From spring break vacations to special events such as weddings, sometimes we need something a bit different than a haircut or makeover to get that fresh look.
For many people, that new look requires a tan. Golden tans can help to give us a sun-kissed sparkle so that we don’t look like we’ve been sitting in an office building 8 hours a day.
The thing is, not many of us have access to the beach or sunny weather all the time.
For that reason, companies have started upping their game with tanning lotions.
The problem is that this is something we're putting on our skin, meaning you must be careful what kind of tanning lotion you buy.
Luckily, we've created a list of some of the best tanning lotions on the market, as well as a small guide to help you on your search for that tropical sheen.
The Top 9
Best Tanning Lotion
OUR #1 PICK - AUSTRALIAN GOLD CHEEKY BROWN TANNING ACCELERATOR
Australian Gold Cheeky Brown is probably one of the most popular tanning lotions out there, and now they've added a bronzer! The main reason we've found that it's a favorite is that their prices are incredibly reasonable for a quality product that is far superior to most. The Australian Gold Cheeky Brown is perfect for fair-skinned people. Most say that they can see a visible tan after only a few sessions using it.
As for the smell, you get a very pleasing, light cocoa-vanilla smell. We love that it doesn’t stick on your skin either, giving you that nasty, oily look. It comes equipped with vitamins E and A for hydration when you’re out on the sand, as well as skin-softening during the whole tanning process. This accelerator can be used just about anywhere, from inside on the tanning bed to outside in the sun.
Hempz Hypoallergenic Dark Tan Maximizer
Some tanning lotions aren't so great for those who have sensitive skin. Typically, the lighter your skin is, the more painful that it will be. If you want something that goes on a little softer, you should 100% check out Hempz Dark Tan Maximizer. It is vegan, as well as completely free of parabens, perfumes, and dyes. It doubles as somewhat of a moisturizer too with its many beneficial ingredients including oatmeal, mango seed butter, and pure hemp seed oil. These ingredients will help to protect your skin from getting too dry, even when you spend more extended hours in the sun.
Concerning the color, many people say to expect a darker and richer golden color. We love the fact that this lotion is non-greasy and lightweight, absorbing quickly into the skin without leaving any gross residue.
SunGodz Indoor Tanning Lotion with Bronzer
If you're going into a tanning bed, we recommend getting the SunGodz Indoor Tanning Lotion. It helps to accelerate the tanning process when used in conjunction with a tanning bed by accessing the melanin in your skin as your UV ray exposure increases. The melanin accessing properties make it excellent for achieving a deeper, richer tan. It even doubles as a medium bronzer, perfect for darker skin types. Even before you start tanning or get any exposure to UV rays, you will see color on your skin.
Unfortunately, many self-bronzers tend to leave streaks post-shower or post-tanning bed session. Luckily, the people over at SunGodz made sure to include their shower-proof technology that prevents any of the bronzing particles from coming off when the session is over. Thanks to the added vitamins and minerals, your skin will also come out feeling smooth as silk.
#1 Best Bronzer - Millenium Tanning Solid Black Bronzer
While other tanning lotions on the market are only meant to accelerate your tan, the Millenium Tanning Lotion is intended to give you a heavy-duty tan. Even after the first use, you'll notice that your skin is extremely dark. If you don't want a deep tan, we recommend staying away from this one. Otherwise, those who choose to go for it will love the dual-action formula. It helps to enhance the skin's reaction to tanning bed lights, though it also has the self-bronzing power.
Unfortunately, you may get some streaks if you have fair skin, so you must be careful with this lotion. It also requires a bit of shaking before you get started to make sure that the color particles get mixed up. Beyond that, it's full of natural moisturizers like hemp and sunflower seed oil to help give you beautiful, soft skin once you're all done. It also has an incredibly attractive smell.
Designer Skin Black
Designer Skin Black is easily one of the most popular bronzers in the tanning industry. The scent is pleasing, sweet citrus, and the formula goes on the skin like a lightweight lotion without any nasty residue or stickiness. The best thing about Designer Skin Black is that it doesn't leave any of those orange streaks that you typically get from bronzers. Instead, many praise this bottle for the smooth and even color that it goes on their skin.
