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What Is Suntan Oil?

Exposure to the sun, especially when using suntan oil, is considered dangerous.
Suntan oil.
Grapeseed oil, which can be used to make suntan oil.
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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2014
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Suntan oil is a product that is designed to moisturize the skin and boost the tan when laying out in the sun or in a tanning bed. It is typically made with oils such as coconut oil or almond oil, as well as ingredients designed to treat the skin such as vitamin E or aloe. Though it may contain a minimal amount of sun protection, it is generally no more than SPF 4 or 5, and as such hardly offers any protection from sun damage at all. As a result, suntan oil is not recommended by dermatologists due to the risks of skin damage and cancer from the sun.

In most stores, suntan oil is sold right next to the sunscreen and other sun protection products, but it is typically an amber-colored liquid. It is applied all over the body, though not the face, where it will clog pores. It is generally made of a mixture of different oils, vitamins, and conditioning ingredients to moisturize the skin, under the assumption that moisturized skin will tan better. It typically has a fairly strong smell, especially if coconut oil is used, though almond oil, grapeseed oil, or eucalyptus oil may all be used as well for the base.

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Most suntan oil does not offer any sun protection at all, but in fact increases skin's tanning ability by making the skin shiny, and increasing the production of melanin. This can make it possible to tan faster. Some suntan oils will offer a sun protection factor (SPF) of 4 or 5, but it really does not make it any safer, since the entire purpose of suntan oil is to get a better tan, not to protect the skin. People will typically apply suntan oil before going to lay out in the sun or before getting into a tanning bed.

Dermatologists widely advise against tanning, however, and state that using suntan oil can be dangerous. Any type of sun damage on the skin, including getting tan, can eventually lead to wrinkles, sun spots, or potentially fatal skin cancer. Sunless tanning alternatives exist, from creams to spray-on tans, and the best of these can offer a natural summer glow without any potential dangers. It will then be possible to wear sunscreen every day when out in the sun, yet still have a nice, natural-looking tan. Suntan oil has decreased in popularity over the years as people learn more about its potential dangers.

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