Indoor tanning and outdoor tanning are distinct. Both activities involve UV rays hitting the skin, but there are several differences between the two activities. Both outdoor and indoor tanning enthusiasts love to use tanning oils, accelerators, bronzers, and the like to make their tans progress as quickly as possible.
But there are so many different products available on the market! It can get confusing to discover which products work best in which environments, and which items to use when. Can you use indoor tanning lotion outside? What about outdoor tanning lotion inside? And what about bronzers, sunless tanners, and tingle tanners? How do they interact with the sun?
In this article, I’ll look at the various categories of tanning products, and provide some guidelines as to what products to use in each circumstance.
A Primer on Tanning Products
There are a few different categories of tanning products, which can be broken down into the following basic groups:
- Tanning Lotions – These speed the tanning process, and cause the skin to darken rapidly in the presence of UV light
- Bronzers/Self Tanners – These products cause the outermost layer of skin to darken due to the chemical reaction of DHA with skin cells.
- Sunscreens – These products protect the skin from the potentially harmful impacts of UVB and (in the case of Broad Spectrum Sunscreens) UVA rays
- Tingle Lotions – Tingle lotions bring the blood toward the skin, and cause a tingling sensation that some find painful. This formulation will amplify the tanning process, producing a (temporary) redness on the skin for a couple of hours, and then a deeper tan
All of this can get confusing because many of the products on the market that are advertised as tanning lotions are a mixture of these four different product categories.
See this article on what tanning oils do for more information on these products.
What is Tanning Lotion?
Tanning lotion is a product that speeds up the tanning process. It amplifies the effect of ultraviolet (UV) light on the skin, and rapidly turns the skin a darker shade. These products are often called accelerator tanning lotions or tanning accelerators. Most of these products are advertised as both indoor and outdoor tanning lotions. Some are designed primarily for use indoors or outdoors, and some contain sunscreen.
The key aspect of accelerator tanning lotions to keep in mind is that they only work in the presence of UV light. They need sunlight or a tanning bed to work.
What is Tanning Lotion with Bronzers?
If a tanning oil includes any bronzers in the formula, then the lotion will include DHA (dihydroxyacetone). DHA is a chemical that interacts with the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of skin. DHA turns the cells of the outermost skin layer a dark bronze color, producing that magical tan color we all love so much and want to achieve.
Many tanning lotions, whether they specify indoor or outdoor, include bronzers in the formulation to help with the darkening process.
The key aspect of bronzers to keep in mind is that DHA works on the skin through a chemical reaction. This reaction occurs regardless of whether you’re exposed to UV light or not.
What’s a Tingle Lotion?
Tingle lotions are lotions that increase blood circulation against the skin. This process “pulls” blood and oxygen toward the skin, impacting the level of melanin in the skin. Melanin is what turns dark when you tan, so increasing melanin production will result in a darker tan.
The two most common ingredients that cause the tingling sensation are Methyl Nicotinate and Benzyl Nicotinate. Both of these chemicals act to increase circulation in the skin and to bring oxygen to the skin.
However, tingle lotions are unusual in that they cause a tingling (some call it a “burning”) sensation on the body when they’re applied. Some find this sensation invigorating, while others strongly dislike it, as it can feel like burning!
You need to be cautious when using a tingle tanning lotion and make sure that no pets or children are exposed to a tingle lotion.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a solid base tan before you use a tingle lotion. Don’t start out with a tingle lotion, think of it as the Advanced Tanning Lotion. Use it if your tanning progress has stalled.
What is the Difference Between Indoor Tanning Lotion and Outdoor Tanning Lotion?
The biggest difference between indoor tanning lotions and outdoor tanning lotions is that some outdoor tanning lotions include sunscreen in the formula, while virtually all indoor tanning lotions do not.
Most tanning beds bathe the skin in UVA light and include little to no UVB light in the spectrum. This is because of the (erroneous) belief that UVB radiation was bad, and that UVA wasn’t so bad.
It is now known that UVA radiation can cause skin cancer, and wrinkles, just as UVB radiation can do.
Sunscreen and UVA Radiation
Many sunscreens sold in the United States do not necessarily protect against UVA radiation. And that SPF number only pertains to protection against UVB radiation. SPF has nothing to do with UVA radiation.
Only those sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum” protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.
What Does that Have to do with Indoor Tanning?
