Who doesn’t want a healthy sun-kissed glow when summer and beach-weather are just around the corner? Tanning in the sun is mess-free, convenient, and free. If you want to get the perfect tan, you need to add outdoor tanning lotions into your routine. They protect your skin from drying out and helps you get an even tan faster.
We’ll cover the best tanning lotions & oils to use outside for your perfect tan.
16 Top Outdoor Tanning Lotions & Oils Reviewed
Maui Babe Browning Lotion
Maui Babe’s Hawaiian formula is super popular among tanning enthusiasts. You can use it in combination with a sunblock so you can enjoy sunbathing longer. There are two versions: one with mineral oil for outdoors, and one with sunflower oil for indoor tanning beds.
Besides the light oil base, the Browning Lotion contains Kukui Nut oil and aloe to make your skin soft plus antioxidants A, C, and E. While it has Kona Coffee Plant extract and it brown in color, it’s not a self-tanner.
Users have commented that it may be too greasy to use on your face if you have sensitive skin. The company Maui Babe says it’s safe for all skin types.
Use the Browning Lotion with Maui Babe SPF 30 Sunscreen so you can enjoy the sun for longer.
Maui Babe SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion
Australian Gold Sinfully Black 15x Deep Dark Bronzing Tanning Lotion
Australian Gold’s products are usually at the top of best-selling lists, and the Sinfully Black Deep Dark Bronzing Lotion is no exception. They have great products unless you are avoiding parabens and propylene glycol--those are both ingredients in this lotion.
Sinfully Black also contains hemp seed oil, Monoi de Tahiti, caramel, walnut shell extract, as well as Kukui nut and sunflower oils. It smells like tropical fruit, goes on smooth, and leaves your skin feeling soft.
Fair-skinned users from around the world say this lotion helped them build a golden brown base tan in only a couple of weeks. You can use it indoors for tanning as well because it won’t wreck the acrylic in booths.
Another option from Australian Gold: CHEEKY BROWN Accelerator Dark Natural Bronzer
The Cheeky Brown Accelerator from Australian Gold is a self tanner as well as a tanning lotion. It will slightly darken your skin with caramel and henna when you apply it. You can use it indoors or outside because it’s based on sunflower and olive fruit oil, plus aloe vera gel, panthenol, glycerin, and vitamins A and E. The tea tree leaf (melaleuca) oil will give you a nice cooling sensation when you apply it.
Ed Hardy Coconut Kisses Golden Tanning Lotion
Ed Hardy’s Coconut Kisses Golden Tanning Lotion helps pale, sun-starved folks get the base bronze they crave before that beach vacation. It uses the power of coconut oil, milk, and butter to hydrate your skin while you absorb sunshine.
Although it has no bronzers, it does have ingredients that speed up tyrosine activity and melanin production to get you tan as fast as possible. It also contains secret ingredients that Ed Hardy claims will protect your tattoos from fading and help make cellulite and wrinkles disappear.
Like the other lotions above, you can use Coconut Kisses indoors or outside. It won’t stain or streak, although wiping your hands after applying it is a good idea.
Fractionated Coconut Oil by Sky Organics
Why not go straight to the source and use organic coconut oil to bronze your skin? It’s the base of many tanning lotions. The Sky Organics Fractionated Oil is scent-free and gentle on sensitive skin. If you miss having a perfumed lotion, it can be combined with a couple of drops from other essential oils.
Coconut oil is nourishing for your skin and protects it to a small degree from harmful UV rays. It doesn’t have any unwanted chemical additives, but it softens and helps your skin retain moisture. It speeds up Vitamin D production. Plus, it has antiseptic properties that can help wounds heal faster.
SunGodZ Apollo/Artemis 375X Bronzer Tanning Lotion with Argan, Coconut Oil and Agave
The Apollo/Artemis 375x Bronzer from SunGodZ is made for people who want the darkest tan as fast as possible. It’s based on silicone and glycerin and contains agave extract, Argan, Kukui, hemp seed, olive, and coconut oils as well as caffeine. You can use it both indoors and outdoors, and it’s formulated to protect tattoos from fading.
The silicone base locks in moisture and keeps the lotion (and your tan) from washing off in the shower. SunGodZ doesn’t use parabens and they don’t test on animals.
Banana Boat Deep Tanning Oil Spray with Carrot and Banana Extracts
Banana Boat products are a fixture at beaches and pools. Their Deep Tanning Oil Spray is a inexpensive and easy way to get a deep bronze. It’s only recommended for people who already have a base tan or who have darker pigmentation.
Millenium Tanning New Paint It Black Auto-darkening Dark Tanning Lotion, 50X
The New Paint It Black 50x lotion from Millenium Tanning says it will give you the darkest tan possible. It’s silicone-based like the Solid Black lotion from the same company, but there’s no tingle additive.
