Tanning accelerator lotions are topical lotions that are designed to stimulate the production of melanin in the skin. The more melanin in the skin, the darker and more luscious the skin tone. There are a wide variety of tanning lotions available on the market, including many fakes (watch out!).
In this article, I’ll look at six great tanning lotions, and point to where they are best suited. After a careful examination of several tanning accelerators, I’ve found that the Best Outdoor Tanning Lotion is the Millennium Tanning Paint it Black 50X.
Best Outdoor Tanning Lotion
Key Points at a Glance
- Contains DHA
- For indoor and outdoor use
- Includes a bronzer
- Firms skin with included caffeine agent
Millennium Tanning Products has a fantastic reputation in the tanning industry, and their Paint it Black 50X tanning lotion is their flagship lotion. It is designed to safely and quickly tone the skin to a deep bronze color without streaking. This is the best outdoor tanning lotion, though you have to use it in conjunction with other products for complete protection.
This lotion can be used in tanning beds, but it really shines for outdoor use. Keep in mind, however, that the Paint it Black 50X does not contain any sunblock in its formula. You’ll need to be using a separate broad spectrum sunblock with this outdoor tanning lotion.
Additionally, Millennium’s Paint it Black formula is not waterproof, so if you choose to take a dip in the water to cool off, you’ll want to reapply it.
The Paint it Black is the Best Outdoor Tanning Lotion available.
Best Tanning Lotion Without Bronzer
Key Points at a Glance
- Natrual tanning oil without bronzing chemicals
- Includes cocoa-butter and Aloe vera
- Great moisturizer
- Does not include sun protection
- For indoor and outdoor use
Hawaiian Tropic’s Dark Tanning Oil is a wonderful tanning accelerator without bronzer agents. It has a wonderful coconut smell that many find incredibly appealing. It smells so good it could practically be a perfume, and it will get you dark!
This tanning lotion includes many oils that don’t turn your skin darker on their own, but do accelerate natural tanning. It ends up going on a bit oily, but most find that it is not bothersome.
The Dark Tanning Oil comes off pretty easily in the water, so you’ll have to reapply it after you take a dip in the pool or ocean.
Like many of the tanning lotions on this list, the Dark Tanning Oil does not contain any sun protection, so be sure to use it in conjunction with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
The Dark Tanning Oil is our Runner-Up Choice for Best Outdoor Tanning Lotion.
Best Tanning Lotion with SPF
Key Points at a Glance
- Provides Broad Spectrum Sunscreen at SPF 30
- Water resistant to 80 minutes
- Includes Kona coffee extracts to firm skin and help bronze
- Provides a fruity, coconut-mango perfumed scent
The Australian Gold Bronzer/Tanning Oil is a great option for those who want a combination of bronzer, tanning oil, and sunscreen in one. The tanning lotion provides broad-spectrum protection at SPF 30, which is a great feature.
Australian Gold sells several different versions with different SPF ratings if 30 isn’t right for your body. However, there’s essentially no reason you shouldn’t use less than SPF-30, regardless of your natural skin color.
Also included in this formula are coffee extracts that help firm skin and produce a lovely bronze skin tone.
This is a tanning lotion choice for those who don’t want to apply multiple products for outdoor tanning. While perhaps the Millennium Paint it Black 50x mentioned above is a better outdoor tanning oil, it does not provide the water resistance and broad-spectrum sunscreen, so you have to add those separately.
Best Indoor Tanning Lotion
Key Points at a Glance
- Does not contain a bronzer
- Will not stain hands or leave streaks
- Goes on a bit on the oily side
- Great perfumed scent
- Includes anti-oxidants and coffee extracts
The Maui Babe Tanning Salon formula is a wonderful browning tan accelerator lotion that is the best indoor tanning lotion for many situations. This Tanning Accelerator for Sunbeds goes on a little bit oily, certainly more so than the Maui Babe Browning Lotion does (see below).
If you use too much of it, you’ll have to be careful to remove any oils from the tanning bed after use.
The Tanning Salon formula is targeted toward indoor tanning use, though in a pinch you can use it for outdoor tanning. Just remember it doesn’t include any sunscreen, and it is not water resistant. It isn’t a great choice for outdoor use, as many will find it a bit on the oily side.
Included in this formula are several oils and anti-oxidants, as well as Kona coffee extracts to help firm skin. Also in the ingredients list are Kukui Nut Oil and Aloe Vera, both provided to supplement the skin and soothe any sunburns (which you should avoid, regardless!)
