The Best Tanning Oils With SPF: Soak Up The Sun (As Safely As Possible) With These Expert-Approved Products

by Elise Minton
Originally Published: 
best tanning oils
Sol de Janeiro / Amazon

The best tanning oils do triple duty by enhancing your sunkissed glow, nourishing skin, and most of all, protecting your body from UV rays with a hefty dose of SPF. Using tanning oil may seem like an unwise decision left in your younger years, but if you find the right products — and use them responsibly — you can enjoy some summer sun without basting yourself like a rotisserie chicken. Many products on the market today are a far cry from the ones we grew up slathering on as teen with the sole purpose of baking in the sun for hours (bleh). And while you still have to be careful when it comes to finding a quality product that also shields from sun damage (say it with us: SPF!), we get the appeal of tanning oil versus traditional sunscreen. For starters, it sinks into the skin without leaving a chalky residue, and like most body oils, it’s ultra-moisturizing. It also leaves an enviable, dewy sheen, and of course, it will help you develop that start-of-summer base tan.

As mentioned, choosing the right product is key here, because while we’re all for that touch of bronze, we’ll pass on the burns and eventual sunspots, thanks. “Traditionally, when people think of tanning oils, they think of oils that help boost tanning,” says Brookline, MA dermatologist Papri Sarkar, MD. “The goal of the oils is to magnify the effect of the sun on the skin, and, in the past, there was a droplet of SPF added for marketing purposes.” But shop carefully, and you can find tanning oils that are infused with higher SPF—some even boast SPF 50.

With the help of Dr. Renee Moran, physician, and owner of Dr. Renee Moran Medical Aesthetics, beauty brand RM Skin Care, and two medical spas, we’ll answer some of your burning (get it?) questions about tanning oils with SPF.

Does tanning oil with SPF work?

Dr. Moran clarifies from the start, “The SPF [in tanning oils] does work, but the oil itself is also attracting the UV rays so that your skin produces melanin faster, giving you a suntan.”

Are tanning oils bad for you?

The short answer: Not necessarily, as long as you choose a product with a high enough SPF and limit your exposure to the sun.

The long answer: If you like the moisturizing feel and dewy look of wearing an oil– and of course, the likelihood of developing a quicker tan — Dr. Moran says to look for oil-based formulas with a solid SPF. (Sorry, popular brands containing SPF 4 or 6 hardly offer any protection). “The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF of at least 30 while the FDA’s minimum recommendation is an SPF of 15 to protect against cancer and sunburn,” she explains. “I personally recommend at least SPF 50, especially on sensitive areas, and also reapply every two hours.”

You’ll also want to bask in moderation and be aware of peak exposure times. “The sun is strongest between 10 am -2 pm typically, so I would make sure you are diligent about reapplication if you are in the sun during those hours,” she advises. “Since tanning oil does attract rays and makes you more prone to UV exposure, you may want to reapply the oil every 3-5 hours and use SPF [sunscreen] in between [tanning oil applications].”

With all this in mind, you’ll discover there’s a lot of inferior tanning oil products out there, so we’ve done some digging for you. Ahead, we’ve rounded up the highest-rated tanning oils that feature SPF protection from 15 to 50, all approved by Dr. Moran. So grab your bathing suit and your cutest sunglasses, and remember that it’s always important to practice safe sun — even when you’re just sitting by the kiddie pool.

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