How Does Tanning Oil Work

Tanning oils are very popular tanning products when it comes to outdoor tanning, but they’re different from tanning lotions and creams. Tanning oils help to promote a darker tan and you can get them in different brand names, packages, and fragrances, but each work using the same basic principles. So, before answering, how does tanning oil work, let’s first understand what a tanning oil does.

What is the Work of a Tanning Oil?

You must know how to use tanning products, especially if you’re trying to achieve a sun-kissed bronze color on your tanned skin. Tanning lotions are specially formulated to help in your tanning process. The same way tanning lotions help to speed up the natural process by intensifying the results of your tan, so do tanning oils. Good tanning oil has a unique composition that provides:

  • Additional sun protection
  • Get you a tan faster
  • Moisturizes your skin
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Anti-aging properties
  • Helps repair damaged skin
  • Ensures you get an even tan
  • Revitalizes your skin

All these benefits in the tanning oil provide a unique solution to your tanning needs. However, it doesn’t help to quicken the tanning process as tanning lotions do, but it works better when you have an existing base tan. 

If by any chance you do not trust tanning oil, you can always use diy Tanning oil which are easy to make as well.

How Does Tanning Oil Work?

To understand how tanning oil works on your skin, you need to understand the structure of your skin first.

Your skin has three layers namely the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The epidermis is the outer layer that protects you from external factors and the layer that is exposed to the atmosphere. It doesn’t have any hair follicles, blood vessels, or sebaceous glands. So when you tan it shouldn’t penetrate the epidermis, but if it does it will cause serious damage to your skin. 

In very effective tanning oils you will find in the market today contain DHA as the main ingredient, which is a form of colorless sugar. It interacts with your dead skin cells in the epidermis which creates a reaction that causes your skin to change color with effects lasting for about a week when the color starts to fade. The skin on your body goes through a natural process where it sheds off the dead skin and it’s replaced with new skin after every 35-45 days. Tanning oil accelerates tanning by intensifying the UV rays by stimulating your body to produce more melanin so that more melanin is found in your epidermis. With high levels of melanin in your body, your body can get tanned. Tanning oils also increase blood flow to the epidermis which increases the level of melanin in the outer layer of your skin.

Most tanning oils contain moisturizers and bronzers that play an important role in giving you tanned skin.


DHA is the common bronzer used in tanning oils to accelerate your tanning process. DHA reacts with the natural amino acids present in the epidermis to give you a bronze color that only lasts about 7 days then starts to fade away as your skin cells naturally die and start to peel off. Bronzers are the easiest and most temporary form of tanning because it washes off easily and you can reapply it just like makeup.


Moisturizers are also included in the tanning oils as an active ingredient. The tanning process can quickly dehydrate your skin, so your skin needs to be kept well moisturized throughout to avoid your skin from flaking or peeling which causes an uneven tan. Moisturizers like glycerin and vitamin E protect your skin by trapping the moisture in or attracting moisture from the air to your skin. Other moisturizers include sodium PCA, sodium isethionate, and panthenol that help to keep your skin hydrated, moisturize your skin tan, and ensure your skin doesn’t peel off.

The dangers

Something you should remember is that tanning oil and SPF don’t go together because tanning oil is specifically designed to work if you have a base tan. So, if you have a base tan you will not burn fast when you’re in the sun and the SPF number shows you how much UV rays the oil, sunscreen, or lotion can block. Although most tanning lotions are starting to use SPF, most don’t provide enough protection against the harmful effects of UV rays and especially UVB rays. Very few tanning oils provide an SPF4 level of protection.

Under What Conditions will Tanning Oil Work?

Most people don’t understand what tanning oil does to give you a perfect tan, so to give you a simple answer, tanning oil will only work best to give you perfect results if you have a base tan. Tanning oils don’t artificially boost the tanning process but enhance it naturally. However, there are some things you need to consider so that tanning oil can be effective.

