

As a nation, we have become nothing short of obsessed with getting the perfect sun-kissed tan. Whether that means taking advantage of a particularly sunny day or even trying a tanning bed, we are always needing that golden glow. Business is booming as well, with the indoor tanning industry worth a staggering $2.6 billion, it is clear everyone is out to get their tan on.

Next time you’re by the beach or even out on a summer’s day, how can you optimise those rays and make the most of your time in the sun? The answer is, tanning lotion!

We have you covered for everything you need to know for your next tanning session.

Does Tanning Lotion Work?

The real purpose of a tanning lotion, is to optimise and enhance your tan more than it would be if you were to just start tanning without any lotion pre-applied. This type of lotion works by maintaining the moisture levels in your skin which then allows for your pores to open up. If you were to sit out in the sun, it is likely that on a particularly warm day your pores will tighten and close which will dry out your skin. Ever wonder why a sunburn may start to peel after a while ? This is because the rays have been too harsh on the skin and your body hasn’t been able to stabilise its moisture levels. When your pores are opened, ultraviolet (UV) rays are able to more easily penetrate the skin and cause it to brown and tan.

Although, it is recommended that you follow a few necessary steps if you do decide to go with a tanning lotion next time you’re sunbathing. Firstly, it is recommended that you exfoliate and moisturise well the day before you decide to sunbathe, of course if time permitting. Following this, it is vital that you apply the lotion before you start to sweat, so none of the active ingredients are ‘denatured’ by any perspiration. Whilst the tanning lotion is on, it is necessary that you also keep an eye on the clock because these lotions do accelerate the rate of tanning, so you may burn quicker than expected.

However, in short, they really do work. Although, it is always advised to be responsible and conscious whenever you are exposed to the sun without any protection from UV rays. For instance, if you do choose to use a tanning lotion instead of a sunscreen then it is vital that you wear UV protective sunglasses or eye coverings.

How Does It Work ?

As well as this, most tanning lotions include a chemical known as, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), in their ingredients list. Now, don’t worry, DHA is only a colouring additive that is often included in tanning lotions because it reacts particularly well with the skin’s natural amino acids. This reaction that takes place leads to a tanning and darkening of the skin.

Some tanning lotions available nowadays also include a number of essential and natural oils as well. These oil based substances also helps condition and moisturise your skin which, in turn, helps the skin to absorb the UV rays and stimulate the growth of more melanin. However, health care professionals advise against using these sorts of creams as they can end up doing more long-term damage to your skin than a normal, DHA-based lotion would.

Due to the chemical makeup of tanning lotions, they also help in maintaining your tan and making sure that it lasts. This is also due to the fact that they help to keep the skin hydrated and well moisturised meaning that a long-lasting and deeper tan has the ability to develop for the days following your session.

Tanning With A Lotion Vs. Tanning Without

Overall, it is much better to tan with a lotion of your choice. This is down to the fact that it will help to accelerate your tan and also maintain it for a long period afterwards. Tanning without a lotion can be far riskier. For one, you are at a higher risk of drying out or even burning which, in the long run, takes far longer to rectify. With a tanning lotion, you can also be sure that the color that develops is more of a brown or orange as opposed to a reddish glow that can sometimes surface if you choose to tan without any lotions or protection.

Many indoor tanning specialists and owners also swear by tanning lotions and regularly recommend them to clients at their salons. Most of the lotions on the market are relatively low in costs as well, especially when compared to other tanning based treatments and products. Whilst it is also worth investing in well-reviewed and popular products, you may be surprised at how little these tanning lotions will set you back.

However, when it comes down to safety, everyone is aware of the risks of sunbathing or using artificial tanning equipment. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation conducted nationwide research in 2014 that concluded that individuals under-35 who regularly sunbathed were up to 75% more likely to develop a melanoma in their lifetime. So, of course, when it comes down to it, it is far more responsible to reach for a fake tan product or spend time in the sun-protected with a high SPF suncream that will truly provide your skin with protection from the sun’s UV rays.

But, if you are looking to naturally tan outside then it is recommended that you use a tanning lotion that is going to be able to keep the skin well moisturised and hydrated.

women tanning outside

What are the different kinds of tanning lotion?

When looking online or even in-store, it can sometimes be overwhelming just how many tanning lotion products are on offer. From tanning oils to lotions. From products that offer a ‘tingle’ to treatments that are ‘cooling’. It can be confusing picking the perfect lotion with such a wide range available on the market. Luckily, we’ve done the hard work and compiled our list of the best tanning lotions.