Not only will it give you an even color, but it also softens your skin thanks to the silicone emulsifiers that are present in the formula. Tanning sessions can significantly dry out your skin, so having something in a lotion to deter that as much as possible is very important. Results that you'll get with the Designer Skin Black are quick, yet seem to last a long time as well, meaning you won't have to reapply or over-apply continuously.
Australian Gold Jwoww Black Bronzer
Australian Gold did it again with this bronzer! Their Jwoww Black Bronzer is one of the indoor tanning bed tanning accelerators and uniquely contains 0 bronzer particles, making it one of the best tanning lotions without bronzer. Instead, Jwoww Black Bronzer is packed with many natural, exotic oils, such as kukui nut and blackcurrant, which help to give you a darker look. Beyond the oils that they've added, you also get actual melanin inside the bottle, helping to supplement the natural melanin that your skin already produces. This means the more of it that you have on your skin, the more color you are going to get when you go outside.
A great tanning lotion will keep your skin feeling healthy, and this is where Australian Gold went all out. It comes enriched with loads of vitamins, as well as hemp seed extract, to keep your skin feeling soft and hydrated after your tanning session. The moment you step outside of the tanning bed, you'll notice a fantastic bronze on your now-radiant skin. It's pretty much perfect for making a great impression during any occasion.
Best For Lighter Tans
OUR #1 LIGHT TAN TANNING LOTION: SELF TANNER BEAUTY BY EARTH
Finding the right tanning lotion if you are fair-skinned can be a bit difficult. Luckily, the Beauty by Earth people came out with an incredibly high-quality light tanning lotion. It's made to give fair-skinned people that even and natural-looking light tan that actually lasts. For many, the price may be a bit steep, though when you consider how long it goes for, it's worth it. In use, it looks a lot like rubbing in zinc oxide thanks to the white color, though it rubs in far better.
The Beauty by Earth self-tanner comes with an array of high-quality ingredients that help to moisturize the skin as you use it, effectively protecting you against UV damage and aging. It's 100% buildable, meaning you are supposed to use it for a few weeks to develop a beautiful, natural base tan. For those of you who are serious about using a natural, eco-friendly product, you need to look no further.
Swedish Beauty Pink Diamond
Swedish Beauty Pink Diamond is an excellent tingle lotion for those who want to try it, though beginner tanners beware, as it can get pretty hot on the skin. That being said, it has a light, citrus-like smell that will help to calm the burning sensation you get, so it's not all bad. All-in-all, the lotion will make the skin blush enough to make it a solid tanning accelerator. Though they refer to it as a tanning accelerator, there is a natural bronze added to it for more immediate results.
Beyond that, there are a few essential anti-aging ingredients that help to cut down on cellulite and leave you with firm, trimmed skin. It also has a very thick consistency so that you can use it for more extended sessions without getting burnt. Even with the thickness, it absorbs quite nicely. This is more for those who have skin that already has a solid, base tan, as those that are too pale might turn lobster red.
Maui Babe Browning Lotion
The Maui Babe range of tanning products are absolute classics. This specific lotion is composed of old Hawaiian Family Formulas that give you dark, yet natural color. It’s non-greasy, non-oily, and so light on the skin that you may forget that you’re even wearing it. It’s safe for all skin types and can be combined with any SPF while still giving you a wonderfully deep tan.
Uniquely enough, the Maui Babe Browning Lotion has a bit of coffee smell to it. You won't get any different antioxidants or other special ingredients with Maui Babe, though you will get a tan that will last you a long time. This is why it has had such a big following all these years. Beyond its simplicity, it's also incredibly inexpensive, making it perfect for those who are unsure about the amount of money they want to spend on tanning lotion.
Bronzer Vs. Accelerator
Read what the difference between the two is below:
Bronzer lotions are made to change the cells of the skin using a chemical known as dihydroxyacetone or DHA. Bronzers are made for those who want to achieve that instant tan, though they will also darken for hours after your tanning session as well. You usually have to wait a few hours after tanning to take a shower as well, or else you'll end up with streaks or blotches.
If you’re just getting into the world of tanning, we recommend starting with an accelerator to see how you feel. Accelerators are made to help you achieve a good base tan, though many of them don’t include any sort of bronzer. What they do typically contain are moisturizers that help to tan your skin faster and help you retain that color for longer. You only should start using a full-fledged bronzer once you have developed a good base tan with an accelerator.