  • Apply it properly all over your body it doesn’t matter if you’re going to tan that part of your body or not. Overexposure to the sun causes your skin to dry up quickly and removes the nutrients in your body. It’s easier to use a sprayer so that you can apply the tanning oil properly and evenly and also to avoid wastage to every part of your body the UV rays will reach.
  • Allow the tanning oil to sink into your skin because that’s the only way it will work. Tanning oils are not only meant to stay on your skin but to get absorbed by your skin so that they can hydrate and rejuvenate your skin as well as replenish all the lost nutrients during tanning.
  • Don’t wash off the tanning oil because it works best if it stays on your skin for longer until it gets entirely used up. So, if you’re going to the beach to get your tan, it’s best to use water-resistant tanning oil.

How to use tanning oil safely

You must know how to use a tanning oil properly to get a flawless tanned skin. Here are some of the steps you need to follow.

Exfoliate before applying the oil

With every tanning procedure, it’s crucial that you first exfoliate your skin by using either a scrubbing brush or a homemade exfoliating paste to remove dirt and dead skin cells. This helps to make your skin smooth and clean your pores so that the tanning oil can work on the fresh skin. It also helps to remove the dryness that can affect the results of your tan. When you exfoliate you moisturize and rejuvenate your skin. 

A good exfolating scrub like M3 Naturals will not only help your tan better but also is quite affordable. You can check it out below.

Charcoal Exfoliating Body Scrub Polish with Collagen & Stem Cell Gentle Body Exfoliator Face Scrub...
  • M3 Naturals Activated Charcoal Body Polish Scrub provides a quality exfoliating experience as a body...
  • Infused with Collagen and Stem Cell our moisturizing charcoal scrub will take your skin care routine...
  • Help Reduce Skin Blemishes - Whether you choose to use our natural charcoal as a face scrub or body...

Apply the tanning oil

After exfoliating, it’s time to apply the tanning oil. To ensure that you apply your whole body, start slow and use a little amount of oil to spread on your body. You don’t need to use a lot of oil since the tanning oil is thick. After rubbing it all over evenly, ensure that it gets completely absorbed in your body and if you think it’s not enough you can add some more to keep your skin well moisturized. To ensure that you apply the oil everywhere, it would be more effective if you use a sprayer so that you can get the oil evenly on your entire body.

Sunbathe in the sun

After applying the oil evenly on your entire body, it’s time to go and bask in the sun. You can decide to go to the beach, to a poolside, or in your backyard as long as you expose your body to the sun’s UV rays. Use sunshades or goggles to protect your eyes from the UV rays that can damage your eyes. But you don’t need to worry about your skin if the tanning oil you’ve applied contains good quality SPF that will protect your skin from the harmful effect of the UV rays. The oil you’ve applied to your body will allow your skin to absorb the sun’s rays making the tanning process faster to give you a beautiful natural tan.

Have fun and go swimming

You can still have some fun or go swimming even with the tanning oil on your body. However, after you’re done swimming or getting your body wet make sure you reapply the tanning oil because most likely the water washed off all the tanning oil you had applied. By wetting your skin, you’re keeping it hydrated as you continue to tan.

Apply a good quality moisturizer while you’re tanning

If you want to have smooth and well-hydrated skin, apply a good moisturizer before you go to bed. This will hydrate your skin and make it soft and smooth. A well-moisturized skin encourages tanning oil to work better and increases the tanning process.


Achieving a healthy golden tan is a great reward after spending hours on the beach or pool in the sun. If you already have a base tan, using tanning oil can help you achieve an even darker tan. So, tanning oil does work to give you a sun-kissed golden tan by working on your epidermis to increase melanin production. Tanning oils aren’t bad if you have existing tan, but if you don’t they’re not the right products to use to get a tan. Instead, use a tanning lotion to get a nice tan.

Further Reading

Best Tanning Oil

Can You Use Tanning Oil in a Tanning Bed?

Homemade natural organic Tanning oil