This summer, we tested dozens of outdoor tanning lotions to find out which one was safest, easiest to use, and most effective. Along the way, we discovered Beauty by Earth Self Tanner, a product that marveled us with its antioxidant-rich lotion that’s filled to the brim with both organic moisturizers and skin-darkening ingredients.
We also learned about common tanning lotion ingredients, how they work, and which ones might be best on sensitive skin. Using this information, we narrowed down the top tanning products for shoppers of all types.
Keep reading to discover the best outdoor tanning lotions to bring out your inner sunshine!
Beauty by Earth Self Tanner – Best Overall
Some of the best outdoor tanning lotions are sunless tanning products. This might seem strange, but it’s crucial to remember that being outside doesn’t always mean enjoying a sunshine-filled day.
If you’re determined to achieve a flawless, sun-kissed tan during cloudy or stormy days, you’ll want to choose a lotion that can bronze you while you’re indoors but that can continue to tan you when you go outdoors.
Beauty by Earth Self Tanner could be the ideal transitionary lotion, appropriate for all settings, seasons, and occasions. It contains a minimal amount of DHA to give your skin an immediate, healthy glow, but it’s also full of antioxidants, organic oils, and natural moisturizers.
Consequently, this unpresuming little bottle of tanning lotion can continue working its magic long after you apply it. And its silky-smooth texture lingers for hours after the initial application, as does its light coconut-and-vanilla scent.
Just Nutritive Body Nutritive Serum – Best DHA-Free Tanning Lotion
Looking for a natural solution to chemical-ridden tanning lotions? If so, Just Nutritive Body Nutritive Serum could be the ideal option. While it won’t darken your skin the same way DHA-based tanning lotions do, it could still help you achieve a golden summer glow.
Though this serum is made chiefly of skin-friendly natural oils, it acts the same way as standard store-bought tanning lotion. That’s because these oils both moisturize the skin and help it brown in the outdoor sunshine!
The Body Nutritive Serum has a bright citrus scent that’s rarely found in tanning oils and lotions. It’s an energizing option that can help you avoid potentially troublesome chemicals while also achieving your ideal tan level.
COCOSOLIS Choco Organic Tanning Lotion – Best Tanning Lotion With SPF Protection
Applying a layer of sunscreen after your tanning lotion can leave your skin feeling a little greasy or heavy. But most bronzers don’t include any kind of SPF protection, leaving your skin sensitive to the sun’s penetrative rays.
Fortunately, a few tanning lotions do include a little SPF protection, like this Choco Organic Tanning Lotion from COCOSOLIS. Though this product only has a rating of 5 SPF (the average sunscreen is 30 SPF or greater), it is far better than zero sun protection!
Besides, this lotion’s primary ingredients include nourishing and moisturizing coconut, cocoa, almond, and avocado. Choco Organic Tanning Lotion is mainly made of all-natural ingredients, making it a solid choice for those looking to invest in earth-friendly products.
Tanning Paradise Black Coconut Love – Best-Smelling Tanning Lotion
Some bronzers and tanning lotions do a great job at giving you the perfect sun-kissed tone, but they smell terrible. If you’re looking for a sunless tan that doesn’t emit questionable aromas, you may want to try Tanning Paradise Black Coconut Love.
As the name of this lotion suggests, the prominent scent this bronzer gives off is fresh, tropical coconut. But it also has underlying notes that are very similar to an Ed Hardy perfume. So if you enjoy those kinds of fruity, floral notes, you’ll fall in love with this silky-smooth tanning lotion.
Of course, this option isn’t the most natural choice. Black Coconut Love can help you achieve a darker summer tan without spending hours in the sun, but it contains several types of alcohol, artificial dyes, and benzyl benzoate. Essentially, it’s designed solely for adult topical use and should never be consumed or applied to children.
Maui Babe Browning Lotion – Best Value Tanning Lotion
Supporting a small business is a great way to give back to your community, but it can be challenging to do when purchasing cosmetics and lotions. Fortunately, there’s an outdoor tanning lotion made in the USA using locally sourced ingredients: Maui Babe Browning Lotion.
