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.
Best Tanning Oils
Perfect for beach days as well as afternoons spent lounging by the pool, this non-greasy spray-on oil offers up SPF 15 in a water-resistant formula. One Amazon reviewer, who praises the oil for its ability to prevent burning while achieving a beautiful tan, says not to spray it outside on a windy do—or you’ll look like you have tiger’s stripes.
Pale skin tones rejoice! From the sunscreen brand you grew up with comes this weightless dry oil that protects skin from the sun’s harmful rays while drenching it in moisture thanks to a blend of super-rich oils. Plus, the tropical coconut scent is enough to make anyone feel like they’re sitting beachside sipping a mojito, even if you’re landlocked.
This tanning oil has you looking glow-y from the moment you slather it on. Created with a mineral blend that’s designed to add a light bronze to your skin, we love Pacifica’s bronzing body oil because it actually comes with an SPF 20 formula, has no icky ingredients (like parabens, silicones, Retinyl Palmitate or phthalates, PABA, Octinoxate, oxybenzone and nanoparticles), and it’s totally vegan and cruelty-free. The formula is also broad spectrum UVA/UVB and has blue light protection.
Sun oil with a side of shimmer? Yes, please! Flattering on all skin tones, this (very highly-rated) oil will make you glow like a goddess while covering you with SPF 30 protection to keep your skin looking youthful.
With over 7,500 Amazon reviews, this tanning oil deserves a spot in the beauty product hall of fame, and here’s why: it allows skin to produce a beautiful tan glow while still providing sun protection. Formulated with a plethora of skin helpers—think aloe vera, green tea butter, marula, argan and avocado oils—this one is a beach bag must-have.
More Tanning Oils with SPF
Cute packaging aside, this lightweight oil imparts a dark tan while keeping skin healthy. Simply layer on the cacao and coconut oil-rich vegan formula and watch as the tropical-inspired nourishing oil hydrates dry skin and takes down irritations, too. What more could a mama want?
This non-aerosol spray offers the moisturizing benefits of an oil, and even better, it has a hefty dose of SPF 30. It’s formulated with vitamin E, argan oil, shea butter oil, grapeseed oil, and sunflower oil to help nourish your skin from head to toe, all while giving you a dewy sheen that you’ll want to show off while spending time by the water.
From trusted skincare brand Clarins, there’s this oil spray that’s infused with aloe vera to soothe and soften skin while providing SPF 30. In addition to being a dry oil that quickly absorbs, the product description says it “promotes a rich, healthy-looking tan.” But here’s the cool part: You can also use it to moisturize and protect your hair while taming salty-air frizzies.
Best Tanning Oil For Pale Skin
Get your glow on with this highly protective body oil that leaves skin gleaming and oh-so-pretty. Super lightweight and not the least bit greasy, this water-resistant, cruelty-free formula is loaded with skin-protecting antioxidants like meadowfoam seed oil and marigold extract and is free of oxybenzone, a common SPF ingredient that is believed to absorb into the bloodstream and breast milk and interfere with normal hormone function. Dr. Sarkar gives it the stamp of approval because, “It’s easy to find and goes on smoothly.”
Best Tanning Oil To Get Dark Fast
This quick-drying spray sunscreen provides SPF 30 and an instant tan. (Say whaaaat?) Australian Gold’s spray-on sunscreen with instant bronzer does double-duty by offering UV protection and giving you a faux (temporary) glow. (Think of it as spray-on bronzer for your body to even out those awkward shorts and t-shirt tan lines.) It’s the perfect solution for your beachside photo op — minus the permanent sun damage. Yesss!