Best Tanning Accelerator for Fair Skin
Key Points at a Glance
- Ideal for those with fair skin
- Includes bronzers for tanning acceleration
- Hypoallergenic, and great for those with rash issues
- Fantastic moisturizer with shea butter
- Does not have a strong scent
New Sunshine’s Swedish Beauty Bronzer is a fantastic outdoor tanning lotion for those with fair or light skin tones. This tanning lotion will ease the skin toward a bronze tone without pushing too far into an unnatural orange look.
Additionally, the New Sunshine beauty bronzer is hypoallergenic and is perfect for those who have sensitive skin. Of course, be sure to test on a small area of the skin before you slather it all over your body!
Included in the New Sunshine Swedish Beauty formula is shea butter, which turns this bronzer into an excellent moisturizer as well.
And for those who don’t like strongly-scented tanning lotions, the Swedish Beauty Bronzer is a good choice. The scent is pretty mild, and you can wear other scents on top of it without clashing.
Keep in mind that there’s no sunblock or water protection in this oil, so if you plan to use it outside, you’ll need to add a sunblock as well. It is one of the Best Outdoor Tanning Lotions available.
Honorable Mention: Best Accelerator Tanning Lotion
Key Points at a Glance
- Great for outdoor use, though it can be used indoors as well
- Does not include sunblock or water protection
- Provides great natural tone without bronzers
- May clog pores, and isn’t ideal for the face
- Can stain clothes temporarily, but it typically comes out in the wash
Maui Babe’s Browning Lotion is an outstanding natural choice for a tanning accelerator. This formula includes Kukui Nut Oil — a traditional Hawaiian sunburn treatment — aloe, antioxidants, and coffee extracts. It does not include bronzers, but it does have coffee extracts in it that will aid in darkening the skin naturally. The Maui Babe Browning Lotion produces an especially nice color tan and doesn’t produce any orange overtones.
The coffee extracts also provide a pleasant mild coffee/nut scent. It isn’t a super-strong perfume in general.
This browning lotion can be a little bit on the greasy side, though it is certainly less greasy than the Indoor Salon Formula mentioned above. It may leave a slight sheen on the skin, though most won’t mind the effect. The bigger problem for some, however, is that this tanning lotion sometimes clogs pores.
This is a problem especially for use in the face, so you may not want to use this one on your face. Many prefer to use a face sunscreen and forego the tanning lotions on their face altogether. If this is how you like to tan, the Maui Babe Browning Lotion is a good choice. Apply the tanning oil to the body, and stop at the chin line. Try to delicately blend it slightly above that so there isn’t an obvious difference in shade.
Outdoor Tanning Guide
For many who love to tan, being outdoors tanning is the ultimate experience. Indoor tanning can be quite helpful, and is perhaps more easily controlled. You don’t typically get distracted by beautiful views, games, socializing, etc. while laying in an indoor tanning bed, so it’s easy to keep each session controlled and precise.
But virtually all dermatology groups and cancer societies frown on indoor tanning. Many consider it just as risky as smoking and asbestos inhalation.
Outdoor tanning tends to be more freeform, but the body is at least somewhat adapted to the ratio of UVA and UVB rays provided from the sun. The UV exposure from tanning beds can be up to 6 times as powerful as the sun’s rays, and is considered more dangerous.
Regardless, neither the sun nor tanning beds are to be treated lightly. Both are potentially harmful if not used carefully.
The sun produces two main types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB. I’ll discuss each briefly here.
UVB Rays are known as the bad rays. They’re the sun’s rays that impact the epidermis (outer layer of skin) and cause it to burn. They’re the ones that cause skin cancers and horrible sunburns. This is true, but they also provide the body with Vitamin D and other health benefits.
UVA Rays impact the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) and travel down into the dermis (middle layer of skin). Approximately 95% of the sun’s rays are UVA Rays, and these rays primarily lead to premature aging and wrinkles. However, over the last several years it has become clear that UVA Rays can also cause skin problems that can lead to skin cancer.
For this reason, skin cancer manufacturers have begun producing Broad Spectrum sunscreens, and these are what you want. A high SPF sunscreen that isn’t broad spectrum may not protect against UVA rays, and may not be helpful. For this reason, always purchase a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Is Tanning Outdoors Safe?
Many cancer societies and Dermatology groups throughout the world take the position that tanning both indoors and outdoors is not safe. But new research is coming to light. When it comes to sun exposure and sunscreen use, the tide is changing in some areas and among some dermatologists, and the details are becoming a bit more nuanced.
