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People have been lathering up with baby oil for decades to bronze their skin. We know baby oil doesn't have any SPF, which means it can't be healthy to use in the sun; but exactly how bad is it? Well, for starters, you should know that there's no such thing as a healthy tan (even if you're wearing SPF, any form of tanning or sun exposure is bad for your skin). But is there a safe way to use baby oil for tanning? To find out the full details, we reached out to some top-tier dermatologists to get their take on tanning with baby oil.
Meet the Expert
- Michele Farber is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, where she specializes in skin cancer.
- Shari Sperling is a board-certified dermatologist at Sperling Dermatology, where she is also the founder.
- Susan Massick is a dermatologist and an associate professor in the Division of Dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
What Is Baby Oil?
Many of us have a bottle of baby oil tucked away in a cabinet somewhere, and the product sits on the shelves of practically every supermarket and drug store in existence. But we don’t often stop to think about what baby oil actually is.
For a bit of background, baby oil is made primarily of an odorless product called mineral oil, with a bit of fragrance mixed in. If you’re anything like us, you could probably spot baby oil’s distinct smell anywhere. When applied to your skin, baby oil sits on the skin’s surface rather than soaking in, and is known to soften the skin and help your skin retain moisture.
Why Is Baby Oil Used For Tanning?
Many people tan with baby oil because it can actually make your skin tan more quickly. The reason for this quicker tan is because baby oil helps attract and absorb UV rays, says Farber. The problem, and this is a big one as far as problems go, is that baby oil doesn’t offer any sun protection. “And sitting for long periods in the sun without any coverage is incredibly damaging,” Farber says.
Is it Safe to Use Baby Oil For Tanning?
You’re probably starting to realize that laying out in the sun while slathered in baby oil isn’t the smartest decision you can make for your health. Dermatologists strongly agree that it is not safe to use baby oil for tanning. In fact, they say that there actually is no safe way to tan. Tanning simply isn’t healthy.
“[Baby oil] can make you tan more quickly because it absorbs the sun better,” says Sperling. “However, it’s not worth the risk of damaging the skin and potentially developing skin cancer.”
Massick breaks it down in a pretty straight-forward way for us, pointing out that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70, approximately 1 American dies from melanoma every hour, and a single childhood sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer by 50 percent. “Sun exposure is cumulative, and chronic overexposure to the sun can damage the integrity and health of your skin, hasten the aging process, and can lead to higher risk of skin cancers," she adds.
Risks to Tanning With Baby Oil
Those are some pretty compelling reasons to ditch your tanning habit, right? Here is some further information on the specific risks you may encounter when using baby oil for tanning:
- Skin damage and pigment changes: UV exposure, which increases when you slather on the baby oil, will also stimulate melanocytes or pigment-producing cells. “This can cause unevenness in pigment, sun spots, darkening of moles, and exacerbation of existing pigment concerns like melasma,” Farber says.
- Increased risk of skin cancer: Baby oil attracts UV rays and allows them to penetrate more deeply, increasing your risk of cell damage and skin cancer. “People using baby oil may inadvertently burn faster and more easily before realizing they’ve suffered a sunburn,” Massick says. “With more sun ray absorption and deeper penetration of the more carcinogenic UVA rays, your risk of skin cancer may increase as well.”
- Premature aging: Unless you’re trying to fast-track the aging process, you’re going to want to put down the baby oil. Increased UV exposure through tanning (baby oil or not) causes collagen breakdown, increased wrinkling, sun spots, and thinning of the skin, Farber says.
- A higher chance of getting a sunburn: Baby oil can increase your risk of a burn. It’s important to realize a sunburn brings other problems in addition to pain, itchiness, and discomfort. A bad sunburn that covers a large portion of your body can require treatment from your doctor, and if the burn blisters, it can lead to scarring and an increased risk of skin cancer, Farber says. And that’s not all—sunburn can also cause dehydration. Again, not worth it, right?
Can You Wear Baby Oil Over Sunscreen?
All our expert dermatologists agree it’s not a good idea to wear baby oil over sunscreen, mainly because baby oil doesn’t contain any SPF protection and therefore won’t protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. “You’re kidding yourself thinking that mixing the baby oil with sunscreen will be more protective than baby oil alone,” Massick says. “Don’t mix your sunscreen with other oils, and don’t consider the baby oil as sun protective in any way.”
Layering baby oil with sunscreen can also be dangerous in that the layer of SPF may give you a false sense of safety, Farber says. It’s important to understand that baby oil is a distinctly different product than sunscreen. While broad-spectrum sunscreen protects the skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays that cause skin damage, skin cancer, sunburn and more, baby oil doesn’t bring you any sun protection at all.
There is no such thing as a safe tan—even if you're wearing SPF—but swapping your sunscreen for baby oil will only make matters worse. While baby oil does cause the skin to tan faster, using baby oil for tanning significantly increases your chances of premature skin aging and, more importantly, life-threatening skin cancers. There is absolutely no instance where anyone (of any skin tone) should use baby oil for tanning (and you should give up tanning altogether).