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What Does Tanning Oil Do and How to Apply It Correctly

Written by Lexi Carlson
Medically Reviewed by Denise Christine Bries, MD
What Does Tanning Oil Do and How to Apply It Correctly

Tanning oils are one of the hottest items on the market right now, especially during the months leading to summer.

We know that tanning oils give you that sun-kissed skin everyone is trying to achieve, but you might also be curious, “What does tanning oil do to my skin to get that glow?”

In this article, we’ll share how tanning oils work, how to find the right tanning oil for you, and answer frequently asked questions about it!

Let’s dive right in!

How Does Tanning Oil Work?

How Does Tanning Oil Work

People absolutely adore tanning oils for their bronzing effect, but there is such a thing as getting a sunburn while trying to get tanned skin.

Tanning oils trigger melanocytes to produce melanin, which will give you a deeper and darker tan.

People use tanning oil to SPEED UP the tanning process. You can resort to using a tanning accelerator!

Once you put on the tanning oil, the refractive index of your skin is lowered. This allows more UV rays to penetrate your skin.

You can say that there is less natural protection.

There are two essential ingredients to a tanning oil: bronzers and moisturizers. Both play a crucial role in making sure the reaction produces an instant tan.

  1. Bronzers contain Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which interacts with the top layer of the skin by binding amino acids.
  2. Moisturizing agents like Vitamin E ensure the skin doesn’t become dry.

The process of many tanning oils means spending time under the sun without using the Sun Protection Factor (SPF).

Let’s admit it; there is always a possibility of sun damage!

Most tanning oils do not have SPF protection, which means that the outer layer of your skin is vulnerable to the harsh sun rays.

The Right Way to Apply Tanning Oil

The Right Way to Apply Tanning Oil-

If you want to get a darker skin tone for your upcoming trip to the French Riviera, you’re likely to put on tanning oils and lounge under the sun, in tanning beds or self-tanners.

Let us help you speed up the process and get you that perfect tan while also making sure your skin is protected from sun exposure.

  1. Take the tanning oil and pour a generous amount into your hands.
  2. Gently apply it all over your skin, and ensure that you create an even layer for optimum tanning. Sensitive areas such as the face or near your bikini area will require you to apply the tanning oil more gently.
  3. Do you want to achieve instant tan and bronzed skin within a day? Re-apply the tanning oil after every two hours.
  4. If you have sensitive skin and you are planning to go outdoor tanning, make sure to protect your body by re-applying the tanning oil after 3-5 hours.
  5. Seek shade every now and then!

Depending on your skin type, you may experience skin damage when you stay too long under the sun, especially without sunscreen. Ask your doctor for advice if needed.

What to Look For in Tanning Oils

What to Look For in Tanning Oils-

1. SPF

The usual tanning oil does not contain SPF protection.

We don’t recommend tanning without SPF, as it could result in irreversible sun damage down the road.

The bottom line here is that without enough SPF protection, your skin is vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays and, consequently, to skin conditions that may follow.

When looking for tanning oils, ensure they have an SPF of 30 or more, as an SPF of 15 or less will not protect you from direct sun exposure.

You might be thinking, “Can’t I just put sunscreen after I put on my tanning oil?”

In hindsight, we understand why you asked this, but this might do more harm than good.

The truth is that the oils commonly responsible for a faster tan do not mix well with sunblock ingredients. This can leave your skin more vulnerable to sun damage.

Choose a tanning oil with SPF 30 or more to ensure your skin is protected. Ask your dermatologist or a doctor for recommendations and advice if you have a sensitive skin type.

Remember, everyone has a melanin quota.

Once you reach this ceiling, the body can’t naturally create melanin anymore. Make sure you are aware of this!

TIP: You can find the best choices for sunscreen for tanning in this buying guide!

2. Ingredients

The most common bronzer is Dihydroxyacetone, which is shortened as DHA. This reacts with amino acids in the epidermis, which results in a bronze effect.

However, the bronzing color provided by DHA does not last in the same way as natural melanin does.