This lotion doesn’t feel greasy and goes on smooth. It doesn’t streak, and doesn’t rub off on clothes. The silicone softens your skin to the maximum and keeps the self-tanning elements from washing away. The cotton fresh scent is very pleasant.
Unfortunately, the ingredient list contains parabens and DHA if those are a concern to you. There is some debate over the safety of DHA as it interacts with your amino acids to darken your skin. It works well, but will it be good for you long-term?
Supre Smoke Black Bronzer
Supre makes a lot of tanning lotions, but their Smoke Black Bronzer is the ultimate for advanced tanners. It has self-acting bronzers and dark tan maximizers along with vitamins and minerals. The idea is to darken your skin’s pigmentation to the maximum while still protecting it from sun damage. This is a lotion for people with a good tan who desire something deeper.
Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion
Somewhere on a Beach, Indoor Outdoor, Instant Dark Tanning Lotion by Devoted Creations
This indoor/outdoor tanning lotion is infused with coconut and walnut oils and non-staining DHA free bronzer that provide instant bronzing effect. It also has Advanced Matrixyl Synthe 6, an anti-aging peptide that prevents wrinkles and fine lines. Users particularly loved the smell, and the instant smooth tan this product provides.
Just Nutritive Body Nutritive Serum
A blend of 13 skin loving ingredients such as Avocado, Kukui, and Peach Kernel oils support the skin with its tanning by providing gentle, non-itating and fast-absorbing moisturization. The product does not contain bronzer products but rather promotes a healthy, naturally obtained tan when used outdoors. Users love how it quenches their skin while building up a healthy looking tan in the process.
Australian Gold Dark Tanning Accelerator
This product contains an exotic blend of Australian native oils and Vitamin E that allows the skin’s natural pigmentation to accelerate while providing moisture and nutrients to protect the skin. Users recommend the product for its great scent and how it nicely builds up the tan. This is great for those with fair skin.
#BeachLife, Indoor/Outdoor Intensifiers, Coconut Infused, 13.5 Ounce Tanning Lotion, Tanovations by Ed Hardy
This indoor/outdoor ‘intensifier’ delivers fast bronzing effect without chemical agents. Natural ingredients such as coconut milk and oil soften the skin and prolong the effects of tanning, while Seaweed Extracts, Hibiscus Extract, Passion Fruit Extract, all work together to draw out toxin, increase skin elasticity and protect against sun damage. Users especially liked its scent, its smooth, non-sticky texture when applied. It’s a great option for people with fair skin or tattoos.
Swedish Beauty, Shea You Love Me, Tanning Lotion
Not everyone from Scandinavia is pale. The Shea You Love Me lotion from Swedish Beauty is perfect for people with eczema and sensitive skin. It has no fragrance and it’s hypoallergenic. The aloe and Vitamins E and A work to keep you looking young while the shea butter and oatmeal moisturizes and softens even the driest skin.
Swedish Beauty says their proprietary BioBronze Blend has natural melanin enhancers to accelerate the tanning process. In fact, some users love this lotion because it helped them achieve a tan in difficult-to-tan parts of their bodies.
Tanning: Indoors or Outdoors?
If you want to get a tan, the most common and first question is whether to get it indoors (i.e. tanning beds) or outdoors (good ol’ sun!).
Both options operate under the same principle that UV light stimulates the skin to produce melanin, giving it a nice dark color. There are two types of UV rays involved in the color of the skin: UVA and UVB. UVA rays encourage melanin production while UVB is primarily known for sunburn. To remember it, UVA – A for Aging, UVB – B for Burning.
Tanning beds rely on fluorescent lights that emit UVA rays and a bit of UVB. The risk is that the UV rays are more concentrated and penetrates deeper into the skin. This can be more damaging compared to the diffused rays of the sun.
The sun, on the other hand, emits both UVA and UVB naturally. With the right amount of sun exposure, your vitamin D levels increase. We encourage gradually building up a tan. They tend to last longer and is a safe way to avoid sunburns.
What Are Tanning Lotions & Oils?
So you’ve decided to go out, and bathe in the sun to get that natural glow. Hold that thought and make sure you’ve chosen products that help your tanning goals while protecting your skin from UV damage.
Both tanning lotions and oils are formulated to speed up and maximize your skin’s tanning potential under the sun. They stimulate melanin production to give your skin a nice tan colour. Generally, they also nourish, protect and moisturize your skin as well. This is great because moisturized skin holds a tan much longer.
How to choose between tanning oils or lotions?
Tanning oils focus sun rays onto your skin to speed up melanin production. They are a lightweight moisturizer that also gives your skin a nice sheen. Since they usually don’t contain SPF protection, they make your skin darken faster. They are generally recommended for people with darker skin tones or someone who has a tan already. People who get sun burns easily should avoid tanning oils.