This lotion is distributed by a family-owned company based in Hawaii and maybe one of the hidden jewels of the tanning world. It only contains five essential ingredients, plus a handful of vitamins.
Notably, DHA is omitted, making this a solid option for those hoping to avoid the controversial self-tanning chemical. But one of the most attractive aspects of this product (besides its buttery-smooth feel and chocolatey scent) is its price.
This tanning lotion is, by far, one of the most affordable locally sourced options available. As such, choosing this browning lotion could be an excellent way to support a family-owned company while also supporting your budget. So say ‘aloha’ to a gorgeous, sunless Hawaiian tan!
What To Look For in an Outdoor Tanning Lotion
When browsing tanning lotions, you’ll want to focus on the three primary characteristics of a safe, effective, and enjoyable tanning lotion:
- Skin-Safe Ingredients
- SPF Protection
- Pleasant Aromas
If you’ve never purchased an outdoor tanning lotion before, or your previous tanning lotions were disappointments, you’ll want to start your shopping adventure with a quick ingredients review. After all, every person’s skin tone and quality are unique.
Besides, some tanning lotions may contain ingredients that cause allergic reactions. So if you have sensitive or dry skin, you’ll want to take extra special care when choosing a cream and take the time to read the whole ingredients list.
It’s also worthwhile to consider SPF protection. Unfortunately, most tanning lotions don’t provide any protection from the sun’s harsh rays, so you’ll need to apply sunscreen after your tanning lotion if you’re spending time outdoors.
You’ll also want to ensure that your tanning lotion smells great and isn’t too overpowering. Even the most effective lotion can be a nightmare if it smells like cheap cologne!
How To Apply an Outdoor Tanning Lotion
To apply an outdoor tanning lotion without turning various shades of orange, you’ll want to:
- Wash Your Skin
- Exfoliate and Rinse
- Make Tiny Circles
- Keep Washing Your Hands
- Dab and Dry
- Reapply As Necessary
Though you may be familiar with this process, first-time tanners are often surprised by just how quickly tanning lotion settles in and may overapply their products. Avoiding overapplication is crucial to achieving a sun-kissed tan, which is why it’s essential to follow these steps closely.
Wash Your Skin
Naturally, the first step toward achieving a healthy lotion-based tan is washing your skin. After all, excess body oils and dirt can form a thin, lotion-repellent layer that results in patchy, uneven tanning.
Hopping into your shower for a quick scrub and rinse is the best way to prepare your skin for a fresh layer of tanning lotion. Not only will you want to use a mild soap to wash away any oils or bits of dirt, but you’ll also want to use an exfoliant that helps remove any dead skin cells.
Exfoliate and Rinse
Many outdoor tanning lotions contain a chemical called DHA. This stuff settles into the upper, dead layer of skin to form the well-known bronze hue associated with sunless tanning.
As such, it might seem strange to exfoliate before applying a tanning lotion. But hear us out!
One of the most tragic consequences of applying a new self-tanning lotion is getting the wrong final shade. If you haven’t scrubbed away your dead skin cells, you may be more likely to absorb your tanning lotion, resulting in a more profound and more dramatic shade difference.
But when you take the time to gently exfoliate before applying your lotion, there’s a much thinner layer of available skin, resulting in a more natural and even tone.
Make Tiny Circles
Another thing to consider is the way that you’re applying your tanning lotion. If you’re pouring it onto yourself like sunscreen or a daily moisturizer, you might end up with dark spots and uneven shades.
Always squirt or spray a small amount of tanning lotion into your hands, then work into small patches of the skin using tiny circles. This method is far more likely to result in a smooth, even finish, though it does take a little more time and patience.
Keep Washing Your Hands
The last thing you’ll want to do when applying tanning lotion is wait to wash your hands. Forgetting this simple step can lead to the unfortunate ‘tan hands’ situation, where your hands are several shades darker than the rest of your bronzed body.
So after applying your product to each area of your body (legs, arms, abdomen, face), be sure to take a quick break to wash your hands.