It will retain for a maximum of seven days and start to naturally peel off.

Another essential ingredient of tanning oil is moisturizer. Moisturizers help keep the skin supple and smooth and prevent peeling.

  • It can be in the form of sodium PCA, sodium isethionate, Vitamin E, glycerine, or panthenol.
  • As for the oil itself, the most oils used are olive, sunflower, and coconut.

Depending on your skin needs and personal preferences, one oil might be better suited for you than the other.

If you don’t want to risk it, you make your own DIY tanning oil using natural ingredients!

3. Other Essential Features

This one is more of a precaution, especially for those with existing skin conditions such as asthma, psoriasis, or even a general sensitivity to the sun.

If your skin reacts to scented products, make sure to choose an unscented and hypoallergenic one.

As much as possible, choose a non-comedogenic tanning oil, as you don’t want to have clogged pores while laying under the sun.

Watch out for parabens, gluten, and other ingredients that might cause a reaction. Scan the ingredients list!

The key to this is applying the tanning oil to a small area first and letting it stay there long enough to check if there are any adverse reactions.

Know your body’s limit to the sun, too!

For instance, people with psoriasis are advised not to use heavy products, as this can cause a flare-up.

We want you to be able to tan properly, so ensure that you only use a tanning oil containing healthy and suitable ingredients!

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Here, we answer the most common questions about tanning oils!

Is Tanning Oil Good for You?

If it’s your first time tanning using tanning oil, your first thoughts may be, “Is a tanning oil bad?” or “Is a tanning oil safe?”

Tanning oils work by helping you achieve a faster tanning process by prompting the body to produce melanin.

Tanning oil is good for you when you use it on your skin properly. We don’t want you to have an unhealthy amount of sun exposure or UV radiation!

However, oils such as sunflower, olive, or other types of tanning oils DO NOT have SPF or do not contain the necessary moisturizers to keep your skin from becoming dry under the sun.

This could mean that you achieve tanned skin but at the expense of sun damage. Oh no!

Be careful of the mineral oils that end up clogging your pores, too. This can cause acne after the tan.

Ensure that you check the ingredients of the tanning oil that you are using. You can ask yourself, “Does this specific tanning oil work for me? Will it protect my skin cells from the rays?”

Is It Better to Tan With or Without Tanning Oil?

It depends on the results that you want for your body. To answer this, we must ask again, “What does tanning oil do?”

Remember that a tanning oil works by lowering the top layer protection of the skin from the rays, therefore speeding the process.

If you want to achieve a tan in record-breaking time, then tanning oils work. Unlike tanning lotions, use tanning oil when you want a more consistent result.

You will notice the tanning oil work because of a fast absorption of rays, leading to a darker tan in a short period.

Tanning oils work by ensuring an even tan on the skin with tanning oil and help the body accelerate melanin production.

Unlike tanning lotions that intensify the absorption of UV rays and increase the risk of sun damage, use tanning oil for a more even and consistent tan.

However, please remember that people with a whiter/fairer skin tone are more at risk of skin cancer, so you must use a tanning oil cautiously.

Is Tanning Oil Damaging?

The truth is there is no 100% way to ensure a safe tan (other than a fake tan).

Again, tanning oil works by making the skin more receptive to the sun, which poses risks on its own.

You can naturally get a tan by laying it out on the skin alone, and such a thing as oil will accelerate its effects all the more.

Anything excessive will damage your skin, whether you are trying to get a tan or not. When using tanning oil, make sure that your skin is still protected.

Also, ensure that the oil you put on your skin will not cause any allergic reactions. Check the ingredients if it contains gluten, as this can cause complications, too.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

We hope you learned a thing or two from this article! Taking care of your skin is a daily responsibility, especially during the months leading up to the warm weather.

Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfectly safe tan!

Your skin will react when you tan too much or when you use a tanning oil that contains a harmful ingredient for your skin.Make sure to listen to it and be flexible when needed! Good luck!

FINAL TIP: If you would rather tanning indoors, there are a bunch of indoor tanning lotions you choose from! Choose one you like this buying guide!