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Sunscreen vs. Tanning Lotion: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 19, 2023
Sunscreen protects skin from harmful UV rays, while Tanning Lotion enhances skin's ability to tan.

Key Differences

Sunscreen is designed to shield the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. On the contrary, Tanning Lotion is intended to amplify the skin's response to UV exposure, helping achieve a deeper tan.
Sunscreen typically contains ingredients that either reflect, absorb, or scatter UV rays, thus preventing them from penetrating the skin. Tanning Lotion, however, may contain bronzing agents, moisturizers, or other ingredients that promote the tanning process.
While Sunscreen is advised to be applied generously to all exposed skin before sun exposure, Tanning Lotion is generally applied before sunbathing or using a tanning bed to enhance the tan.
Sunscreen aims to prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer. Tanning Lotion's primary goal is cosmetic, aiming to achieve a bronzed look.
Regular and proper application of Sunscreen can help in mitigating the harmful effects of UV radiation. In contrast, Tanning Lotion, when used without Sunscreen, can increase the risk of sunburn or other sun-related damages.

Comparison Chart

Primary Purpose

Protects skin from UV radiation
Enhances skin's ability to tan

Key Ingredients

UV filters (chemical or physical)
Bronzers, moisturizers, accelerators


Before sun exposure to all exposed areas
Before sunbathing or tanning bed usage


Prevents sunburn and UV damage
Achieves a deeper or bronzed tan

Safety Considerations

Reduces risk of skin cancer with regular use
Increases risk of sunburn if used without protection

Sunscreen and Tanning Lotion Definitions


A product that prevents sunburn.
Thanks to his Sunscreen, he spent hours outside without getting burned.

Tanning Lotion

Contains ingredients promoting a deeper tan.
The Tanning Lotion accelerated her tanning process at the beach.


Contains ingredients that block or absorb UV rays.
This Sunscreen uses zinc oxide as a primary ingredient.

Tanning Lotion

Often used before sunbathing or tanning beds.
Before stepping into the tanning booth, he applied Tanning Lotion.


Essential for outdoor activities to protect skin.
Before their hike, they made sure to pack Sunscreen.

Tanning Lotion

Can contain moisturizers and bronzers.
This Tanning Lotion not only deepens the tan but also moisturizes the skin.


A lotion that shields skin from UV radiation.
Before hitting the beach, she applied Sunscreen to protect her skin.

Tanning Lotion

Achieves a cosmetic bronzed appearance.
With the help of Tanning Lotion, she achieved a sun-kissed look.


Reduces the risk of skin cancer and aging.
Dermatologists recommend daily Sunscreen use for its anti-aging benefits.

Tanning Lotion

A lotion designed to enhance the skin's tan.
She used Tanning Lotion to get a bronzed glow for the summer.


A preparation, often in the form of a cream or lotion, used to protect the skin from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun.


A cream, to be spread on the skin, containing organic compounds that absorb, and/or titanium dioxide that reflects the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.


A cream spread on the skin; contains a chemical (as PABA) to filter out ultraviolet light and so protect from sunburn


Does Sunscreen prevent tanning?

Sunscreen reduces the rate of tanning but doesn't completely prevent it.

Does Tanning Lotion protect against sunburn?

No, it enhances tanning but doesn't offer UV protection.

Should Sunscreen be reapplied?

Yes, every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.

Is there a Sunscreen that allows for tanning?

Lower SPF Sunscreens allow more tanning but offer less protection.

Do Tanning Lotions have side effects?

Some might cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.

Can Tanning Lotion be used with Sunscreen?

Yes, apply Sunscreen first, let it absorb, then apply Tanning Lotion.

Why is broad-spectrum Sunscreen important?

It protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

How does Sunscreen work?

By reflecting, absorbing, or scattering UV rays.

Can Sunscreen be worn under makeup?

Absolutely, many makeups even include SPF.

Are there Tanning Lotions with SPF?

Yes, some combine tanning ingredients with sun protection.

What are the benefits of Tanning Lotion in tanning beds?

It can intensify the tan and provide skin hydration.

Can Sunscreen expire?

Yes, check the expiration date for effectiveness.

Why do some Tanning Lotions have a bronzer?

To provide an instant tan-like appearance.

Are there Tanning Lotions without UV exposure?

Yes, self-tanners darken the skin without sun exposure.

Is wearing Sunscreen daily necessary?

Yes, UV rays can damage the skin even on cloudy days.

Can Tanning Lotion replace natural sun tanning?

Self-tanning lotions give a tan-like appearance without sun exposure.

Is Sunscreen necessary in winter?

Yes, snow reflects UV, increasing exposure risk.

Can Sunscreen cause breakouts?

Some might, but there are non-comedogenic options available.

Is it safe to use Tanning Lotion frequently?

Overuse can dry out the skin, moderation is key.

How long does the tan from Tanning Lotion last?

Typically a few days to a week, depending on the product.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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