There are a lot of terms floating around out there when it comes to sun protection and tanning, from sun block to sunscreen, self-tan to tanning oil, so when we talk about the best sun tan lotions, it’s worth stating that we’re talking about the things that help amplify the effects of the sun to get you that coveted glow, but won’t necessarily offer the best protection. If you’re fair, have freckles or are otherwise more prone to sun damage, check out our list of the best sunblocks.
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Most of our picks come in a choice of SPFs ranging from very low single figures all the way up to 30, so leaving the level of protection up to your discretion, we’ve laid most of our focus on the formula. In those stakes, Hawaiian Tropic Professional Tanning oil (opens in new tab) wins the day for its thick gel consistency that nourishes skin with natural ingredients and got impressed reviewers a great glow, but if it’s water-resistance, natural tanning or quick absorption you’re after, keep reading for the rest of our top five.
This tanning oil from suntan stalwarts Hawaiian Tropic is a nifty little multi-tasking product, meaning it really earns its place in your carry-on or beach bag. Users found that as well as amplifying the effects of the sun’s rays, with some even commenting that they went from mostly white to nicely bronzed in a little over an hour, the thick gel left skin feeling moisturised thanks to a combination of coconut oil, cocoa butter and aloe vera. Smooth legs and a longer lasting tan? It’s a win-win.
Many tanning oils, like our first choice above, contain a very low level of SPF to make the very most of their short sun exposure, but this one from Nivea Sun strikes a good balance between protection and performance. Featuring a combination of SPF 20 sunscreen and tan-activating pro-melanin plant extracts, it supports the skin’s natural darkening process while keeping you protected from the worst of the UVA/UVB rays. It also gets huge plus points for being water-resistant, so you won’t end up with a mysteriously lobster-red patch after a single splash.
This tanning oil promises fast absorption, so not only does it reduce the risk of leaving greasy marks on towels, sun-loungers and cover-ups, Piz Buin also say it won’t leave you feeling like a just-basted turkey (we're paraphrasing slightly). Reviewers say it sprays on easily and soaks in quickly, so you can start working on your tan as quickly as possible, and the moisturising effect of the oil means you won’t lose your hard-earned tan to peeling. Just be sure to reapply often, as the low SPF may not be enough to see paler skin through the afternoon.
Just like our Nivea Sun oil, this Ambre Solaire option offers SPF 20 protection in addition to tanning prowess. In fact, throw in a water-resistant formula too and you’ll find they’re more alike than different, but this one has the slight edge for the fact that it’s enriched with shea butter, a deeply moisturising and skin-nourishing ingredient that’ll help your skin hold on to its golden hue for longer. Reviewers loved it for its lightness and ease of application, saying it doesn’t smell or leave a greasy feel, resulting in a thoroughly user-friendly tanning oil.
This Malibu Dry Oil Spray comes in a choice of SPFs ranging from 2 to 30, so you can tailor the user-beloved formula to your specific needs depending on what level of protection you’re looking for. The best middle ground, however, seems to be the SPF 15, highly rated by reviewers for its ability to promote a golden glow without burning. They also loved the coconut scent and pleasant application, but its biggest seller has to be its waterproof and sweat-resistant formula, which makes it great for sports or walking in hot weather.
If the sun’s sorely lacking, cheat your way to glowing skin with one of our best BB creams, for colour and coverage without the weight