Under the old beliefs, sunscreen didn’t necessarily protect against UVA radiation since it wasn’t considered a major health concern. So there was no need for sunscreen in Indoor Tanning Lotions.
Now we know that UVA radiation is bad too. If you love indoor tanning, your best bet is to move over to spray tanning for indoor use. Stick to tanning outdoors.
And if you just love indoor tanning enough that you still want to take the risk, you should combine your indoor tanning lotion with a broad spectrum sunscreen for safety.
Can You Use Indoor Tanning Lotion Outside?
Yes, you can use an indoor tanning lotion outside. You just need to counteract the problems associated with the indoor tanning lotion so that it’s still safe for outdoor use.
Many tanning lotions specify that they are for indoor tanning use only. Often this is done for three major reasons:
- Indoor lotions don’t have any sunscreen in them
- Indoor lotions are often not water-resistant and get washed off if you take a dip in the pool or ocean
- Indoor tanning lotions are frequently on the greasy side, and may not look great on your skin while you’re out and about in public
How To Use Indoor Tanning Lotion Outside
My advice is to pick an outdoor tanning lotion for outdoors, and an indoor tanning lotion for indoors. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with both.
This is the best course of action.
But if you have an indoor tanning lotion that you absolutely adore, you can wear it outside. It will certainly work.
You just have to keep the following issues in mind when you’re tanning outdoors with an indoor tanning lotion.
- Put on a layer of sunscreen along with your tanning lotion. Most suggest doing a sunscreen layer first, then the layer of tanning accelerator lotion. Use a Broad Spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30+.
- If you go in the water for a dip, you need to reapply your sunscreen and your tanning lotion. Both of these will wash off in the water. And sunscreen should be reapplied even if it says it’s water resistant.
- Your indoor tanning lotion may be oily, and you may find that it makes your skin glisten or look overly shiny. When you’re done tanning, you may want to shower or wash more quickly than normal in order to remove the tanning lotion.
Can Indoor and Outdoor Tanning Lotions Be Mixed?
Mixing indoor and outdoor tanning lotions really isn’t a great idea. Stick to using an outdoor lotion outside, and an indoor lotion inside.
The mixing process may not blend all that well on the skin. You may end up with splotchy, uneven tan colors across your body as the indoor and outdoor tanning lotions don’t spread out evenly. Throw sunscreen in the mix as well, and there will simply be too much going on.
Plus, your skin will probably look pretty heavily oiled up, and you may not even want to show your face at the beach after all that!
Tanning Lotion Recommendations
Lotion for Indoor Tanning
I love the Millennium Paint it Black 50x Lotion with Bronzer. Couple that with a broad-spectrum sunscreen for UVA protection.
Lotion for Outdoor Tanning
The Australian Gold Outdoor Tanning Lotion with Sunscreen has it all. To start with, it’s a great tanning lotion and includes bronzers for additional color. And also included is a broad-spectrum SPF30 sunscreen. And it’s not even that expensive!
Moisturizing after Tanning
The act of getting under that UV light, regardless of whether it is the sun or a sunbed, will dry out the skin. Tanning lotions and sunscreens can dry out the skin, and whether you’re at the beach or in a tanning bed, you’ll be sweating. A lot.
Your skin will dry out. Take a shower after tanning, then give your skin some love with a good moisturizer.
The Juicy Daily After Tanning Moisturizer is an excellent choice for post-tan skin treatment.
Conclusion: Do Indoor Tanning Lotions Work Outside?
In the end, any tanning lotion can be used in any circumstances. Bronzers, tingle tanners, indoor, outdoor, it doesn’t really matter. If you like the way the tanning lotion works, you can wear it outside, inside, whatever.
But, you need to remember that virtually all indoor tanning lotions don’t have any sunscreen in them. So if you’re going to be tanning in a tanning bed, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen for protection (and as I mentioned, it’s better to go for a spray tan than a tanning bed).
If you’re going to be tanning outdoors, check the UV index forecast for your area. If the Index will be above 3 while you’re outdoors, you should be applying a broad spectrum sunscreen SPF30. Some outdoor tanning lotions will have the sunscreen built right in, and these are a great option.
And should you decide to go for a dip in the water, remember to reapply your tanning oil and sunscreen.
And lastly, don’t forget those moisturizers at the end of the day. Happy tanning!