What To Consider When Buying a Tanning Lotion
Dark Vs. Light
You've probably noticed that a lot of these tanning lotions are unique in the amount of color that they provide. The ones that are labeled "dark" will give you darker and richer tans, while the ones that are labeled "light" will give you lighter and fairer tans. These labels correlate to the tone of your skin, though also the color you are looking to find as well.
When it comes to tanning, your goal should never be to have a drastic change in skin tone. This is especially true if you're fair-skinned. It will look incredibly apparent that you have used a self-tanner, and may even end up looking orange or discolored. Do yourself a favor and begin tanning with a lotion that is lighter. Only switch to darker lotions and bronzers once your skin has darkened up.
Tingle Vs. No Tingle
Some companies will label their lotion bottles with the word "tingle." Many people don't know what in the world that means. Primarily, they come with specific ingredients that are mixed to create a tingle when the lotion is applied to the skin. They help to start the microcirculation on the surface, which allows the skin to absorb the ingredients faster. Microcirculation is perfect for when you begin your tanning session, as it boosts melanin production as well.
Many people don't like the tingle lotions, as the sensation is somewhat significant. Some people even experience redness and warming on the areas of the skin where it is applied. While it may feel irritated for a minute, the sensation doesn't last long. You have to be prepared for it. You must also be careful if you get a tingle lotion, as it can get in the eyes or the nose and severely burn. Always make sure to be thorough when washing your hands if you do decide to use this.
There are hundreds of tanning lotion options available with a wide variety of ingredients. Reading a label may help to an extent, though if you don’t know what those ingredients do, much of the helpfulness is lost. Here are some ingredients that you should look for when on the hunt for the best tanning lotion:
Hemp Seed Oil: Hemp seed oil is one of the most nourishing and moisturizing ingredients found in tanning lotions. This is why it is so popular among tanning lotion manufacturers.
Body Blush: If you are someone looking for that tingling sensation, but you have sensitive skin, so you don't want it to be overwhelming, body blush is a great keyword to look for.
Anti-Aging: Anti-Aging labels mean that the lotions carry certain vitamins that help to protect against things like wrinkles or loose skin.
Shimmer: Shimmer additives help to give you more of a glittery look when you use them. They are highly reflective, so only use these if you want that added glow.
Caffeine: This one typically throws people off. Caffeine is a prevalent ingredient in tanning lotions, as it helps to reduce puffiness in the skin while keeping it energized. Caffeine absorbs in the body as well, so if you don't do well with caffeine in general, try and steer clear of tanning lotions that carry it.
Silicon: Silicon has some pretty remarkable moisturizing benefits. It helps to condition your skin very nicely.
Beta Carotene: Beta Carotene, also referred to as Vitamin A, is excellent for enhancing pigment coloration in your skin.
Vitamin E: Looking to reduce the appearance of lines in your skin or get rid of those wrinkles? Make sure to get a tanning lotion with vitamin E in it.
Tanning Skin Types
Always make sure to consider the type of skin that you have before you go in for a tan. The lighter the skin, the more susceptible it is to the harmful effects of UV rays. You'll need extra skin protection if you don't want to run the risk of skin cancer.
This is why you should get to know your skin type. Six main skin group types have been compiled into something we know as the Fitzpatrick Scale.
Type 1: Type 1 skin is never going to tan naturally and will almost always burn when it is exposed to the sun. Type 1 skin is very pale and while, usually found on those with bright red or blonde hair, green eyes, and freckles.
Type 2: Type II skin will typically burn with sun exposure and will rarely tan. Type 2 skin is white and is usually found with blonde or red hair, and blue, green, or hazel eyes.
Type 3: Type 3 skin will burn sometimes and will tan only a bit. Type III skin is a creamy white and can be found with almost any eye or hair color.
Type 4: Type 4 skin will burn minimally and will tan pretty easily. Type IV skin is a moderate brown and can be accompanied by any hair or eye color.
Type 5: Type 5 skin burns very rarely and is great for tanning. Type V skin is brown colored and comes with dark hair and eyes.
Type 6: Type 6 skin will never burn, nor tan. Type VI skin is a deep, dark brown with dark hair and eyes.
