The Best Tanning Oil For A Sun-Kissed Summer Glow 

By  Emily Konatella

LAST UPDATED - December 11, 2023

Looking to get a golden glow this summer, but don't want to spend all day in the sun? Use tanning oil! By speeding up the tanning process and offering skin protection from harmful UV rays, tanning oil helps you get dark fast while keeping your skin nourished, hydrated and fully protected. Whether you're lying out at the beach, the pool, or just in your backyard, you can achieve a sunny glow in no time.

In this guide to tanning oils, we'll break down everything you need to know about tanning oil and highlight the best tanning oil to use this summer.

What is tanning oil?

As the name implies, sun tanning oils are used to assist in creating a healthy sun-kissed glow during outdoor tanning. By speeding up the tanning process, wearers can achieve a deeper tan without needing to spend long hours in the sun. In addition to a sun-attracting oil, most tanning oils contain additional ingredients that offer sun protection, moisturizing benefits, and anti-aging properties to keep skin soft and healthy as you soak up the sun.

How does tanning oil work?

When UV rays penetrate the skin, they stimulate the melanocytes, skin cells that produce melanin. Tanning oils work by attracting more UV rays to speed up melanin production during outdoor tanning. Because moisturized skin tans more evenly and stays tan for longer, tanning oil also helps to keep skin hydrated and prevents peeling, ashiness, and dryness.

Is tanning oil different from sunscreen?

Though tanning oil and sunscreen are both used while sending time in the sun, they are two very different products. While sunscreen is designed to protect skin from the harmful effects of UV exposure and reduce your risk of sunburns, free radicals, and skin cancer, outdoor tanning oil is designed to help you safely and quickly achieve a deep tan. Because their primary goal is to speed up tanning, not to protect from harmful UV rays, most tanning oils and lotions contain a low SPF rating (below 20). To ensure your skin receives adequate protection, it's best to layer tanning oils without SPF over a sunscreen that offers UV protection.

How to use sun tanning oil:

While tanning oil is easy to use, it's crucial to apply it correctly to ensure you get golden, glowing, tanned skin and not red, irritated, sunburnt skin. Here are a few tips on how to correctly apply tanning oils:

  • If your tanning oil doesn't contain SPF, you'll want to apply sunscreen ten to fifteen minutes before applying your tanning oil to allow it to fully absorb and provide adequate protection from the sun's rays.
  • Tanning oil can easily stain clothing, towels, and furniture, so you'll want to apply it carefully and do your best to avoid getting the product on anything but your skin. Additionally, many tanning oils have a brown color that can stain light-colored towels and clothing.
  • To ensure you get an even tan, you'll want to apply your tanning oil (and sunscreen) to your entire body before you tan.
  • To keep your skin hydrated and lock in your tan, you'll want to slather on moisturizer after you hit the beach.
  • To maximize the product's effectiveness, reapply your tanning oil every few hours, especially after getting wet.

How to choose the best tanning oil for you:

When it comes to tanning oil, there are many different products on the market, some of which offer more benefits than others. Here are a few tips on how to choose the right tanning oil:

  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF)— When using tanning oil, it's crucial to protect your skin from the damaging effects of excess sun exposure. Choosing an oil with SPF helps protect you from getting a sunburn, which can lead to wrinkles, sun spots, premature signs of aging, and damaged skin.
  • Reef-Safe Formula— The term reef-safe means the sunscreen or tanning oil does not contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone or octinoxate that can damage marine habitats and coral reefs. Instead, these tanning products contain mineral-based UV blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
  • Skin Type— Some tanning products are better for certain skin types than others. If you have delicate or sensitive skin, look for tanning oil labeled hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. If you have acne-prone or oily skin, look for products labeled non-comedogenic.
  • Water-Resistant Formula— If you plan on taking a dip in the water to cool off during your tanning session, look for a tanning spray with a water-resistant formula that won't come off as you splash, swim, or sweat.
  • Skin Conditioning and Moisturizing Effects— The top tanning oils on the market contain ingredients that act as a natural moisturizer, helping to lock in the natural oils in your skin for a glowing, bronze tan. If your skin is in need of serious hydration, look for a tanning oil that's jam-packed with the following skin-softening ingredients: coconut oil, avocado oil, argan oil, olive oil, cocoa butter, vitamin E, jojoba oil, and coconut milk.

The Best Tanning Oils And Sunscreen Oil for Summer 2021

Sun Bum Tanning Oil SPF 15

Best Overall

Sun Bum Tanning Oil SPF 15

Courtesy of brand

This SPF 15 Sun Bum Tanning Oil is undoubtedly one of the best tanning oils on the market for summer 2021. The water-resistant, reef-friendly tanning oil spray moisturizes and protects your skin while helping you achieve a deep, dark natural tan. It's formulated with natural ingredients like aloe vera, green tea butter, and a blend of marula, argan, coconut, and avocado oils. Plus, it's cruelty-free, hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, dermatologist-tested, making it suitable for all skin types.

Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Lotion Sunscreen 

Best Tanning Lotion

Looking for a tanning oil that isn't quite so greasy? Try the best-selling Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Lotion. The suntan lotion helps you tan quicker and stay protected (thanks to 4 SPF protection) without the greasy feeling most oils leave behind. Shea butter and coconut oil nourish your skin while an island-inspired blend of botanicals like aloe vera, papaya, mango, passion fruit, plumeria, and guava off a satisfying summer scent. But the fast-absorbing formula isn't just a great choice for your skin, it's PETA-certified cruelty-free and is reef-friendly, making it one of the better tanning lotions for the planet too.

Mele No Shade Sunscreen Oil Broad Spectrum for Melanin Rich Skin

Courtesy of brand

While most tanning oils are targeted towards people with fair skin, Mele's No Shade Sunscreen Oil for Melanin Rich Skin was scientifically developed by dermatologists of color with darker skin tones in mind. The lightweight sunscreen oil offers SPF 30 broad-spectrum protection that fights UV damage, sun spots, and signs of aging. Plus, the quick-drying formula is free from parabens, alcohol, mineral oil, and ingredients that leave streaks and residue on brown and black skin.

Pacifica Sea & C Glow Bronzing Body Oil

Courtesy of brand

Searching for a tanning oil without any chemicals or synthetic ingredients? Look no further than Pacifica's Sea and C Glow Bronzing Body Oil! The all-natural formula offers SPF 20 of broad-spectrum UVA/UVB and blue light protection, higher SPF than most other tanning oils. It's made with summer skin-friendly ingredients like vitamin C, marine extracts, and caffeine. And without harmful parabens, silicones, retinyl palmitate, phthalates, PABA, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. Plus, it's cruelty-free and contains no animal-derived ingredients, so it's vegan-friendly too.

Best Tanning Oil for Dry Skin

Maui Babe Browning Lotion

Courtesy of brand

This Maui Babe Browning Lotion helps you create a natural-looking tan in no time by accelerating the natural tanning process. The lightweight formula features a blend of all-natural ingredients like Kona coffee plant extract, kukui nut oil and aloe vera, and antioxidants Vitamin A, C, and E that offer both moisturizing properties and anti-aging benefits. Layer it over one of Maui Babe's sunscreens to ensure you achieve a deep, dark tan safely, and slather on Maui Babe's hydrating After Browning Lotion when you're finished.

Hawaiian Tropic Island Tanning Dry Spray Oil

Courtesy of brand

Hawaiian Tropic offers some of the best tanning oils, tanning lotions, and sun care products at a price that can't be beaten. This affordable two-pack of their Island Tanning Dry Spray Oil is great for both your wallet and your skin! The dry oil spray has an oil-gel consistency that feels less greasy than traditional tanning oils. It contains moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil and cocoa butter, keeps your skin feeling soft and smooth, and island-inspired botanicals like papaya, mango, passion fruit, plumeria, and guava for a summery tropical scent.

Australian Gold Rapid Tanning Intensifier

Courtesy of brand

This Australian Gold Rapid Tanning Intensifier is the ideal tanning oil for people with fair skin. The key ingredient in the clean tanning oil is Biosine Complex, a proprietary blend that prepares skin to develop color, helping you achieve your darkest tan in no time. It also contains antioxidants like Vitamin E and skin conditioners like aloe vera and tea tree oil to prevent skin irritation and clogged pores while locking in moisture. Plus, Australian Gold's signature Cocoa Dreams fragrance— a blend of coconut, orange, and vanilla— will instantly make you feel like you're on a tropical vacation.

Banana Boat Deep Tanning Oil Spray With Coconut Oil

Courtesy of brand

Looking for a tanning oil that smells amazing while getting deep colors in? Try the Banana Boat Deep Tanning Spray Oil. This tanning oil is infused with cocoa seed butter, banana fruit extract, carrot root extract, and coconut oil. Available in SPF 0-4, water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and they are all reef-friendly (except for SPF 4).

About the author

Emily is a fashion consultant, designer and creative director with more than 15 years experience creating, designing and developing clothing & jewelry. From managing pageant shows to turning concepts into actual designs, she has experience with almost all fabric types and jewelry designs and is in touch with the latest fashion trends.


Creative Design

Get a Weekly Dose Of Tomorrow's Trends & Best Products!

We don't share your information with anyone!