Is Tanning Oil Bad For You?

LuxeLuminous is reader supported. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

People are now being a lot more cautious about sun exposure. Our new cautious attitudes now have most of us seeking the safest way to achieve that sun-kissed bronze glow that is associated with being healthy and youthful.

Tanning oil is one of the products intended to accelerate your tan and deepen the color, so you spend less time in the sun. Most tanning oil now has SPF, so this sounds like the perfect solution!

But is your skin really being protected, or is tanning oil with SPF just a marketing ploy? Is tanning oil bad for you?

If you feel that tanning is bad for you, then yes — tanning oil is bad for you. But careful sun exposure can have its benefits, too! When used wisely, tanning oil is not harmful to you.


How do tanning oils work?

No products found.

Tanning oil intensifies your skin’s response to being exposed to the sun’s UV rays to help you develop a deeper and darker tan in a shorter period of time, minimizing your exposure to the sun.

Tanning oil actually attracts and focuses UV rays onto the skin and accelerates the production of melanin, which gives your skin a darker color.

Different tanning oils can contain ingredients that increase the production of melanin in the body as a reaction to UV radiation, such as beta-carotene.

You may also find dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is the active ingredient in a lot of sunless self-tanners, which works by reacting with dead cells on the skin’s surface layer to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan.

All tanning oil generally tends to contain lots of moisturizing ingredients to keep your skin hydrated as tanning can be very drying.

SPF in varying degrees, is now found in almost all outdoor tanning oils to help lessen the chance of sunburn. However, if you want to use an indoor tanning lotion outside, you will want to add sunscreen as well.

How often should I re-apply tanning oils?

Banana Boat Tanning Oil

The idea of using tanning oil is so you don’t have to spend as much time in the sun to get the tan you are going for. You really should not be staying in the sun long enough to have to re-apply but re-apply if you are out there for more than 2 hours. 

If you are planning to spend the whole day outside, you should consider using sunscreen with an SPF of 15-50, rather than a tanning oil with SPF.

The SPF in sunscreen blocks out UVB rays – those attributed to sunburn, not UVA rays, which are deeper-penetrating rays and cause your skin to tan. So, despite popular belief, YOU CAN USE SUNSCREEN AND STILL GET A TAN.

It just won’t be as fast.

Sunscreen should be re-applied every 2 hours, or more often if you are going in and out of the water, toweling off, sweating a lot, etc.

Is Tanning Oil Bad for You?

Banana Boat Tanning Oil

Tanning oil itself is not bad for you, but using it to tan can be.

When trying to answer this question it’s crucial to understand the implications of sun exposure and what getting a tan actually is. The function that melanin serves in the body is to protect you against Ultraviolet rays by producing a brownish pigment (a tan).

It’s important to recognize that, that “healthy glow” is your body’s reaction to skin damage. There are real benefits to tanning, but there are well-known drawbacks like skin cancer, wrinkles, and aged skin.

Looking back at how tanning oil works – it refracts UV light from the sun, amplifying the intensity of the sun’s UV rays. We all knew a kid growing up that used a magnifying glass to burn ants or start small fires with a magnifying glass on a sunny day.

Think of using tanning oil like covering your body with a huge magnifying glass.

Think of using tanning oil like covering your body with a huge magnifying glass.

How bad tanning oil can be will depend on quite a few factors:

  • Your natural skin tone: If you are fair-haired and light-skinned, you are more at risk of overexposure to sun damage.
  • SPF content: your tanning oil should contain an SPF factor of 15-50, the more fair-skinned you are, the higher the SPF should be. A lot of tanning oils do not provide adequate SPF.
  • Time spent in the sun: Using a tanning oil will reduce the amount of time that you have to tan to achieve a deep color, so granted, it’s not as bad as tanning using nothing at all. Just don’t forget that tanning oil, even with SPF, will intensify the sun’s UV rays, so you will burn faster than you would using a sunscreen of the same SPF.
  • Time of day: avoid tanning between 10am and 2pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Your environment: if you are tanning in a highly reflective area, like on beach sand, near water, or even in the snow, you are concentrating the UV rays even more and the time spent in the sun should be minimized.

See our article on outdoor tanning tips for more details on how to thoughtfully tan in the sun.

The dangers of sun overexposure using tanning oil

Beach Please Tanning Oil

While tanning may get you that glow you so desperately want, it can also lead to various types of skin damage including:

  • Premature skin aging – wrinkles and skin with a leathery appearance
  • Sunspots or uneven pigmentation
  • Increased risk of all types of skin cancer

Can you put sunscreen over tanning oil?

So you want that dark color as fast as possible and you’re worried about sun exposure… so can you just apply sunscreen over your tanning oil?

The answer is no.

The tanning oil will dilute the sunscreen, weakening its ability to protect you from UV rays that can age and damage your skin and cause skin cancer. 

It’s probably better to cover up after your allotted time in the sun, rather than trying to blend them together

Is tanning oil worse than no sunscreen?

If you’re just using tanning oil with no sunscreen at all, and the tanning oil has no SPF, then you’re basically just amplifying the sun’s rays with no protection.

If you’re out in the sun for any significant period of time, this will get you tan, but can also cause burns and harm your skin.

Use your tanning oil carefully, and if you’re tanning in the sun, use one with sunscreen in the formula!

Final Thoughts

Tanning oil is not the safest option when it comes to getting that bronze complexion. But if you must tan naturally, using a tanning oil will cut down on the time you need to spend in the sun to get that tan.

Just make sure you use tanning oil with a high SPF!

Australian Gold Spray Gel Sunscreen with Instant Bronzer SPF 50  is one of the few tanning oils we were able to find with such a high SPF. Aussie Gold makes great tanning products!

Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Oil  has been around for decades, but they now have a higher SPF version with the same unmistakable coconut fragrance.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).