In the United States, suntan lotion is often mistaken for sunblock. However, sunblock is formulated to reflect and protect the skin from UV rays. Suntan lotion is formulated to harness those rays to react with substances in the suntan lotion to enhance the tanning effect.


When people are trying to gain color in their skin through tanning, they are actually trying to manipulate the melanin of the skin. Melanin is a protein that causes skin to become darker when it is exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays that are produced by the sun. The melanin is actually designed to protect the skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun, but people manipulate it for the sake of beauty.


Suntan lotions enhance melanin’s abilities to darken the skin. They do this through the added ingredient of an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine usually naturally occurs in the body and helps build melanin. The topical use of tyrosine on the skin causes melanin to develop faster, causing the tan to appear faster and darker.


Many people make the mistake of thinking suntan lotion protects the skin as sunblock does. However, suntan lotion actually makes the skin more sensitive to UV rays. This can severely increase your chances of skin damage. Many suntan lotions include moisturizers that work to help the skin from damaging too much, but they do not do enough good to prevent the risks of future skin problems, such as skin cancer.

Other Options

If you still want the look of tanned skin, but want to do so in a safe manner, there are plenty of sunless tanners on the market that can help you achieve the glow that you desire, without exposing your skin to harmful UV rays.

References and Resources

WebMD: Sunless Tanning Options