Tanning lotions that are advertised as ‘bronzers’ will generally deliver a richer and much darker tan.

This is largely down to these products including a much higher percentage of DHA in their formulas meaning that a much deeper colour is able to develop. For instance, some products will even promise to develop a tan that is 100 times deeper than usual and this is down to the fact they contain a much high level of DHA. These type of lotions are particularly popular because they do promise on more long lasting results.

However, they do have the tendency to transfer and stain clothing or other fabrics so always keep this in mind before applying. To avoid this, look out for a bronzing tanning lotion that is transfer resistant. This way, the product will still contain the DHA, but won’t streak or transfer any pigment.

If it is a tanning lotion that you need, then make sure to do your research and confirm that you aren’t purchasing an indoor ‘fake tan’ which is just a bronzing pigment applied to the top layer of skin. These cosmetic bronzers will provide no protection to the sun and will not provide you with the benefits that a specially formulated tanning lotion would. Additionally, any of these cosmetic tanners or bronzers will wash off and leave your skin looking the same as it was pre-application.

Intensifiers / Accelerators:

A tan intensifier or accelerator (often also known as an optimiser or enhancer) are a good option for any beginners as it will help build up a tan quickly. An intensifier works especially well because they include, Tyrosine, a chemical that stimulates the production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is responsible for any coloring in the skin so if you want to build a tan quickly make sure you look for a lotion that includes Tyrosine in its ingredients list.

Usually, intensifiers and accelerators won’t contain any bronzing ingredients or features either. So, you can be assured that when using one of these lotions, your tan will never streak and no pigment will ever transfer. Another positive to using an intensifier is that they won’t develop any bronzing after smell that can often be found in many bronzing lotions when the DHA component of the lotion begins to work.


Tingle creams are mostly marketed to well-seasoned and regular tanners that are well versed when it comes to tanning lotions and their benefits. When applied, a tingle lotion will immediately start to warm the skin in order to open up the body’s pores and speed up the rate of tanning. Many swear by tingle creams as being the answer to a tan that won’t develop any further. Many also believe that tingle lotions help to speed up tanning on areas that get less oxygen circulation, although it is advised to never use a tingle cream on any sensitive areas like the face.

Tingle creams do come with their fair share of warnings though. For instance, it is advised to not take a hot shower for a few days after using one of these lotions because any direct heat onto the skin can tend to re-activate the warming ingredients in these products. Tingle lotions are effective and do help to speed up tans but it is heavily advised that you do your research and have some experience with tanning before you choose to try one out.


Cooling lotions work in much the same way as tingle lotions do. Although, they provide no extra enhancing qualities to the lotion, where a tingle lotion will heat up the skin, a cooling lotion will produce a cool and refreshing feeling when applied. These lotions aim to enhance the tanning experience and, especially with tanning beds, provide some comfort.

Indoor Tanning Vs. Outdoor Tanning

Indoor tanning is one of the most popular beauty treatments available, especially throughout Europe and North America where winter can mean there aren’t too many opportunities to sunbathe outside. In fact, recent studies showed that on an average day around 1 million Americans use an indoor sun bed. As a result of their year-round accessibility, they can be really useful especially for keeping your tan well developed over the cooler months.

As well, with indoor tanning, it takes far less time to develop the same level of color as it would outside because you are in almost complete contact with the bulbs. This means that you can even get a tan in your lunch break or when you may be a little pressed for time.

The main drawback of indoor tanning comes down to cost. When you are regularly tanning over the course of the year, the cost of using electronic tanning beds may start to prove a little hard on the bank account. Whereas, of course, sunbathing outside is completely free !

Ultimately, if you are looking to maintain a consistent golden glow throughout the year, using indoor tanning beds is a great option. Whereas, if you are only keen on getting your tan on during the summer months, the sticking with outdoor tanning will save you a bit of money in the long run.


Tanning lotions are a great way to enhance, deepen, and lengthen the lifespan of your tan! With so many options available nowadays there truly is something for everybody. Whether that be using a tanning lotion with a built-in tanner or, for the more experienced sun lovers out there, a tingle lotion to quickly enhance the color. When used safely and responsibly, tanning lotions can be the perfect answer to getting the sun-kissed glow you’ve been after.