Tips On Tanning Outside
Tanning outside is a much safer option than using an indoor tanning bed, and will typically result in natural tanning. That being said, many tanners seem to opt out of it because it takes longer. If you have patience, the only things you'll need to tan outside are a solid beach blanket/lounge chair and some good tanning lotion. Read our tanning tips below:
You'll want to apply your tanning lotion at least 30 minutes before you leave your house for a bit of sunbathing. The amount of time that you spend outside will be determined by the sun protection factor, which is typically found on the bottle. You'll likely want to apply multiple times if you're out for more than 30 minutes.
Lie on your blanket and remember to turn sides about every ten minutes to make sure that you get a nice, even tan. You can lie ten minutes on your back, ten minutes on your belly, and ten minutes on each side. Make sure that you take a good break after an hour has gone by in the sun. If you must do more, wait until the end of the day when the sun's rays aren't as strong. If not, wait to go back tomorrow.
At the end of every tanning session, we recommend using a moisturizing cream or lotion to replenish your skin. Being in the sun can significantly dehydrate your skin, so you'll want to get it back to feeling fresh once you're tanning session is over.
What Separates Tanning Lotion From Sunblock?
It is immensely important to understand that sunblock and tanning lotion are not substitutes by any means. They are actually entirely different products that don't overlap in the slightest. Indoor tanning lotions don't come with SPF and are not meant for solar protection, though solely to accelerate your tanning process when you are exposed to UV rays.
Sunblock, on the other hand, helps to protect your skin. It won’t accelerate your tan or give you that golden bronze. Sunblock is used by those who want to make sure their skin is protected to the fullest, as sun + a fair complexion can lead to some serious problems.
There are a few hybrid sunblock lotions that have bronzing particles in them, giving people a tan appearance when used. We don't recommend thinking of them as interchangeable in any way and make sure to use both to achieve a great tan without the consequences.
What are the Benefits of Indoor Tanning Lotions?
While a healthy dose of the sun can keep you feeling healthy and invigorated, we are all pretty aware by now that tanning is not great for us. That's why it's a good idea to limit the use of tanning beds, as well as cut down the time you spend in the sun. While a tanning bed session may give you instant color, you run the risk of burning or getting skin cancer. This is where tanning lotions come into play.
Tanning lotions help your skin to either get a darker look by utilizing bronzers or improve your skin to react better to UV rays by using accelerators. The skin produces melanin to help fend off UV rays. By increasing the melanin in your skin using melanin-enhancing ingredients found in tanning lotions, your skin reacts to UV rays better and tans faster.
This mainly helps to cut down on the number of times that you need to use a tanning bed to get your desired color. Many tanning lotions also come with unique ingredients and antioxidants that help your skin in other ways. Some of these include anti-aging ingredients, anti-cellulite ingredients, moisturizing ingredients, and more.
How To Use Tanning Lotions?
Test It Out for Sensitivity
Before you start applying your new lotion to your entire body, it's a good idea to make sure you test it on a smaller patch of your skin for sensitivity. While a product might have a bundle of great reviews, that doesn't necessarily mean that your skin won't react differently. It may even be one ingredient in the bottle that doesn't respond well with your skin. Instead of accidentally experiencing a full allergic reaction with hives, do a small test run first.
Test It Out for Color
If it doesn't irritate your skin, you should now move on to the color testing. Everyone's skin chemistry is unique. One tanning lotion that makes one person a tropical bronze color may make another person a bright orange color. This may even require that you test out a variety of lotions until you settle.
Follow The Sun Use Recommendations
Many tanning lotions come with recommendations as to how long you should use them. If your tanning lotion says 20-30 minutes on it and you decide to spend 2 hours in the sun, you will likely get a bad sunburn (see our article on how to make a sunburn go away faster). This could result in severe cell damage and increase your risk of skin cancer. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS!
Wash Your Hands When You’re Done
Bronzers will typically discolor your hands and fingers if left on them too long. This is because the skin on your hands is very different from the skin on the rest of your body. Make sure to scrub your hands clean if you don't want to deal with any blotches or patches.
Final Thoughts - Which Should You Get?
A tan can help give you that healthy look and can make you feel more confident during your special occasion. That being said, it also requires some caution to make sure that your skin actually remains healthy.
Our favorite indoor tanning lotion is the Australian Gold Tanning Accelerator. It gives you that beautiful, desired bronze, as well as an array of other health benefits, without being too dark or uncomfortable to use.
We hope that our list was helpful in deciding on your new tanning lotion! Be sure to try out a few to make sure that you discover the best one for you.