Dab and Dry
The human body is full of tiny crevices and corners, and these areas tend to attract more tanning lotion than others. So after you’ve applied your cream, be sure to take a paper towel or cotton pad and dab away at your elbows, knees, and heels.
These are common dry-skin areas, and they can be prone to absorbing more tanning lotion than your moisturized areas. Taking an extra minute or two to dab away excess lotion can help keep your skin tone evenly matched and result in a flawless glow.
Reapply As Necessary
Just as with sunscreen, outdoor tanning lotions aren’t designed to last forever. Most can wash away with sweat or dissipate over a few hours. If your first layer of cream just isn’t cutting it for you, you may need to reapply another layer several hours later.
Still, you’ll want to check your product’s usage instructions and guidelines before reapplying. Some lotions may require a little extra time and sunlight to take full effect, and it’s always better to be patient than sunburnt.
Are Outdoor Tanning Lotions Safe?
One of the most common questions people ask about outdoor tanning lotions is, “Are they safe?” After all, several common sunscreens have recently come under scrutiny due to their inclusion of several problematic chemicals, including potential carcinogens like benzene.
Still, most outdoor tanning lotions have very different formulas from sunscreens and are relatively safe for topical use. This means that the average person won’t suffer any adverse side effects after applying a tanning lotion to clean, unbroken skin.
That said, some sunbathers may want to be cautious about choosing budget-friendly tanning lotions, especially those containing alcohol, sodium benzoate, and parabens. That’s because each of these ingredients can pose specific dangers to consumers.
Risky Ingredients To Watch Out For
Alcohol may kill bacteria and preserve organic ingredients, but it can also dry out sensitive skin. And sodium benzoate, while relatively safe on the skin, can become carcinogenic when ingested or combined with vitamin C.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), parabens are chemical preservatives commonly added to cosmetic products, like lotions. You can also find them in preserved foods and canned beverages.
The U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to come to an official conclusion about the potential negative side effects of parabens in consumer products. Still, several types of parabens have long been outlawed throughout many other parts of the world, including the European Union.
The primary concern about parabens is that a person’s body may respond to them as if they were estrogen. Excess estrogen consumption and production have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Still, more research is needed to confirm or deny the carcinogenic effects of common parabens.
Another potentially troublesome ingredient included in most tanning lotions is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). Though this chemical has been FDA-approved for more than forty years, it has recently come under fire from medical experts.
What Is DHA?
DHA, also called glycerol, is a chemical that reacts with amino acids found in dead skin cells. It’s the primary ingredient in tanning lotions that causes a browning effect.
Most of this stuff sits on the upper layer of your skin (the epidermis). But some is absorbed into the deeper layers (dermis), thus potentially entering your bloodstream. But perhaps the most worrying aspect of DHA is that it produces free radicals that can attack living skin cells.
Over this time, this can lead to premature wrinkling and widespread cellular death. Because free radicals are closely linked to cancer risks, some sunbathers may prefer to avoid DHA altogether.
Still, many tanning lotions with DHA only contain minimal amounts, and it’s often counterbalanced by antioxidant-rich ingredients. Remember, antioxidants fight free radicals, helping to keep the body’s cells healthy and in excellent shape.
Consequently, choosing a tanning lotion that contains DHA may not be harmful, especially if it’s mostly made of organic, antioxidant-rich ingredients. Still, you’ll need to employ your judgment to decide what’s safe and appropriate for your skin and body.
No matter the time of the year or the weather, you can enjoy a flawless tan by using an outdoor tanning lotion. But choosing the best option can be challenging, even for the most experienced sunbathers.
For us, the best overall option has to be Beauty by Earth Self Tanner. It’s chock-full of antioxidant-rich ingredients and natural moisturizers, like aloe vera leaf juice and organic coconut oil. It also contains DHA, so it’s sure to help your skin develop a sun-kissed glow.
Still, our top pick may not be the same as yours, and that’s fine. Be sure to let your preferences guide you and choose an option that best fits your style. But, of course, you could save yourself some browsing time by purchasing a bottle of Beauty by Earth Self Tanner today!