Last updated on August 11, 2018
Spending time at the beach doing watersports or simply chilling with friends at a picnic means you will take in plenty of sun. For many of us, the sun is one of the things we love most about surfing or swimming or whatever sport each of us is into. But the sun is not safe in the absence of a good tanning lotion, so whenever you want to get out there on the cloudy weather surf board, you have to make sure you’ve got your sun armor on.
There are many kinds of tanning lotions currently available, but not all of them do the same thing. Some tanning lotions are specifically formulated for outdoor use and some are for indoor use (for tanning beds). Furthermore, some tanning lotions are plain, with the sole purpose of protection, while others also contain substances for self-tanning, in varying degrees.
There is also the sun protection factor to consider, which can also vary depending on the season, as well as your own skin’s makeup. Sounds pretty complicated, right? This is what our ultimate guide on the best tanning lotions of the year is for. We will walk you through everything you need to know about each kind of tanning lotion and what to pay attention to when buying one.
How To Choose A Tanning Lotion – Buying Guide
As you were able to tell from our top of the best tanning lotions, there are many kinds of them to speak of. The top was of course based on our own preferences and on the product popularity from other tanning lotion reviews but deciding on the best one is ultimately up to each person. It all depends on what you are actually looking for.
Do you want to use it on the beach or for indoor tanning? Do you want it to also offer your skin UV protection or are you planning to use a separate product for that? Are you a habitual tanning bed user and your skin feels rough, so the ideal product should also be intensely moisturizing? Do you also want your tanning lotion to contain actual color and act as a bronzer?
If you’re not sure what your answer is to all of these, you’re not alone. Choosing the best self tanning lotion can be difficult. We will now walk you through every aspect you need to consider and hopefully at the end of our buying guide you will know for sure what’s the best tanning lotion for you.
Things to consider before buying a tanning lotion
The first question you need to ask yourself is where you want to get tanned. Is it outdoors, by the beach, or do you prefer the fast track of indoor tanning beds?
If you prefer outdoors tanning, then you will obviously need an outdoors tanning lotion, plus a SPF solar protection lotion (also known as sunblock). The correct order of applying it is tanning lotion first, if the kind of tanning lotion you have works as an accelerator. Follow up with sunblock on top, with a 10-minute break between both applications, in order to give the tan accelerator enough time to get absorbed.
If you prefer indoor tanning, then you need an indoor tanning lotion plus the sunblock. The order is similar: first the self tanner and then a little sunblock on top, to protect your skin from the ravaging effects of the tanning bed. The basics of making indoor tanning work together with sunblock will be explained below.
The second question that you should think of is whether you prefer a bronzer instead of a tanning accelerator. Self-bronzer lotions are also marketed as tanning lotions, so the matter can understandably be a bit confusing. If you don’t need to have an actual tan, created by your skin from the inside out, and you’re satisfied with just the appearance of a tan, then a bronzer might be just what you need.
You don’t need to worry about it looking fake; the best tanning lotions on the market have such advanced technology behind them that your bronze will look luminous and glowy. This might in fact be the healthier option, considering that getting a deep tan can also come with some health risks.
One last thing to take into account is that many of the best tanning lotions contain both an accelerating formula and self-bronzer particles, so they will help you achieve a double tanned look. Also remember that regardless of whether you choose a tanning accelerator, a bronzer or a hybrid of the two, you also need a bit of sunblock (SPF 15 at a minimum, more if you’re fair-skinned).
Types of indoor tanning lotions
For indoor tanning, the lotions you can find are meant to accelerate the tanning process. The beauty center that offer time on the tanning bed usually also offer a selection of tanning lotions, but for best results it’s recommended to buy your own lotion. This way you can control the exact ingredients and desired bonuses (anti-ageing, slimming and so on), depending on your needs.
Criteria 1: Bronzer or non-bronzer
Some indoor tanning lotions also double up as bronzers, meant to accentuate or highlight the natural tan you will achieve. As long as you buy a quality self tanner, this is a more than welcome feature. It won’t stain your clothes or leave streaks on your skin but will just act like a light make-up that highlights your body all over.
Criteria 2: Light vs dark
Finally, some of the indoor tanning lotions differ by the level of color. Some are labeled as dark and some are labeled as light or fair. This refers to your natural skin tone, but also to the level of tan that you’d like to achieve.
Our advice in this case is to not aim for any drastic changes, especially if you are very light-toned and would like to become deeply tanned. If you start using a dark self tanner right away, the contrast between your natural skin color and the lotion might become obvious is some spots. Start with a light tanning lotion and move on to a darker one as your skin tone darkens up, gradually.
Tingle Tanning Lotions
What about tingle tanning lotions? You may have heard the term but don’t know exactly what they are or how they work. Let us help clarify that.