See this article for a deep dive into the benefits of outdoor tanning, and judge the arguments for yourself.
As I’ve written frequently elsewhere, Australia’s SunSmart guidelines are an excellent source of sensible information on sun and skin protection. That group takes a balanced approach and recognizes clear benefits to sun exposure.
Just be sure that you’re careful with your sun exposure, and check the UV Index Forecast for your area. If the UV Index is going to be higher than 3, and you’re going to be outside for more than a brief time period, then you should be using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30+.
You can still tan with sunscreen! Yes, it may take longer, but you’ll keep your skin healthier and keep your whole body healthier as well.
What is Tanning Accelerator, also known as Tanning Lotion?
Tanning accelerators, also known as tanning lotions, are topical lotions that help darken the skin and speed the process of tanning. These tanning lotions are applied to the skin, typically about 15 minutes before exposure to sun (or a tanning bed). They help speed the process of tanning, and move the skin tone from lighter to darker more rapidly than without tanning lotions.
They are usually washed off a few hours after the tanning session is complete. This is so that the color can set in the skin.
These products often contain bronzers like DHA and amino acids like L-Tyrosine that aid in the production of melanin. These products come in various formats, and many can be used in both outdoor and indoor tanning circumstances.
These lotions often can be used on their own, even when not tanning, to supplement a fading tan.
How Does a Tanning Accelerator Work?
Tanning accelerators work by stimulating melanin production in the skin. Increased melanin presence in the skin will bring out the natural darker shades of skin. The higher the melanin count in the skin, the darker the tone of the skin.
See here for a deep dive into what tanning oils do.
What will a Tanning Accelerator Do For My Skin?
Tanning accelerators encourage that beautiful skin glow, naturally increasing the melanin production to achieve that luxurious bronze tone. Accelerators improve the skin tone, and many of these lotions will even help keep skin looking healthy and wrinkle-free due to the inclusion of skin-health chemicals like Tocopherol and Ubiquinone.
Can You Use an Indoor Tanning Lotion Outdoors?
For the most part, tanning lotions can be used both indoors or outdoors. However, there can be some issues using oils in the wrong format. I’ve put together a page detailing how you can use indoor tanning lotion outside.
The bottom line is that the following three points are issues when using indoor tanning lotion outside:
- Some Indoor tanning lotions are on the oily side, and don’t look great on the skin if you’re going to be out in public
- Often tanning accelerators do not include any sun protection, so you need to use them in conjunction with a broad-spectrum sunscreen if outdoors
- Tanning accelerators are usually not waterproof and will wash off the body if you take a dip in the pool or ocean. You’ll need to reapply the lotion in these cases.
Benefits of Tanning Lotions and Tanning Accelerators
There are several benefits to using tanning lotions and accelerators.
These lotions help speed the tanning process. In the end, you need less sun exposure to get than you would need if you weren’t using a tanning lotion, so it could be argued that these lotions are healthier than not using the lotions at all.
If you really want to get a deep, dark tan, be sure to check out this list of the best tanning oils to get dark!
Virtually all of the tanning lotions on this list have moisturizers in them that help smooth and hydrate skin.
Improved Tan Duration
Tanning lotions can help make your tan last longer, as they aid in darkening the skin naturally. This is especially true if there are bronzers in the tanning accelerator formula.
Many tanning oils are scented, often with a wonderful selection of coconut, coffee, nuts, and fruit scents. The scents are generally quite pleasant, and many people love the perfume effect of their tanning lotions.
Of course, some who don’t like these scents hate this aspect, and should seek out tanning oils with minimal scents.
Allergic Reactions to Tanning Oils
Like all skin care products, some tanning oils will produce allergic reactions on some users. Always test your tanning lotion in an inconspicuous spot before you cover your whole body with it. This will ensure that your skin doesn’t have a bad reaction to the substances in the tanning oil.
Some tanning oils are hypoallergenic, and if you find that your skin is constantly having bad reactions to various skin care products, choose a hypoallergenic tanning oil option.
How To Use Tanning Lotions
Using a tanning lotion, whether outdoors or indoors, is pretty simple. Here’s a quick breakdown of how to use most tanning lotions. Of course, always read the instructions for the specific product you choose, but this is the general idea.
Shower and clean your body
If you haven’t showered, do so first thing in the morning. Get your body clean and hydrated, free of any makeup, oils, and chemicals.
