Can you use olive oil to tan?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you use olive oil to tan?”, and what to expect when you use olive oil for tanning?

Can you use olive oil to tan?

No, you can not use olive oil to tan. Let alone olive oil, you cannot use any oil for tanning because tanning is not considered a safe practice. Exposing the skin directly to the UV rays of the sun leads to the formation of free radicals. Solar UV-B (280–320 nm) and particularly UV-A (320–400 nm) radiations have a capacity to generate reactive chemical species, which have been shown to be involved in skin aging, skin wrinkling and cancer (2).

These free radicals are highly unstable due to the presence of an uneven amount of electrons. They react easily with other molecules, causing oxidation and other harmful chemical reactions in your body.

The free radicals cause DNA mutations and lay the foundation for the precancerous cells. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanning outdoors or tanning in bed increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Melanoma is much more common in whites than in other ethnic groups. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing melanoma is about 2.4% in Caucasians, 0.1% in Blacks, and 0.5% in Hispanics. The risk of melanoma increases with age. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 60. Melanoma is approximately 1.5 times more frequent in males than females. It has been shown that the incidence rate does not significantly differ until the age of 40, however, after age 75, the incidence becomes almost three times higher in males compared to females. In addition, the frequency of its occurrence is closely associated with the constitutive color of the skin and depends on the geographical zone (1). 

You might have heard that the polyunsaturated fats in olive oil can fight the harmful effects of the free radicals. But there is no scientific truth behind this theory.

However, recent reports indicate that both orally administered and topically applied vitamin E prevents the UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis in mice. The effect of several antioxidants has been tested in UVA irradiated human skin fibroblasts, suggesting that vitamin E and vitamin C are potential photo-protectors and it has been reported that olive oil application exerts a protective effect against UVB-induced murine skin tumors (2).

Does olive oil help you tan?

Tanning is sun damage simplified, no matter how it is carried out. Tanning can lead to sunburn, peeling, dry and leathery skin, sunspots, heat rash, hyperpigmentation, and an increased risk of skin cancer (2).

Tanning hastens the aging process. The application of olive oil on the skin, like any other oil, tends to make the tanning process quicker. 

But olive oil tends to clog your pores due to its viscosity and leave a nasty smell behind. No matter what type of oil you use, you are inviting the UV rays to damage your skin. 

Skin benefits of olive oil sans sun

Apart from speeding tanning, olive oil provides enormous benefits to your skin in the absence of sunlight. For example, olive oil prevents pressure ulcers, gives you soft and smooth skin with a flawless sheen that is ascribed to its polyunsaturated fat content and phenolic compounds.

The effectiveness of olive oil on wound healing has been investigated in several studies. In general, olives have antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties and, therefore, can facilitate the repair of epithelial tissue, which is effective in the wound healing process. A wide range of studies has shown that the phenolic compounds in olive ointment have anti-inflammatory effects, protective effects on neurons, anti-aging effects, and cell repair properties (4).

What to expect when you use olive oil for tanning?

Using olive oil for tanning is a risky business. Olive oil leads to a quick sunburn in some people with more sensitive skin. Therefore, if you notice redness on your skin, get in the shade and wipe the oil from your skin. 

Can you combine olive oil with sunscreen?

You should always wear sunscreen when you go out on the skin. Experts recommend using at least an SPF 30 sunscreen to protect your skin against sun damage.

All the chemical-based sunscreens contain at least one of these active ingredients; avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, and octocrylene.

These active ingredients need to fully penetrate your skin for them to work efficiently. If you wear sunscreen over olive oil, the sunscreen will not be effectively absorbed into your skin.

Your best bet is to mix a mineral sunscreen with olive oil but the effectiveness of this hack is not backed by any scientific evidence. You can also use a mixture of your moisturizer and olive oil before you wear the sunscreen. Vitamin E, β–carotene, vitamin D, and fatty acids present in the olive oil offer considerable benefits when added to preparations (6).

The active ingredients present in mineral sunscreens are zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Both of these minerals physically block the UV rays of the sun.

Can you use olive oil for sun aftercare?

Since olive oil is a rich source of antioxidants and fatty acids, it may be helpful in the sun aftercare. For example, it can help soothe skin redness, sunburn, calm irritation, and help get rid of the dryness.

Studies have shown that the application of olive oil after tanning helps reduce skin tumor growth. However, more scientific research is needed to prove the effectiveness of olive oil in reversing sun damage.

In a study, extra-virgin olive oil was applied topically before or after repeated exposure of mice to UVB. The onset of UVB-induced skin tumors was delayed in mice painted with olive oil compared with UVB control mice. In addition, results indicate that olive oil topically applied after UVB exposure can effectively reduce UVB-induced murine skin tumors, possibly via its antioxidant effects in reducing DNA damage by reactive oxygen species, and that the effective component may be labile to UVB (5).

Olive oil vs coconut oil 

Researchers have found that some plant oils contain natural sunscreens. For example, sesame oil resists 30% of UV rays, whereas coconut, peanut, olive, and cottonseed oils block out about 20% (6).

Olive oil vs baby oil 

Baby oil, like any other oil, speeds up the tanning process. But it also tends to clog your pores. Baby oil is not a wise option for tanning because it lacks SPF and does not provide any sun protection. However, although mineral oil does not resist any UV rays, it helps to protect skin by dissolving the sebum secreted from oil glands, thus assisting evaporation from the skin (6).

Recipes for DIY self-tanner

 Herbs and herbal preparations have a high potential due to their antioxidant activity, primarily. Antioxidants such as vitamins (vitamin C, vitamin E), flavonoids, and phenolic acids play the main role in fighting against free radical species that are the main cause of numerous negative skin changes. Although isolated plant compounds have a high potential in protection of the skin, whole herb extracts showed better potential due to their complex composition (6).

You can mix olive oil with other ingredients to enhance its ability to protect against sun damage. These ingredients are rich in powerful antioxidants and include green tea avocado oil, raspberry seed oil, wheat germ oil and carrot juice, etc.

Carrot juice, iodine, and olive oil solution


  • 5 drops of iodine
  • 1 tsp. carrot juice
  • 5 oz. olive oil


  1. Mix everything to make a lotion.
  2. Massage it into your skin and let it penetrate.

Other FAQs about Oils that you may be interested in.

Can you use oil in an instant pot?

Can you use olive oil in ceramic pans?

Can you make a cake with olive oil?


In this article, we answered the question “Can you use olive oil to tan?”, and what to expect when you use olive oil for tanning?


  1. Apalla, Zoe, et al. Epidemiological trends in skin cancer. Dermatol prac concep, 2017, 7, 1.
  2. Jung, K., et al. UV-generated free radicals (FR) in skin: their prevention by sunscreens and their induction by self-tanning agents. Spectrosc Acta A Mol Biomol Spectrosc, 2008, 69, 1423-1428.
  3. D’Angelo, Stefania, et al. Hydroxytyrosol, a natural antioxidant from olive oil, prevents protein damage induced by long-wave ultraviolet radiation in melanoma cells. Free Rad Biol Med, 2005, 38, 908-919.
  4. Taheri, Mahdiyeh, and Leila Amiri-Farahani. Anti-Inflammatory and Restorative Effects of Olives in Topical Application. Dermatol Res Pract, 2021.
  5. Budiyanto, Arief, et al. Protective effect of topically applied olive oil against photocarcinogenesis following UVB exposure of mice. Carcinogen, 2000, 21, 2085-2090.
  6. Korać, Radava R., and Kapil M. Khambholja. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation. Pharmacog rev, 2011, 5, 164.