What Does Tanning Lotion Do? Functions Explained

As summer arrives, many of us are looking forward to spending time in the sun and achieving that sunkissed, bronzed goddess glow. But getting an even, natural-looking tan takes more than just baking out in the sun all day. Using a good tanning lotion is essential for enhancing and prolonging your tan while keeping your skin healthy.

In this guide, I will explain what tanning lotion does, the different types available, how to apply it properly, and aftercare tips for maintaining your bronze.

What Is Tanning Lotion?

Tanning lotion is a cream or gel formulated specifically for use on the skin before sunbathing or using a tanning bed. Unlike regular moisturizing lotion, tanning lotions contain active ingredients that work in various ways to help accelerate, amplify and maximize your tan. The main components in tanning lotions include:

  • Moisturizers like oils, aloe vera and shea butter to hydrate and soften skin for an even tan development.
  • Bronzers that provide immediate but temporary color to give skin a sun-kissed glow.
  • DHA (dihydroxyacetone) that causes a chemical reaction in the skin to produce melanin and a longer-lasting tan.
  • Tingle agents like cinnamon oil that increase blood circulation to stimulate faster tanning.

How Does Tanning Lotion Work?

Tanning lotions utilize the power of moisturizers, bronzers, DHA and tingle agents to help you achieve your ideal sun-kissed glow. Here’s a breakdown of what each ingredient does:

  • Moisturizers create a smooth, even base for tan to develop by hydrating and softening skin. Dry, flaky skin tans unevenly.
  • Oils help the skin better retain moisture and absorb UV rays more efficiently for faster tanning.
  • Bronzers deposit temporary colorants onto the skin for instant cosmetic color while the real tan develops.
  • DHA kickstarts the tanning process by reacting with amino acids in the outer layer of skin over 2-4 hours to gradually darken the complexion.
  • Tingles stimulate blood flow to deliver nutrients and accelerate melanin production for faster, darker tanning.
Tanning lotion functions

Types of Tanning Lotions

Tanning lotions come in a variety of formulas suited for different tanning goals. Here are the main types of tanning lotions:


Contain low levels of DHA combined with dark color bronzers for a subtle, buildable tan. Great for paler complexions.

Tingle Lotions

Feature stimulating ingredients like cinnamon oil, capsicum, and mint to increase blood flow and accelerate tanning response. Leaves an intense tingling sensation on the skin.


Maximize and speed up the skin’s natural melanin production. Produce darker, long-lasting color without bronzers.

Cooling Lotions

Provide a cooling sensation on hot skin from ingredients like menthol, tea tree oil, aloe vera. Often used post-tan to soothe skin.

Clear Lotions

Hydrating formulas free of bronzers or tingle agents, ideal for use with tanning beds to allow lamps to bronze skin evenly.

How to Choose the Right Tanning Lotion

When browsing the staggering array of tanning lotions out there, keep these tips in mind to choose the best one for your needs:

  • Consider your base tan – If you’re pale, go for a subtle bronzer. If you have an existing tan, choose a darker formula.
  • Match it to your skin tone – Fair, medium and dark skin types do better with lotions specifically formulated for them.
  • Check the SPF – Lower SPF allows more bronzing. Higher SPF provides more skin protection.
  • See if it contains anti-aging ingredients like glycolic acid, peptides, CoQ10 if skin health is a priority.
  • Pick a tingle formula if you really want to ramp up melanin production for a super dark tan.
  • Try samples first on a small patch of skin to test if the color matches your tone and preferences.

How to Apply Tanning Lotion

Applying tanning lotion properly before sun exposure or tanning bed use ensures maximum results. Follow these tips:

  • Exfoliate skin the day before to remove any dry, dead skin cells that can cause uneven tanning.
  • Use a tanning mitt and smooth lotion evenly over your entire body. Pay extra attention to dry areas like knees, elbows and hands.
  • Allow lotion to dry fully before sunbathing or tanning for best absorption into skin. Drying time is usually 5-15 minutes.
  • Wash hands immediately after applying lotion to avoid orange discoloration on palms.
  • Apply a lip balm with SPF to prevent drying and chapping.

Caring for Skin Post-Tanning

Proper aftercare is vital for prolonging your sun-kissed glow and keeping skin healthy. Here are some tips:

  • Moisturize daily with a gentle, fragrance-free lotion to maintain moisture and prevent peeling.
  • Avoid hot showers and harsh soaps that deplete natural oils and dry out skin.
  • Gently exfoliate every 2-3 days when tan starts fading to buff away dead cells.
  • Drink plenty of water and load up on antioxidant-rich foods to nourish skin from within.
  • Apply sunscreen when going outside to protect your tan from sun damage. Reapply every 2 hours.
  • Use products with antioxidants like vitamin C serum to support collagen production and skin health.

The Benefits of Using Tanning Lotion

Using a quality tanning lotion provides many advantages beyond just accelerating your tan. Here are some key benefits:

  • Hydrates and nourishes skin for a youthful glow.
  • Evens out skin tone for a flawless, natural-looking tan.
  • Prolongs your tan by keeping skin moisturized.
  • Provides antioxidant protection against free radicals that age skin.
  • Creates an instant cosmetic bronzing effect.
  • Reduces tan lines and streaking.
  • Decreases skin damage and dryness from UV exposure.
  • Stimulates the tanning process for faster color development.
  • Gives a darker, more intense tan than without lotion.
  • Makes future tans easier to develop and maintain.

The Bottom Line

A good tanning lotion works to optimize, enhance and extend your sun-kissed tan while nourishing skin. Key ingredients like moisturizers, bronzers and DHA interact with your skin to create the ideal bronzed glow. Choosing a lotion suited for your skin tone and tanning goals, and applying it properly before sun exposure or tanning beds, can take your tan to the next level. Consistent aftercare is also vital for retaining a healthy, radiant complexion.

With the tips provided in this article, you now have a thorough understanding of what tanning lotion does and how to use it to get your most gorgeous, golden bronze yet this summer!

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