Why Does Tanning Oil Have SPF?

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Tanning oil promises to accelerate your tan and deepen the color, so your time in the sun is efficient. And with many tanning oils nowadays containing SPF, this sounds like the perfect solution! Spending less time in the sun to get the tan you want AND be protected at the same time.

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

In this article, we are going to look at how the skin tans, how tanning oils and SPF work, and find out – why does tanning oil have SPF?

Is it just false advertising or can you actually get the best of both worlds  – a faster, deeper tan and skin protection?


How Does Skin Tan?

The sun’s UVA rays penetrate the lower layers of the skin where they trigger cells called melanocytes to produce melanin.

Melanin is your body’s defense against Ultraviolet rays and reacts by producing a brownish pigment on your skin (a.k.a. a tan). That “healthy glow” is your body’s reaction to skin damage from the sun.

How do Tanning Oils Work?

Millenium Insanely Black

Tanning oils intensify your skin’s response to UV light. It helps you develop a deeper and darker tan in a shorter period of time. This helps minimize your exposure to the sun relative to the color you get.

Tanning oil does this by attracting and focusing the UV rays onto the skin, which accelerates the production of melanin and 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.

Tanning oils also generally tend to contain lots of moisturizing ingredients to keep your skin stay hydrated. Tanning can be very drying!

SPF is found in varying degrees in almost all outdoor tanning oils, but not necessarily indoor tanning lotions.

The sunscreens lessen the chance of sunburn from UV rays…but is it really safe?

Can You Put Tanning Oil Over Sunscreen?

Or can you use sunscreen and tanning oil at the same time? How does the interaction work?

It’s not a great idea to apply tanning oil over a sunscreen unless you’re really confident the tanning oil is completely dry. The reason is that you may end up with too much tanning oil in some spots and too much sunscreen in other spots.

The result: a tan that is super splotchy and uneven.

The result: a tan that is super splotchy and uneven.

Some people try mixing tanning oil and sunscreen before applying them to the skin, and this may work better. This is a pretty good technique if you want to use an indoor tanning lotion outside.

But if the formulas don’t blend well, you may run into the same problem.

A better solution is to use an outdoor tanning lotion that has SPF in the formula.

Why Does Tanning Oil Have SPF?

There are lots of people who want to tan and recognize that tanning has benefits as well as risks. Many simply feel better after tanning in the sun. But it also makes sense to protect yourself while tanning. So why not combine SPF and tanning oil together?

If you understand how SPF works to protect you, you will understand how you can actually still get a tan while using a tanning oil that contains SPF. 

How SPF works

SPF measures the blocking power of Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA Rays are ignored, so you will still get a tan from UVA rays.

The SPF doesn’t affect your tanning time or the color you develop, it just means you can spend longer in the sun before you show signs of burning.

The higher the SPF, the longer you can be in the sun without the UV rays penetrating the skin. However, you’re told to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours regardless, and you’re supposed to reapply every time you go in the water. So in reality, the SPF levels may not make a huge difference if you’re following those rules.

And as mentioned, sunscreens frequently don’t provide protection against UVA rays. Overexposure to UVA rays can also cause cancer. However, UVB rays are generally considered more dangerous.

Sunscreen with broad-spectrum SPF, unlike tanning oil, protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If you want to be particularly careful, aim for a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

The Problem With Tanning Oils That Include Sunscreen

Banana Boat Tanning Oil

Above is a Banana Boat Tanning Oil with SPF . See that big number 4 in the center? That’s the SPF.

Many tanning oils provide very low SPF values. This will not provide much protection unless it is reapplied often. But if you’re only going to be in direct sun for 45 minutes or something like that, it may be enough for you and your risk tolerance.

If you’re going to be at the beach all day, you want an oil with an SPF of at least 15.

Tanning Oils with SPF

Here are a few tanning oils made with SPF included. Aussie Gold is always a good place to start, but there are several other good options too!

Lancaster Sun Beauty Satin Sheen Oil Fast Tan Optimizer SPF 30, Suncare & Bronzers Body, 5 Fl Oz
Lancaster Sun Beauty Satin Sheen Oil Fast Tan Optimizer SPF 30, Suncare & Bronzers Body, 5 Fl Oz
New and Imported from US; Helps creates an ever quicker, deeper, flawless tan; Demaquillant Essentiel Hydrating Milk With Shea Butter
Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Oil Pump Spray, SPF 25, 8 Fl Oz
Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Oil Pump Spray, SPF 25, 8 Fl Oz
Contains a blend of rich oils; Enriched with cocoa butter and Aloe Vera; Exotic Island botanicals
$9.74 Amazon Prime

Take Away

Tanning oils include SPF so you don’t need to apply both oil and sunscreen. They’re pre-mixed, and you’re good to go.

But you do need to be aware that the SPF level of many tanning oils is low, and will not provide much protection! You may need to apply additional sunscreen on top or choose a better outdoor tanning lotion with SPF.

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).