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Unlike sunscreen but like tanning oil, indoor tanning lotions accelerate the tanning process, by promoting the production of melanin or by increasing blood flow to the skin, thereby increasing the amount of melanin that is brought to the top layers of the skin. Indoor tanning lotions contain no sunscreen and offer no protection from the sun. Unlike sunless tanning lotions, these are designed for use with an ultraviolet source such as a tanning bed or booth.
Note, exposing oiled skin to ultra violet radiation is not advisable as this would increase the probability of skin damage. The FDA warns that using cosmetics - which make skin more sensitive to UV rays - makes tanning beds more dangerous. In fact, "tanning accelerators” are not approved by the FDA.
Some of the active ingredients found in common tanning lotions include melanin and L-Tyrosine. Other commonly found ingredients include tea oil, copper (in many different chemical compounds), green tea extract and many other natural oils. Indoor tanning lotions are usually designed to only use ingredients that will not cause damage or build up on acrylic surfaces. This is because all tanning beds use 100% acrylic in their protective shields. This is one reason people should not use outdoor tanning lotion in a tanning bed, as some common ingredients such as mineral oil (common ingredient in cosmetics, including some baby oil brands) will damage the surface of the acrylics.
Tingle is a standard description for indoor tanning lotions that contain ingredients that increase blood flow at the skin level, or cause a "tingling" sensation.
Some lotions have a bronzing affect to them. There are two different types of bronzers; cosmetic and natural. Cosmetic bronzers are usually DHA (dihydroxyacetone) based. These bronzers work with the skin to provide a darker cosmetic color. They take approximately 4-6 hours to develop full color. Having a base tan before using a bronzer produces a more natural looking color. Natural bronzers use natural ingredients, such as caramel, riboflavin, etc. These ingredients provide a slight instant boost of color, but will wash off in the shower.
Higher quality natural bronzer lotions will have certain organic ingredients/natural or exotic extracts that aid in the process of tanning (melanin production/oxidization).
One of the primary purposes for using indoor tanning lotions is to moisturize the skin. This is because tanning (indoors or out) can dehydrate the skin so additional moisturization is needed to compensate and leave the skin looking smooth and healthy. One of the most popular moisturizing elements in tanning lotions is hempseed oil, although other oils are also common. The primary moisturizing ingredients in tanning lotions are essentially the same as in regular hand lotions, although they tend to have less alcohol in them.
Most indoor tanning lotions do not offer protection from the sun (have no SPF) and are not intended for outdoor use.