Baby Oil For Tanning: Why You May Want To Avoid This Sunbathing Staple

There are numerous reasons why people enjoy tanning. A 1992 survey in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology even found that participants with medium-tanned skin enjoyed more attention from the opposite sex and therefore felt more confident about their appearance. Tanned applicants, as noted in a 2015 study in the North American Journal of Psychology, got rated more favorably by employers compared to those who were non-tanned. Besides, the soothing process of natural tanning also releases endorphins that make you feel comfortable and boost your mood.


Nonetheless, given the busy life that we lead today, not many of us have the time to lounge in the good old sun until we get the tan we want. For this reason, many people who desire healthy, glowing darker skin use baby oil for a quick fix. Baby oil is generally composed of unscented mineral oil blended with a dash of fragrance and moisturizer. When applied, the oil rests on the skin's surface and therefore softens the skin. 

On top of that, baby oil can help your skin tan faster, dermatologist Michele Farber told Byrdie. However, it's not recommended because of how it affects your skin.

What is baby oil?

You can never be too careful about what products you use on your skin. Therefore, knowing what's included in the ingredients is essential. "Baby oil is comprised mostly of mineral oil, a colorless, odorless liquid made from highly refined petroleum," according to Johnson's. To break it down further, baby oil is a combination of paraffinum liquidum, isopropyl palmitate, and parfum, as per INCIDecoder. Paraffinum liquidum is the mineral oil component and has been used in cosmetics for centuries. It derives from a specific component of petroleum and works as a moisturizer by sitting on top of the skin and protecting the skin from water loss. While the ingredient is safe for most skin types and allergy friendly, it has a reputation for being toxic because it is connected to petrolatum. However, carcinogenic components are not present in cosmetic mineral oils used on the skin.


The other two ingredients in baby oil are isopropyl palmitate and parfum. Isopropyl palmitate helps make your skin silky smooth, and parfum gives the oil a sweet smell.

Baby oil does help you tan faster

The truth is, baby oil does help you get a good, even tan faster. The science behind this is that baby oil can draw the UVA and UVB rays directly to the skin, amplify their intensity, and help them penetrate further into the skin. This is why many hardcore tanners wear baby oil in the sun to get a smoother, deeper tan, as naturopath Dr. Kim Harris told My Imperfect Life. "Once you apply the baby oil, you can feel the sunlight getting into your skin," dermatologist Dr. Ahmad Fayyaz Chaudhry explained to My Imperfect Life. 


Unlike traditional tanning lotions, which usually leave your skin sticky, baby oil hydrates your skin and keeps you comfortable throughout the tanning process, per Talking Tan. Another benefit of wearing baby oil is that it doesn't leave any stains on your clothes, while tanning lotions might. So, basically, baby oil is an excellent solution if you want to tan darker and faster in the sun. 

Wearing baby oil in the sun puts your skin at risk

Unlike sunscreen, which has ingredients that stave harmful UV radiation off your skin, baby oil does the exact opposite. It doesn't contain any sun protection factor (SPF) and acts as a conduit that invites harmful rays to go deeper into your skin, per Tanning Crush. Sunburn, melisma, and freckles are some of the irritating short-term effects of tanning in the sun with baby oil on. Sunburn can occur in as little as 11 minutes if baby oil is used prior to sunbathing.


According to Insider, penetration of UV rays into your skin can break down collagen, a protein that keeps your skin from sagging. Once collagen is down, the skin sags and wrinkles. For this reason, excessive sun exposure, even with sunscreen, can speed up aging.

Overexposure to UV rays puts frequent tanners at risk for skin cancer, a prevalent cancer that affects one in five Americans, per the American Academy of Dermatology. Recreational tanning, as explained by Cancer.Net, has been associated with non-melanoma and melanoma cancers. Melanoma, the rarest and most malign kind of skin cancer, is capable of spreading to other organs if not treated promptly.

The next time you think about tanning or adding baby oil to get better tanning results, consider the risks you're putting your skin through. The tan might lend you a healthy glow, but it could also weaken your skin over time.


Can you use baby oil with sunscreen?

Although it may be tempting to combine sunscreen and baby oil to simultaneously protect your skin while getting a tan, dermatologists do not recommend this course of action. Sunscreen is used primarily to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, and if baby oil is applied on top of sunscreen, you may be wiping out your sun protection. The experts at My Imperfect Life, for example, advise against using most oils in the sun. Using baby oil in combination with sunscreen leaves your skin exposed to the harmful elements of direct sunlight. "You're kidding yourself thinking that mixing the baby oil with sunscreen will be more protective than baby oil alone. Don't mix your sunscreen with other oils, and don't consider the baby oil as sun protection in any way," dermatologist, Susan Massick, told Byrdie.


However, certain baby oils contain ingredients such as lavender or almonds that can be used as an alternative to harsh sunscreens. Nonetheless, baby oil is great to use after you've been in the sun or after a shower, but using it in combination with sunscreen will not help you get tan while protecting you. It will only serve to work against your protection.