Tanning lotion is a generic term. It could refer to indoor, outdoor, or sunless lotion. We’ll educate you on the pros and cons of each of these solutions to help you decide what’s right for you.

Indoor tanning lotion

Typically, you should only use indoor tanning lotion in a tanning bed or booth. Its primary purpose is to increase the production of melanin, which makes your skin darker.

Most indoor lotions also have a bronzing effect that darkens your skin. The bronzing effect will appear more natural if you have a decent base tan to begin with. Bronzing effects can be DHA, natural, or cosmetic. In our experience, DHA leaves the skin darker for a longer period of time than natural or cosmetic methods. However, all of the bronzers usually wash out within a few days regardless of type, so we feel that it’s not the most significant factor when determining which lotion to purchase.

Indoor lotion almost always contains moisturizers. Tanning dries out the skin, and moisturizers are included to combat this issue.

Check out our indoor lotion review to help you make the best purchase decision.

A word of caution: you should never use outdoor lotion inside a bed because it often damages the bed with its chemical content.

Read more about this type of lotion on Wikipedia.

Outdoor tanning lotion

Outdoor tanning lotion (AKA suntan lotion) is different than sunblock or sunscreen. It has less protection against the sun than other options (most have SPF 8 or so), which is required for getting a great looking tan. Virtually all outdoor lotions have moisturizers which protect your skin from drying out in the hot sun. Two of the most common moisturizers are Aloe Vera and Vitamin E.

You can usually find outdoor lotion in two forms: lotion and spray-on. We recommend the lotion form since it’s able to cover the skin more thoroughly and evenly. The spray-on form is more convenient, but it has a number of drawbacks. Unless you require the convenience of spray-on lotion, we recommend sticking with the lotion form.

Most outdoor lotion is waterproof nowadays, but occasionally it is not. If there’s any chance you’ll get wet, then the non-waterproof lotions will lose their effect, so watch out for that while purchasing a lotion. Most tanning lotions are hypoallergenic, so you don’t need to worry about them clogging your pores and causing acne.

Sunless tanning lotion

The healthiest option is to use sunless tanning lotion, but many people steer clear of it because they’re afraid of looking orange. While it’s true that sunless lotion is notorious for looking fake, there are still many viable options that can greatly enhance your appearance without the risk of skin cancer.

Sunless lotions have greatly improved over the past couple decades. If you choose the right lotion and apply it effectively, most people will never know that it’s not a true sun tan.

Pro tip: look for lotions that advertise that they don’t stain your clothes.