The 5 Best Tanning Oils

By Marissa DeSantis
Bustle/Amazon

If you're looking for a tanning oil to enhance your glow, there are a few things you should before you get started. First— and most importantly — according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, "there isn't really a safe tanning oil," which is why deciphering between the best tanning oils is so tricky.

Dr. Loretta, who was among the first to study the effects of UVA radiation on skin in the dermatology department of Harvard Medical School, knows a thing or two about the sun's skin-damaging effects, and explains, "Tanning oils work by directing more ultraviolet rays into the skin, so that they speed up the amount of tan you get from a single sun exposure." While this means a darker tan, it also means more of a chance of sunburn, especially if you have what Dr. Loretta calls a Fitzpatrick Skin Type 1 or 2 (aka you always burn and don't tan, or you always burn first and then sometimes tan). For those skin types, Dr. Loretta notes, "The tanning oil is not worth the risk of getting a more severe sunburn, which can increase your risk of skin cancer and other unwanted UV-induced problems like hyperpigmentation."

However, if you're set on boosting your glow with a tanning oil, there are a few steps you can take to use one in a slightly less damaging way. As Dr. Loretta explains, "Since a tanning oil accelerates your skin's reaction to the sun, don't use a new tanning oil on your first day at a new location, like a vacation to an island resort, since you may very well end up with a severe burn." Instead, she recommends "Only using a tanning oil in limited sun exposure in a locale where you are familiar with how long you can tolerate the sun without the oil." Once you add the oil, you should then cut your exposure time by about 25 percent to reduce the risk of burning.

While it goes without saying that if you have a sunburn, you should never apply tanning oil and sit out in the sun, Dr. Loretta also says it's important to be aware that no matter how dark you are to begin with, if you aren't applying SPF, you're still putting your skin's health at risk by tanning (with or without the help of an oil). "If you already have a tan, don't think that this will prevent you from getting a sunburn," she says. Instead, Dr. Loretta recommends using a self-tanner for those who are after bronzed skin.

If you're still set on using a glow-inducing formula out in the sun, here are five of the best tanning oils on Amazon — to be paired with additional SPF, of course.

1. The Cult-Favorite

If you spent anytime at all by the beach as a kid, chances are you witnessed at least one older family member with a Hawaiian Tropic's Tanning Oil in their bag. This dark tanning formula comes in the brand's signature coconut scent and is made with a blend of mineral oil, coconut oil, and aloe leaf extract. Though the oil doesn't contain any SPF (you'll want to apply that separately), it does get rave reviews on Amazon for leaving skin moisturized and smooth.

"I have used this product for over 20 years. The scent is fantastic, [and] I use it as a body moisturizer all summer long with sunscreen," reported one reviewer. Another reviewer, who gave the oil five-stars, wrote "This was my first time using a tanning oil, [and] I was surprised [by] how fast it worked. I got the same amount of tan in half the time it would take without the oil."

2. Best Tanning Oil With A Built-In Glow

If you're looking for a tanning oil that imparts an immediate bronze-y glow, try this Australian Gold Bronzing Intensifier Dry Oil Spray. In the formula, tea tree oil contributes to smoother skin, while aloe vera soothes and moisturizes. A blend of melanin, carrot oil, walnut shell, and caramel are responsible for that instant tan, while the brand's signature tropical scent will leave you smelling like a piña colada.

"It gives so much color, and not the gross, orangey look," commented one reviewer, who added, "It goes on nice and evenly, and the smell is just amazing." Another fan of the oil wrote, "Not only an awesome intensifier, a great natural instant tan!!! I even use this as a moisturizer all winter!!! No dry skin here!"

3. A Tanning Oil In Continuous Mist Form

For an easier application method, Banana Boat's UltraMist Deep Tanning Dry Oil comes in a continuous spray bottle that lets you evenly mist over your skin without having to use your hands. This particular formula contains coconut oil and grape seed oil to keep your skin moisturized and soft, and it offers just a hint of sun protection with a very low SPF of 4.

"This really does enhance tanning. I haven't been using it for that long and I'm getting a good tan even before summer is [here]," wrote one reviewer. Another commented, "This is great [because] I feel like I'm getting a little protection but that it amplifies that deep brown color. Non greasy, easy to spray... Def my fav!"

4. Best Natural Tanning Oil

While it's admittedly hard to find a tanning oil that doesn't contain potentially irritating ingredients like artificial fragrances and parabens, it's not impossible. Tropical Sands Dark Tanning Oil is a hypoallergenic formula that's chemical-free, coral reef-safe, and biodegradable, to boot. Instead, the moisturizing tanning oil is made with a simple list of botanical ingredients, like sunflower oil, green tea, coconut oil, cocoa butter, sweet almond oil, and vitamin E.

"I love the natural ingredients list, the mild scent, the non-greasy formula, and how moisturized my skin feels after use," wrote one reviewer who gave the tanning oil five-stars. "I added this over SPF 30 sunscreen and was out for an hour," reported another user. "I got a pretty decent tan, [and] I like that you can use [it] as a daily moisturizer."

5. Best Sunless Tanning Oil

Okay, this may not be a tanning oil in the traditional sense, but I would be remiss not to offer at least one totally safe "tanning oil" option. This Coola Sunless Tan Dry Oil Mist works like a self-tanner to give you bronzed skin that develops six to eight hours after applying, minus the need to sit in the sun and increase your risk of skin cancer and photo damage. The blend of good-for-skin ingredients like argan oil, vitamin C, and aloe vera extract can be misted directly onto your skin, where you can then use your hands to rub it on evenly for a streak-free finish. The oil is even eco-certified COSMOS organic, which means it's non-GMO, vegan, cruelty-free, and formulated without parabens and phthalates.

"This product develops into a perfect color every time I use it. It's super-easy to use and a beautiful dry oil spray," commented one reviewer. Another user wrote, "This self-tanner never streaks — it is the best that I've ever used."

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle's editorial and sales departments.