If you do a quick search for tanning lotions, you’re faced with seemingly endless options with different brands, types, bronzers, tinglers, accelerators, maximizers, and lotions that don’t make it clear what’s in them at all.
Image from Tanforless
Despite all of the different names that brands use to label their products, all tanning lotions fall into a few basic categories. Outdoor vs indoor, with bronzers or without, tinglers vs not tinglers.
Once you know the different categories of tanning lotions and understand what your goals are you, it becomes much easier to filter out the products that are going to be a better fit for you. And with a better understanding of how each type of product works, you can also be sure you’re getting the best ingredients for the best tan possible.
Outdoor vs Indoor Tanning Lotions
First of all, why would it even matter whether you’re tanning indoors or outdoors? UV rays are UV rays, right? Not quite.
Image from Skin Cancer Foundation
The sun emits full spectrum UVA, UVB, and UVC radiation. While UVC radiation gets blocked by the atmosphere, we get exposed to a lot of UVA and UVB radiation while we’re out in the sun.
UVB rays are higher energy and responsible for burning the upper layers of your skin, where most of skin cancer starts. UVA radiation penetrates deeper and is thought to be the main factor in premature aging and wrinkles. While UVB is directly responsible for damage to your skin, most of the radiation from the sun are UVA rays, which can also damage skin cells over time to put you at risk for cancer.
Tanning beds, however, deliver measured doses of UVA rays only. This key characteristic plays a huge part in how indoor and outdoor tanning lotions are made. Depending on the time and day, the amount of radiation you get from the sun get wildly differs, so manufacturers take safety into account by usually putting SPF into outdoor tanning lotions.
Image from Sydology
Indoor tanning lotions generally do not have SPF because you can get controlled amounts of UVA radiation by deciding how long to tan. Instead of trying to block the radiation, many indoor lotions try to help enhance the UVA exposure you get in the tanning bed. If you used outdoor tanning lotion with SPF indoors, you wouldn’t get much out of your tanning lotions. But if you used indoor tanning lotion without SPF outside in the sun, you are putting yourself at high risk for damage from the sun. If you’re planning on tanning outdoors, check out our reviews of outdoor tanning lotions.
Another crucial thing to remember is that most outdoor tanning lotions are not approved for indoor use because the oils and ingredients can damage the acrylic surfaces used in indoor tanning beds.
Bronzers, Tinglers, and More
Now that you know the key differences between indoor and outdoor tanning lotions, your next job is decoding the other types of tanning lotions. Accelerators, bronzers, maximizers, tinglers, and more. The 2 main types you really need to know about are bronzers and tinglers:
Tanning lotions with bronzers, usually just called bronzers, come with compounds to give your skin a darker color without your usual melanin response to UV rays. Instead, bronzers work to bind with the proteins on the surface of your skin to darken it over the next 2 to 4 hours after application and tanning.
Since it takes a few hours to get the full effect, you need to avoid showering or bathing after using bronzers. And although bronzers are best at giving you that instant tanned look, the color from bronzers will usually fade within a week.
Tingle tanning lotions, or tinglers, are tanning lotions that make your skin tingle. They’re filled with ingredients that increase the blood flow at your skin, which gives you that tingly feeling. By increasing the bloodflow, tinglers help accelerate the natural tanning process.
Be warned that tinglers are for either advanced tanners or people that are having trouble improving their tan with other tanning lotions. If this sounds like you, read our reviews on tingle tanning lotions. You can also have varying responses to tinglers. One person might not feel a tingle sensation at all while the same tingler could make you feel very uncomfortable. Tinglers are not recommended if you have very sensitive skin.
What about tanning accelerators, maximizers, or enhancers? Accelerators are traditionally the term for tanning lotions without SPF, no bronzers, and no tingle action. They’re designed to help people tan naturally without any fuss.
Unfortunately, each company has made new terms like maximizers, enhancers, and some have also mixed up bronzers into accelerators. This means that these words can really mean anything. The best thing you can do is to do your research on each product to see if it’s what you’re looking for. Luckily, you can also read our reviews on some of the best accelerators on the market.
What They’re Made Of
Although the choices for tanning lotions seem endless, most tanning lotions come down to a few main components for what they do.
One of the most common bronzing agents is DHA (dihydroxyacetone). Bronzers fall into 2 main categories: those with DHA and those without. DHA binds with the outermost layer of skin cells to darken them, giving you a bronzed look shortly after you’re done tanning.
For the bronzers without DHA, companies use all sorts of natural extracts and ingredients to give your skin a natural, sunless tan. Common natural bronzer ingredients include caramel or walnut extracts.
Image from Daily Mail
The most common active ingredients in tinglers are methyl or benzyl nicotinate. These two ingredients will usually make you feel warm and tingly, which is a clear sign that the ingredients are working. It’s also possible that you might not feel anything if you have low sensitivity. Either way methyl and benzyl nicotinate are going to be the most common tingling components you’ll run into.
Some tingle tanning lotions also include menthol, which gives you a minty cool feeling. If you feel that your lotion stings or is particularly uncomfortable, check to see if it has any menthol in it.
The list of ingredients on tanning lotions definitely go beyond just bronzing agents, tinglers, or SPF. Most of the other ingredients in a tanning lotion are there to keep you moisturized and protected. Since tanning can dry out and age your skin, tanning lotions include lots of moisturizers, antioxidants, and plant extracts to boost the health of your skin
Each tanning lotion feels and works differently with tanners’ skin types. Coupled with the countless different fragrances, after you figure out the type of tanning lotion you need, you’re still left with many options to choose the lotion that’s right for you.
Image from Arizona Foothills Magazine
With all of the options you have for tanning lotions, the main thing to keep in mind is that after you figure out what type of tanning lotion you’re looking for, the rest comes down to personal preference: fragrance, feel, and your skin’s reaction. As a quick overview, here are the basic questions you should ask yourself when you’re figuring out how a tanning lotion works:
- Is it for indoor or outdoor use? Does it have any SPF?
- Outdoor lotions cannot be used indoors because the ingredients will typically damage tanning beds.
- Indoor lotions generally don’t have SPF because you can control the amount of UVA exposure you get, which means you shouldn’t use them outside
- Does it have any bronzers?
- Bronzers give you a quick color boost that’ll last you about 4 days.
- Is it a tingler?
- Tinglers promote melanin formation by increasing the blood circulation to your skin, which will give it a warming or tingling sensation.