Does baby oil help you tan—and is it safe?

Baby oil is full of nutrients for your skin, but does baby oil help you tan—and is it a good idea to use it in the sun?

woman standing against blue wall with the sun shining on her face on an orange background
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

Over the years, baby oil has often been used by those hardcore tanners who want to make the most out of every ray of sun during their vacation. But does baby oil help you tan better and is it even safe to use in the sun?

Well first thing's first—always make sure you're slathered in one of the best sunscreens for face and for your body whenever you're in the sun. Any part of you that is exposed to the elements and not covered up needs to be protected by a sunscreen or sunblock—even if you're concerned about sunscreen preventing tanning. And a reminder that it's important to wear sunscreen on your face everyday—even if you're inside or it's not that sunny outside—as the rays can still penetrate your skin and cause damage.

As for the baby oil point? We've spoken to the experts to get the lowdown on whether baby oil can help you tan and whether it's actually safe to wear...

Does baby oil help you tan and is it safe?

So you want a deep, golden tan to go with your new swimsuit and beachy hair. You’re not alone! A tan complexion is on many women’s wishlists. However, tanning isn’t particularly good for your skin, and it can be even more dangerous if you use baby oil.

We asked experts some of our most pressing questions about baby oil—a type of non-comedogenic mineral oil known for its skin-softening abilities. Does it really help you tan? And is it safe?

Yes—baby oil may help you tan

The truth is: baby oil could help you tan in a variety of ways.

“People consider baby oil good for tanning because it helps you get darker faster and more evenly,” explains Dr. Kim Harris, owner of Prescott Medical Aesthetics (opens in new tab). “It helps absorb the sun’s rays, allowing them to get directly into the skin, resulting in a deeper tan.” 

So not only does baby oil accelerate the tanning process, but it helps your skin darken to a shade that it otherwise wouldn’t reach. It’s so powerful that you can even sense it working, experts note.

“Once you apply the baby oil, you can feel the sunlight getting into your skin,” says Dr. Ahmad Fayyaz Chaudhry, collaborating dermatologist at Scandinavian Biolabs (opens in new tab). “After getting appropriate sunlight, you get a deep and long-lasting tan.”

Of all the methods to accelerate and deepen the tanning process, baby oil takes the cake. “It has the most promising results when it comes to tanning,” says Dr. Chaudhry.

So you can see why using baby oil is tempting. But before you throw that bottle of baby oil in your beach bag, consider the risks.

No—it’s not safe to use in the sun

Like with using coconut oil for tanning, experts do not recommend using baby oil in the sun. In fact, they advise against it, as well as tanning altogether.

“Using baby oil for tanning is a big no-no,” says Dr. Harris. On its own, “Baby oil does not contain any SPF that is needed to protect your skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays. It allows the UV rays to deeply penetrate the skin, which can cause severe sunburn and skin damage.”

“As a matter of fact, tanning itself is not healthy or safe for your skin,” Dr. Harris adds. Baby oil has the exact opposite effect as sunscreen. SPF products protect your skin from sun damage by blocking harmful rays, while baby oil welcomes these rays with open arms.

But what if you are especially careful to make sure you don’t burn? A little bit of tanning can’t be that bad, right? Dermatologists disagree.

“Though tanning is considered more aesthetically pleasing than a bright-red sunburn, the truth is that it’s still sun damage,” explains Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco, owner of VW Dermatology Clinic (opens in new tab).

According to Dr. Vergara-Wijangco, the negative effects of tanning with oil are:

  • Sunburn
  • Peeling
  • Dry, leathery skin
  • Sunspots
  • Heat rash
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Increased risk of skin cancer

So if you are thinking of using baby oil next time you sunbathe, think about the damage you could be doing to your skin. That tan might look great today, but it could lead to conditions that leave your skin looking and feeling unhealthy.

Always use SPF

When it comes to spending time in the sun, products with SPF are your friend. Baby oil has its hydrating benefits, but it’s a common misconception that it can replace sunscreen or sunblock.

“Baby oil is not your sunscreen if it does not contain specific SPF ingredients,” advises Dr. Chaudhry. Not only should you avoid swapping SPF for baby oil, but you also shouldn’t use baby oil in addition to sunscreen. In keeping your skin youthful and healthy, the key is to soak up fewer UV rays, not more.

That being said, there are some mineral oil products out there that have SPF qualities. “If your baby oil contains coconut oil, lavender, and almonds,” or mineral sunblock ingredients, “then it may be a good natural sunscreen alternative,” says Dr. Chaudhry. Just check the label to ensure it contains a minimum of SPF 30 if you’ll be out in the sun.

In this case, you’d be using the oil as a layer of protection, not a tanning agent. Some people avoid using sunscreen because of the harmful chemicals or due to allergies. Body oils with UV protection can be a good alternative if that is the case for you.

The pros of baby oil (but not for tanning)

We aren’t saying baby oil is the enemy. Quite the opposite! Experts all agree that you should avoid baby oil in the sun, but it has plenty of other skincare uses.

“Rather than using baby oil for tanning, if you have dry to normal skin type, you can use it as a moisturizer,” recommends Dr. Harris. “Baby oil is also non-comedogenic, which means this won’t clog your skin's pores, which helps prevent acne formation.”

“Most baby oils consist of ingredients like vitamin E, aloe vera, and mineral oils,” says Dr. Chaudhry. These ingredients can be great for your skin, as long as you use them in the right context. Apply baby oil right before bed so as to ensure you don’t get any direct sunlight afterwards. Or you can put it on areas of your skin that you don’t expect to get sun while you’re out and about.

The bottom line is: don’t use baby oil for tanning. If you choose to sunbathe, use sunscreen or sunblock, and save the baby oil for when you get home—even if it goes against your opinion on whether to use sunscreen or moisturizer first.

My Imperfect Life thanks Dr. Kim Harris of Prescott Medical Aesthetics, Dr. Ahmad Fayyaz Chaudhry of Scandinavian Biolabs, and Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco of VW Dermatology Clinic for their time and expertise.

Aleesha is acting deputy editor for My Imperfect Life, where she looks after the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. Previously she was shopping writer for woman&home and gained an AOP awards nomination after working on their news team. She earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London in 2017 and has since worked with a number of brands including, Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto. When she’s not testing new products, Aleesha spends her time soaking up the newest bestsellers and Netflix releases, exploring different wines, attempting new languages and (in non-COVID times) has been known to be a bit of a jetsetter after spending a year living in Madrid.