Updated: 2022, Mar 2

Spot the Difference Between Sunscreen and Suntan Lotion!

Learn how to spot the difference between sunscreen and suntan lotion.

With the summer months quickly approaching, many people are getting excited for long days at the beach and a beautiful summer tan.

Spot the Difference Between Sunscreen and Suntan Lotion!
Sunscreen And Suntan Lotion - What's the difference? Shutterstock Images

While a certain amount of sun exposure is healthy, excessive time in the sun without the proper protection can lead to sunburn, premature aging, and in severe cases, skin cancer.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that suntan lotion will protect them from the sun while at the same time, promote a deep dark tan.

This, unfortunately, is not true, and it is extremely important to understand the difference between suntan lotion and sunscreen before embarking on your sunny holiday vacation or heading out to the beach.

Suntan Lotion

Suntan lotion may contain minute SPF (sun protection factor) levels of 4 to 5, but this is not enough to thoroughly protect your skin from the sun.

Suntan lotion does not protect the skin at a cellular level, and it is specifically designed to enhance and encourage melanin production.

For individuals with darker pigmentation, a common mistake is to assume that darker pigmentation will not burn.

This is not true. While olive and darker toned skin tends to tan more easily, it can still burn with excessive sun exposure. Suntan lotions are designed to encourage a healthy tan while minimally protecting the skin, yet allowing sun rays to penetrate the lotion and create a nice tan.

While this all sounds good, it is important to note that spending day after day in the sun with minimal protection will definitely lead to darker skin, it can also lead to sunburn, peeling skin, dry skin, pre-cancerous moles, premature wrinkles, and blistering of the skin.

If you choose a suntan lotion over sunscreen, opt for an all-natural lotion that contains aloe vera and vitamin E, as these ingredients work to naturally protect the skin and encourage healthy skin cell turnover.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Additionally, choose a lotion with the highest SPF possible in the suntan lotion category.

The highest levels range between 5 and 7, and still allow for the sun’s rays to penetrate the lotion.

If you plan to spend several days in the sun, alternating between suntan lotion and sunscreen is a great idea.


Sunscreen differs from suntan lotion in several ways. It contains SPF levels that range from 15 onward and contains special ingredients such as zinc oxide that are specifically designed to protect the skin and block the rays from penetrating the skin.

It is a much safer choice than standard suntan lotion, but it is important to note that even high SPF sunscreens are not perfection.

There is still the possibility of burning, so it is important to re-apply sunscreen after swimming as well as every two to three hours.

Sunscreens are designed to protect the top layer of skin as well as the underlying epidermis, and this minimizes the possibility of sunburn.

Sunscreens that contain an SPF of 15 will still allow for minimal sun rays to penetrate the lotion, so this SPF factor is an ideal choice for individuals who wish to protect their skin yet still obtain a healthy sunny glow.

If you are looking for maximum protection, a sunscreen with an SPF of 40 or higher coupled with a sun visor or beach that will allow for optimal protection.

Suntan Oil

Suntan Oil is the most unsafe method when it comes to sun protection. Suntan oil contains an SPF level of 4 or less, in many cases, suntan oil contains no SPF at all.

Suntan oil is specifically designed for the purpose of tanning the skin, and it was extremely popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Unfortunately, many of the individuals who basked in the sun during this period are now spending thousands of dollars to reverse the sun damage and wrinkles that resulted in tanning outdoors with suntan oil.

Suntan oil does not protect the skin against premature aging or skin cancer, and in fair-skinned individuals, suntan oil can cause severe burns and blistering.

Unless you have a deep base tan and are only planning to layout for 15 to 20 minutes, the best advice is to stay away from suntan oil, as it simply is not worth the damage it can cause.

Read NextRed Skin Disease? And Which Sunscreen Is Best?


The environment of today’s world has created a much more dangerous situation when it comes to spending a day at the beach or spending the summer laying out by the pool.

While it is still important to get up to 15 minutes a day of fresh air and sun, any extended length of time in the sun without protection can cause irreversible damage.

When heading to the beach or pool, make sure to pack a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply vitamin E cream and aloe vera to the skin following sun exposure as well, as this will aid in healing the skin at a cellular level.

If you are looking to achieve a deep dark tan this summer, your best bet is to go the safe and natural way with an all-natural bronzing cream, as this will give you a lovely tan as well as nourish your delicate skin.

View All