A tingle self tanner is a special type of formula that makes you feel a tingle on your skin when you apply it. This is because of the active ingredients that help jump-start the skin’s microcirculation, allowing the rest of the ingredients to travel better and get absorbed faster in your skin’s layers. This microcirculation boost will also help when you actually start tanning, because the melanin production is also boosted in the process.
There are several brands of indoor tanning lotions that offer tingle lotions, and all of them enjoy relatively positive customer reviews.
If you’re tempted to try a tingle tanning lotion for the first time, this is what you should prepare for. First of all, you can expect the tingling sensation to be significant. Don’t be alarmed if you also experience a warming and reddening effect on the area of the skin that you applied the tingle lotion on. It will pass without any lasting irritation; the effect is only temporary. Some anti-cellulitis lotions on the market actually have a similar effect so you might be familiar with it from them.
Second of all, remember to go into the tanning bed (or lie on a beach towel, if you prefer outdoor tanning) as soon as you’ve put the lotion on. The tingle effect won’t last beyond around 40 minutes, and it would be a shame not to make the most of it.
Last, but not least, remember to wash your hands really well after putting the tingle self tanner on your body. The active substances in the formula can sting quite a bit if you accidentally rub sensitive areas like your eyes or your nose. Better stay safe and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you’re done applying it.
Bronzer lotions are the ones which contain tiny colored particles meant to give a tan-like color to your skin without needing to go through the organic tanning process (without forcing your skin to produce melanin). You can think of them as make-up for your skin, but they can go much deeper than make-up, achieving a gradual and permanent effect, much like real tan.
These are the main bronzing tanning lotions you can expect to find:
- Gradual self-tanning lotions
- Highlighting bronzer lotions
- Indoor tanning bronzer lotions
The first type is the best replacement for ‘real’ tanning, and a much healthier alternative. These formulas are usually based on natural ingredients that can help skin change its color organically, so they don’t act like a simple make-up layer that will wash off the first time you shower. Such ingredients are beta-carotene and cane sugar compounds, for example.
The second type resembles make-up more than anything else, because it will wash off easily and is only meant to give your skin a temporary glow. If you’ve ever used a highlighter you will know what we’re talking about. You can think of these bronzer lotions as a liquid subtle highlighter that you can use all over your body in order to cast your underlying tan in an even more favorable light.
The third type of bronzer is a hybrid formula that mixes a tanning accelerator with some bronzer particles to give you a taste of instant color, beyond the natural tan color that you will achieve in time.
What’s your skin type for tanning?
When planning to tan, you should also consider your skin type. This is very important because lighter skin is more vulnerable to the negative effects of UV rays (namely, aging and the risk of skin cancer). So, the fairer you are, the higher the amount of sun protection that you will need.
Also, if you have a more sensitive skin type (lighter colored), you also need to adjust the levels of UV rays that you take it. Limit exposure time if choosing outdoor tanning, and also be careful to avoid the times of the day when the sun is stronger.
If opting for indoor tanning, it might be even easier to adjust the level of UV rays that gets in your skin. The personnel of the tanning salon should be able to assist you to choose the ideal settings for your skin type.
The Main Skin Types for Tanning:
Science has classified the main skin phenotypes (types of skin in relation to light) according to the Fitzpatrick scale. This comprises the following 6 main skin groups or categories:
- Type I: always burns when exposed to sun, never tans naturally (pale white skin, usually accompanied by light blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes and freckles)
- Type II: usually burns and tans rarely (white skin with blonde or red hair and blue, green or hazel eyes)
- Type III: burns mildly and tans just a little (cream white skin with any hair and eye color)
- Type IV: burns minimally and tans easily (moderate brown skin with any hair and eye color)
- Type V: very rarely burns and tans very well (brown colored skin with dark eyes and hair)
- Type VI: never tans and never burns (deeply rich dark brown skin with dark eyes and hair).
Basically, if you belong to type I or II, you need a solar protection factor of 30 to 50 every time you get exposed to the sun rays or indoor UV, even if you plan on tanning. If you’re having trouble tanning as a type I, even if you’re using indoor tanning beds, perhaps a self tanner would be a better choice for you.
If you’re a type III, a solar protection factor of 30 is enough if you’re trying to tan. For type IV, anything between SPF 20 and SPF 30 should do, and the types V and VI only need a sunblock of about 15 SPF, but still need it no matter how resistant they think they are.
Also keep in mind that regardless of your skin phenotype, you will need slightly more SPF on your face than on the rest of your body, so adjust the facial sunblock and the body sunblock accordingly.
How to tan outdoors
Tanning outdoors may take more time compared to using indoor tanning beds, but it’s definitely a more natural and safe option. To get a tan the good old-fashioned way, all you need is a beach blanket, a bit of patience and the best self tanning lotion for your skin.