Apply Your Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen every day after you get out of the shower.
That’s right, every morning you should be applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection. Leave your sunscreen in the bathroom next to the toothpaste, not in your beach bag next to the towels!
Apply Tanning Lotion about 15 minutes before sun exposure.
Carefully and evenly apply the tanning lotion to your body about 15 minutes before you intend to start your tanning session. If necessary, use lotion applicators to get the lotion everywhere, and remember that some lotions, especially those with bronzers, may stain swimsuits. If you can, put on your swimsuit after you apply the tanning lotion.
Tan in the Sun, or in the Tanning Bed
See this article on how long to lay out in the sun for details, if necessary. Don’t lay out too long!
Reapply Sunscreen When Outdoor Tanning Session is Complete
If you’re tanning outdoors, after your session is complete, it’s imperative that you reapply your sunscreen. Again, don’t mess with your skin. Sunscreen doesn’t stop you from tanning, but it does protect your skin. Use it!
Reapply Tanning Lotion if You Go in the Water
Most tanning lotions don’t have any water protection, so keep that in mind if you take a dip and then intend to tan further. You’ll have to reapply the lotion in order to continue your session.
Let the Tanning Lotion Set, then Wash it Off
A couple of hours after the tanning session is complete, it’s time to wash off the tanning lotion in the shower. Now you’re ready to start the process over again, each time taking a step towards a darker, glowing, luscious tan.
Types of Tanning Lotions
There are a wide variety of tanning oils on the market, and many have a great deal of overlap in how they’re marketed and how they are presented. The boundaries aren’t solid, but here are the general guidelines for tanning accelerators and lotions. And often a particular lotion will have multiple features, such as an accelerator with bronzing agents in it.
Tanning accelerators are the primary tanning lotions. These products help speed the tanning process, turning the skin darker more quickly than would occur in the absence of an accelerator. They are applied prior to a tanning session, and are usually washed off a few hours after the tanning session is complete.
Bronzers are lotions that contain tint chemicals that essentially create a fake tan, or fake-bake. These chemicals are added to tanning oils to again help speed the process, but also to help even out the skin tone and prevent any streaking or lining of the skin. Some find that they don’t like the effect of bronzers, as they can stain the hands if not carefully applied and washed off. Additionally, the bronzing agents can produce an orange hue that is not very attractive.
Maximizers are tanning lotions that are targeted at those who already have a pretty dark base tan, and want to move one step darker. These can be used quite effectively, but should only be used if you already have the base tan. Otherwise, they can look awkward.
Take your time, and follow the path!
Are Tanning Accelerators Safe to Use?
Tanning accelerators are fairly innocuous on their own, but they are usually combined with either indoor or outdoor tanning sessions. These may not be safe, depending on your method, outlook, and care.
All skin cancer societies take the position that no amount of sun tanning is safe. I understand this position, but it ignores the benefits of tanning, including better moods, increased vitamin D, increased sense of beauty, etc.
If you have extremely pale skin, you probably won’t be able to achieve that golden bronze no matter how hard you try, and attempting to tan may lead only to sunburns.
But most people can get a decent tan if they are careful with how they get a tan.
As always, you want to wear sunblock while you’re tanning, and you can use sunscreen in conjunction with tanning accelerators.
Also, if you’re susceptible to allergic reactions, always start slow with these products.
When Should You Apply Tanning Accelerators?
Tan accelerators are typically applied immediately before a session in an indoor tanning bed, or right before going outside to sunbathe on a lovely morning.
After the tanning session is complete, another application of tanning accelerator will once again amplify the bronzing effects!
Does Tanning Accelerator Lotion Stain Clothes?
Some lotions are prone to staining clothes, especially very light-colored clothes. You should take care when applying these lotions around your clothes and bathing suit. Most of the time, the stain will come out in the wash, but who wants to spend the day at the beach with a stained swimsuit?
In the individual reviews, I mention the particular lotions that may be prone to staining.
Are Tanning Lotions Tattoo Safe?
Some tanning lotions specifically identify that they are tattoo safe, but the bottom line is that virtually all mainstream tanning products are already tattoo-safe. UVA rays can damage tattoos, so you should use a tattoo sunscreen to protect your art.
Does Tanning Accelerator Lotion include Sun Screen?
Most tanning accelerators do not include any sunscreen, though a few do. For the most part, you should be using your sunscreen in conjunction with your tanning bronzer, and they will work together to provide you with the necessary skin protection and the radiant skin you desire.