To clarify the debate between using a suntan lotion vs sunscreen, here’s a breakdown of each product’s primary function — plus a few tips for healthy tanning!
In this article:
- What Is Suntan Lotion?
- Skin Protection
- Texture and Appearance
- Tanning Products Hybrids
- Sunblock or Sunscreen
- Quick Recap
- Sun Tan Lotion vs Sunscreen: The Verdict
Suntan Lotion or Sunscreen: What Should You Use?
What Is Suntan Lotion?
A suntan lotion is meant to help anyone achieve perfect sun-kissed skin. Its primary function is to encourage tanning, which is why it contains ingredients that speed up the process. Sun protection is not its priority, but there are only a few brands on the market that claim to be while also using the term ‘suntan lotion.’ It can also be used for indoor tanning. A sunscreen containing an SPF or Sun Protection Factor of no more than 15 is, sometimes, considered a suntan lotion.
Some tanning products contain bronzer for a dark tan. These kinds of tanning lotions are best for sunless tanning.
A sunscreen, on the other hand, filters sunlight so it does not reach the deeper layers of your skin. In short, its primary function is to protect your skin from sunlight. Since it does not completely block the effects of sunlight, you can still get a tan while wearing sunscreen. The process may be slower than when you’re using a suntan lotion, but you’ll get a tan, all the same, the safer way at that.
Tip: You can find tons of articles or even see a specialist on how to get a safe tan.
Most suntan lotions give you very little or no protection at all from the sun. A sunscreen, meanwhile, protects your skin by slowing down the penetration of sunlight. People with sensitive skin will benefit a great deal with sunscreen. However, a formula safe for sensitive skin should be used.
What sunscreens specifically protect you from is ultraviolet radiation. There are three main types of UV rays:
- UVA – This is the most harmful of the three because it reaches the deeper layers of the skin. UVA can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging.
- UVB – These types of rays penetrate the outer layer of the skin, causing sunburn. Prolonged exposure to UVB rays also increases the risk of skin cancer.
- UCV – These have a short wavelength and are completely absorbed by the ozone layer.
Most sunscreens are formulated to provide UVB protection. Depending on the formula, they may protect you from UVA, too. Look for a sunscreen that has ‘broad spectrum’ on its label because this means the product offers UVA coverage.
Note: While the Skin Cancer Foundation stresses the importance of using sunscreens, they also advise people to see sun protection from a holistic point of view that involves not only skin products but other methods to protect oneself from UV rays, as well.
Texture and Appearance
There is a slight difference between the absorption or solubility of a suntan lotion and a sunscreen on the skin. A suntan lotion may come with ingredients like Vitamin E and aloe vera, making it easily absorbed by the skin.
Meanwhile, the presence of ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen makes its consistency a bit thicker than suntan lotion. When applied on skin, it may have an opaque effect.
Tanning Products Hybrids
As mentioned previously, the term “suntan lotion” is less popular these days. Plus, in the last few years, we have seen brands add the benefits of suntan lotion to sunscreen and vice versa. This makes it harder to distinguish between the two.
A hybrid product may come in the form of sunscreen with lesser SPF. Or, it may be a sunscreen with tan accelerators. This product may contain ingredients like oils or melanobronze, which can enhance skin pigmentation.
Sunblock or Sunscreen
Where does sunblock fit into the sunscreen vs suntan lotion debate? We’re including sunblock lotion in this face-off because it is a term often used synonymously with sunscreen. Some may even claim it offers better protection, has a thicker consistency, and is more opaque. But the FDA actually banned the term sunblock a few years back. It may mislead people about the level of protection a product offers.
Friendly reminder: A suntan lotion pales in comparison to sunscreen when it comes to sun protection. Again, the purpose of a suntan lotion is to accelerate tanning. Screening the UV rays is simply not its foremost priority.
Here’s a rundown on suntan lotion vs sunscreen lotion:
- Minimal SPF
- Speeds up the tanning process
- More soluble
- Gives a tan quicker
- Filters UV rays
- Minimizes damaging effects of the sun on skin
- Thicker consistency
- Gives a safer tan
Suntan Lotion vs Sunscreen: The Verdict
Both products have pros and cons. It all boils down to choosing a product with features most beneficial to you. Do note that with the risk of skin cancer and other issues, using a product that protects your skin best is a good way to go.
Also, remember that sunscreens do not completely block UV rays. The tips from FDA actually include reapplying sunscreen every two hours, even more often than this if needed. Do not overestimate a sunscreen’s coverage, even if a product claims its protection lasts for several hours.
Getting a tan is nice but note that too much sun exposure damages your skin no matter what product you use.
Learn more about how suntan and sunscreen lotions work by watching this ThinkTank video below:
While it’s nice to enjoy and reap the many benefits of staying under the sun, it’s more important for you to understand how suntan lotions and sunscreens can help keep your skin healthy. Knowing which skin care products are suited for which purpose is all it takes to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Also, you can also try self-tanners, which are a safer alternative for getting that perfect tan.
Still confused about the difference between sunscreen and suntan lotion? Let us know your questions in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 9, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.