Before you leave the house to get to the place where you plan to do your sunbathing, apply your tanning lotion. This should be based on a tanning accelerator formula. Then, also follow up with a top layer of solar protection factor, based on your skin type for tanning (see above). Wait 10 minutes between the applications.
You are then ready to face the sun and lie down on the blanket. Remember to shift positions often so that you tan evenly. Bask in the sun for about 10 minutes on one side of your body and then switch. Take a long break once you’ve reached an hour spent in the sun, and return later in the day, to catch some of the sun’s last rays, or skip it to the next day entirely.
Also remember to use an intensely moisturizing skin lotion or cream after you shower at the end of the day. The tanning process – whether it’s outdoors or indoors – can dehydrate the skin a lot, so you will need to replenish it.
Q: What is an indoor tanning lotion? What makes it different than sunblock?
A: An indoor tanning lotion and a sunblock lotion are radically different products. They don’t have any overlap whatsoever in what they do for you. An indoor tanning lotion does not contain any kind of solar protection and simply focuses on accelerating your tanning process when your skin gets exposed to the UV in the tanning bed panels.
As a complete opposite, a sunblock lotion focuses only on protecting your skin from sun rays and does not aim to accelerate your bronze. People who use sunblock are very conscious about their health or are at a risk for skin cancer because of their fair complexion or a large number of moles on their skin. They don’t want to invite UV rays into their skin on a deeper level, and that is exactly what an indoor tanning lotion does.
Of course, some indoor tanning lotions also contain bronzer particles that act like make-up for your skin, giving it an extra bronze coloring on the outside. There are also some hybrid sunblock lotions that also contain bronzing particles, to help people who are wary of tanning achieve a tan-like appearance. In this respect, an indoor tanning lotion and a self-bronzing sunblock can be similar, but at their core they are still very different.
Q: Why bother with an indoor tanning lotion?
A: Tanning beds aren’t the healthiest invention of humankind, so it’s a good idea to limit their use. They do get the job done fast if you’re looking for an almost instantaneous tan, but it all comes with a health risk. Therefore, to help minimize this risk, and to also save time, a good tanning accelerator is needed.
Basically, what a tanning accelerator does is help your skin react better and faster to the UV rays in the tanning bed (and even the natural UV rays that you can get outside). The skin defends itself from the powerful impact of these rays by producing melanin, which also gives it a darker color. The more melanin your skin has, the darker it will look.
A tanning accelerator will contain melanin-boosting ingredients which will make your skin react to the UV rays faster and therefore tan faster.
If you go into a tanning bed without using an indoor tanning lotion first, the effects will be less visible, compared to what they would have been if you had used one. This means you will need to repeat multiple indoor tanning sessions in order to achieve the same result. This is a bad idea because, as mentioned above, using tanning beds too much is a health risk (more about in the Sources section below).
Furthermore, a good indoor tanning lotion also comes with extra boosts for your skin. It could be anything from good anti-ageing ingredients, or an anti-cellulitis formula, or a bit of bronzer mixed in to give your tan extra color or golden highlights. All in all, if you’re going to use a tanning bed, there’s no point going in without an indoor tanning lotion.
Globo Surf Overview
Regardless of whether you prefer indoor tanning or outdoor tanning, remember to be responsible and also use a layer of sunblock. This may mean that your natural tan will come a bit slower, but it will be safer for your health.
Also, many the best tanning lotions, such as the ones we presented in our list above, come with some self-bronzing particles that will help your skin look tanned faster. The self-bronzing helps achieve faster results even if the sunblock you’re using is slowing down the natural tan process. So, your looks will be the same, but your health will be at less of a risk if you also use something with solar protection factor regularly.
Stay out of the sun at noon when it’s the most powerful and wear a stylish beach hat whenever you can. Remember that a sunblock should be used even when you’re not basking in the sun per se but doing other outdoor summertime activities like riding your bike or catching a nice wave.
If you like using tanning beds, you should also resist the temptation to go in without any kind of sunblock whatsoever. We know you want fast results, but with the help of a good indoor tanning lotion you’ll achieve a beautiful tan even if you also protect your skin a little with at least a SPF 15 sunblock.
Whatever your preferences, a beautiful tan is within reach with the right products. We hope that our buying guide for the best tanning lotions will help you find your ideal helper. Have fun and stay safe!
- The Ugly Truth about Indoor Tanning, Cancer.org
- Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun: from Sunglasses to Sunscreen, FDA.gov
What kind of lotion do you use at the beach? Do you stick to sun protection only or do you prefer something that also accelerates the tanning process? How about a self-tanning lotion, did you ever experiment with those? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below and share your experience with the Globo Surf community.
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