There are three main types of tanning lotions you’ll find on the market today, although there are some subgroups available in those three types as well. Unlike a sunscreen or sunblock, which protects your skin from absorbing harmful UV rays so you don’t burn, a tanning lotion can help you achieve the tanned look you want without sun exposure.  They may darken over time and also provide moisturizers for a healthy glow to your skin.


Bronzers are arguably the most popular kind of tanning lotions out there. They can give you a near instant tanned look which is why they have a larger appeal than some of the other lotions. That said, there is more than one type of bronzer that you can use.

Types of Bronzers

Bronzers work by way of a chemical reaction on your skin. There are two main types.

Natural Bronzers

Natural bronzers use plant and herbal ingredients to help you achieve a tanned look to your skin. Some of the most popular ones use riboflavin, caramel, hemp seed oil, coffee, henna, carrot oil, banana, and walnut shell. These ingredients stimulate melanin production in your skin but they are also short–lived compared to DHA bronzers. They will wash off in a matter of days and need to be used more frequently.

DHA Bronzers

DHA is dihydroxyacetone and it is actually a sugar which comes from sugar beets and sugar cane. It reacts with amino acids in your skin to produce a brown color thanks to something called the Maillard reaction. If you’re a cook, you may be aware that this is the same process that browns meat when you cook it. You just don’t need the heat for this to work on your skin. A tanned look achieved with this type of bronzer lasts for 5 to 7 days.

Bronzers should be used carefully if you’re new to them. The color produced by a bronzer can be dramatic and, if not applied correctly, can become much darker than you want. Another issue with bronzers is that some of the cheaper brands may not provide the natural color you’re looking for. The artificial orange tan look that some people get is caused by bronzers so you’ll want to make sure you know how your skin reacts to a bronzer before going for a full body look, just in case.

Many bronzers deepen over time, so it’s often best to try a light bronzer at first and then see how it develops over time, just in case.

Tingle Tanning Lotions

Tingle lotions are sometimes called hot action tanning lotions or microcirculation lotions. They work by increasing oxygen and blood circulation in the skin cells of the epidermis or upper skin layer. This allows for increased melanin production so you get darker faster. Two of the most common ingredients in these types of lotions are methyl nicotinate and benzyl nicotinate.

You can feel a tingle working in your skin which is where the name “tingle” comes from. These should be used with caution because some people with sensitive skin do have a bad reaction to them. The tingling sensation can potentially be uncomfortable.

Depending on the ingredients this may be a cooling sensation or a heating sensation. There are some lotions advertised as cooling lotions which is a slight contrast to the idea of a tingle lotion, but the basic idea is the same. It’s just the effect you’ll get on your skin. Both can cause your skin to flush and redden as they work.

Tingle lotions are usually used alongside natural tanning methods to achieve a really fast tan. For instance, these were popular among people who use tanning salons. They can increase the effect of UV rays so that you will tan in less time.

Accelerator Lotions

Accelerator tanning lotions are the most common type for people who have little experience with the indoor tanning process because they are the easiest to use and offer the least dramatic results at first so you’re unlikely to slip up and get a super dark tan unintentionally. Unlike bronzers and tingle lotions, these are much closer to a traditional lotion and contain a lot of moisturizer.

Like tingle lotions, these boost the effects of natural UV rays to darken your skin. The color builds over time and they may contain sunscreens to help prevent burning while they build color.

Other Types of Indoor Tanning Lotions

Aside from these three main types there are some variations you can find as well.

Shimmer Lotion

Shimmer lotions may be accelerators or even bronzers but they have added ingredients to create a shine. Sometimes this can literally just be glitter. As the lotion absorbs and the tan sets in, the shimmering effect will settle on your skin and give you a sparkle. Remember to read your labels carefully since you may be trying to get a straight bronzer and end up with a shimmer bronzer if you’re not careful. If you don’t want to be covered in sparkles at the end of the tan, you’ll want to avoid these.

Intensifiers and Maximizers

These are often sold alongside accelerators or even as accelerators. There is a difference though in terms of how they work and also what’s in then. For instance, an accelerator will probably have more moisturizers inside of it.

Maximizer lotions or intensifiers work best when you already have a base tan. As the name suggests, they can help make that tan more intense and maximize the color on your skin.

The Bottom Line

There are three main types of indoor tanning lotion and several subtypes available. The point of a tanning lotion is to help you develop a deeper tan without actually being out in the sunlight and risking more exposure to UV rays. Each type offers a different tanning experience with different effects overall. Choosing the right tanning lotion may take some trial and error. Some work best when you combine them with actually tanning, using UV rays to produce a faster, darker effect on your skin.