Tanning lotions, on the other hand, are easily absorbed into the skin so you won’t look as greasy as you would with an oil. They are thicker in consistency and more moisturizing for those with dry skin. Some outdoor tanning lotions may also contain SPF protection.
Prepping Your Skin For Tanning (Safely)
The most important thing to do before tanning is always to prep and protect your skin. Here’s an easy guide to prep your skin for tanning: H-E-A-T-S
H for Hydration
When we talk about hydration, this goes for both internally and externally. Drinking lots of fluids before, during, and after a tan helps keep your skin cells healthy and hydrated, from the inside. On the outside, moisturize and quench your skin. Focus especially on the parts that are most exposed to the sun as they are likely drier.
E for Exfoliate
Exfoliation helps ensure the canvas is smooth and free of dry or dead skin cells. Before tanning, exfoliating helps the skin absorb tanning lotions and oils and makes the products more effective in delivering results. Just make sure not over-do it or else your skin will feel too sensitive.
A for Antioxidants
Exposure to UV rays will always have its associated risks of sun damage. That’s why it always makes sense to have ample antioxidant support when you tan. You can do so by consuming foods rich in skin-supporting antioxidants, vitamins A and E, and flavonoids. Vitamin A acts as an anti-aging shield while Vitamin E helps minimize damage from UV rays. Flavonoids are anti-oxidants derived from plants such as blueberries, broccoli, capers, and even dark chocolate!
T for Taking Your Time (How long should you tan for?)
As with everything, moderation is key! Tanning should be gradual, especially if you have fairer skin that can burn easily. There is less risk of over-exposure to the UV rays, and your tan will be more even and healthy. You can’t see how red you are until it’s too late. So, limit your time outside with only 15-30 minutes a day and build up to 1 hour after a week.
S for Sunscreen (Does sunscreen stop you from tanning?)
Contrary to popular belief, sunscreen does not stop you from tanning. Sunscreen primarily filters out the UVB rays that cause sunburns. UVA rays are still absorbed and as we already know, UVA rays are responsible for producing melanin that gives you that dark, golden colour. Just make sure to apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before you head outside to give it time to absorb into your skin.
Accessories to Bring To Your Tanning Session Outdoors
Besides a good lotion, here are some other useful things to bring along with you so everything you need is an arm's length away.
Duduma Polarized Designer Fashion Sports Sunglasses
Protect your eyes while you soak up those rays with a sporty pair of shades.
Flying Fisherman Fowey Polarized Sunglasses with Tortoise Frames
These are reminiscent of Ray-Bans.
Large Beach and Pool Towel, in Cabana Stripe by Utopia Towels
Here’s a 4-pack of simple striped soft towels measuring 30 by 60 inches in size.
Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle
Keep a cool beverage close at hand.
Coleman Converta Cot
Sure, you can lay out on the ground, or you can enjoy this multi-positional cot chair. The polyester fabric won’t glue itself to your body like old school plastic chairs did.
Tanning outdoors is unpredictable because 30 minutes one day might be too much while two hours on a different day might not do much at all. That’s why tanning with a sunblock isn’t such a bad idea.
The Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays even if you’re in the water up to 80 minutes. It’s non-comedogenic and free of PABA and parabens. Plus, Sun Bum says it’s gluten-free and vegan, and it has the approval of the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Caring for Your Skin After Tanning
After tanning, you will feel particularly dehydrated and tired. Rehydration is key to soothing your skin in this parched state. Make sure to drink lots of water and replenish your fluids.
Since you most likely produced sweat and oil during the tanning session, take a cool shower and keep up your normal skincare routine. But make sure not to use any products that will exfoliate and fade your tan early. Some common ingredients to avoid are glycolic acids, retinols, exfoliators, and peeling gels.
Moisturizing is key to maintaining your sun-kissed glowing skin after tanning. Use a cream or lotion on both your body and face to hydrate your skin. To really pamper your skin and prep your tan for long-lasting results, use an aftersun lotion. Unlike a regular moisturizer, they have higher water content and active soothing ingredients to make your skin feel cool and relaxed. If you got a mild sunburn, apply some aloe-based products to soothe the area.
How to keep a tan from fading?
A tan typically lasts about 6-10 days.This is because your skin will naturally shed its dead skin cells over the course of the week. If you exfoliate before tanning, this cycle should last a bit longer for you. After getting a nice base tan, I personally like to use gradual self-tanners and tan extender lotions to keep the tan from fading. I do this about once a week. They have dyes that make you look bronzed as soon as you apply them. The coloring usually deepens over the course of a few hours, then lasts for a few days.
Getting a healthy tan is fun and easy, all it takes is knowing the ways to prep and protect your skin, the right products to use, and just a little bit of sun!