Does Olive Oil Help You Tan?

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “does olive oil help you tan?”. We will also highlight the effects of using olive oil to get a tan, the risks and safety issues involved, and how you can use olive oil safely for a tan.

Does Olive Oil Help You Tan?

Yes, olive oil can help you tan faster, but olive oil is not safe for tanning. In fact, no oil is safe for tanning. Experts might suggest that olive oil can increase the speed of tanning, but this is not necessarily a safe thing. 

You must remember that tanning, in any way or form, is just not safe. And neither is there any evidence suggesting that the application of olive oil on the skin can help minimize the risks associated with sun damage, such as premature aging, skin cancer, and burns.

How Does Olive Oil Help You Get A Deeper Tan?

Olive oil helps lower the refractive index of the skin. In simple words, oil allows light to penetrate the skin at various angles which would otherwise be reflected away.

When sunlight focuses on the skin, part of the irradiation is absorbed and part is reflected. While sunscreens reflect substantially UVA and UVB emissions on the skin, olive oil decreases the fraction of irradiation that is reflected. Olive oil, although not absorbing strongly in the UV region from 320 to 400 nm, has a high refractive index, which causes the sun emision to be even better absorbed (1).

This means that more ultraviolet rays from the sun will penetrate the skin, accelerating the production of the pigment melanin, which gives skin its distinct color. 

The melanins are a class of compounds, defined as pigments, of diverse structure and origin derived by the oxidation and polymerization of tyrosine in animals or phenolic compounds in lower organisms. Melanin is synthesised within melanocytes and transferred to keratinocytes in human skin, thereby regulating skin colour and protecting skin cells against UVR-induced damage (2).

In short, more melanin means darker skin and a deeper tan.

Can You Use Olive Oil Safely To Get A Tan?

Yes, but a fake tan! Who says you need to sit in the sun or a tanning machine for hours to get a tan? 

You can use it as a temporary bronzer, which is similar to putting on make-up every day. Topical sunless tanners are products that are applied to the skin to give the appearance of a tan. Commonly used ingredients for temporary bronzers include caramel, walnut oil extract, and jojoba extract (3).

Here’s how you can use olive oil along with coffee grounds to get a subtle tan without the risk of damaging your skin:

  1. Mix equal parts fresh or used coffee grounds with equal parts extra virgin olive oil. Leave the mixture for about five to 10 minutes.
  2. Wearing plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands, gently rub the mixture into your skin for several minutes. 
  3. Allow the mixture to be absorbed into your skin for at least five to 10 minutes before rinsing it thoroughly with warm water.
  4. Repeat this regime two to three times every week for a mild bronze tan and smoother, softer skin. 

TIP: it may not be safe to use olive oil to get a deeper tan; however, using olive oil AFTER spending time in the sun makes more sense and has more benefits. For instance, some experts suggest that the antioxidants and fatty acids in olive oil can help avoid the adverse effects associated with a tan, such as skin redness, dryness, and skin irritation.

Why Isn’t It Safe To Use Olive Oil For Tanning?

Short-term reactions to sunlight can be largely ascribed to UVB radiation. They include cholecalciferol (vitamin D) synthesis and, at higher UVB doses, the possibility of developing skin redness (erythema). Long-term effects of sunlight include different degenerative skin changes. The formation of actinic keratoses and skin cancer from epidermal cells are known examples (4). 

Here are the dangers of using olive oil to help you tan:

Skin Cancer

When ultraviolet light penetrates the skin, it forms free radical species. As mentioned, applying olive oil to the skin increases the number of ultraviolet rays that can be absorbed by the skin.

A dangerous amount of free radicals can alter the process of DNA replication, resulting in the formation of abnormal DNA and increasing the number of precancerous cells that, when exposed to the sun, turn into cancerous cells. 

Damage to the DNA occurs also directly through UV irradiation (Photodamage). Photodamage to DNA can further result in highly characteristic gene mutations in various critical genes, which is thought to be the first step in the induction of nonmelanoma skin cancer (5).

Simply put: using olive oil for tanning can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Premature Aging

Tanning also accelerates premature skin aging. Repeated exposure to high amounts of ultraviolet rays causes skin dryness, wrinkles, age spots (which are more obvious and larger than freckles), hyperpigmentation, and an overall leathery appearance of the skin. The loss of the skin elasticity is being ascribed especially to UVA producing reactive oxygen species (ROS) that activate different matrix metalloproteinases, which damage collagen and other dermal matrix proteins (4).

But Don’t You Need To Tan To Produce Vitamin D?

Not at all. While it is true that a certain amount of sun exposure is required by the body to naturally produce vitamin D, sitting in the sun for hours isn’t the way to go.

During exposure to sunlight, 7-dehydrocholesterol in the epidermis is photolyzed by UVB to previtamin D3, which is then converted to vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) by thermal isomerization. In the liver, vitamin D3 is hydroxylated to form 25-hydroxy-vitamin-D3, which in turn is transported to the kidney where it is converted into the biologically active form 1a,25-dihydroxyvitamin-D3 (calcitriol) (5).

You can usually produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D with just 10 to 20 minutes of mid-day sun exposure every day. And in winter, you can increase this amount by using supplements.

Are Natural Tanning Oils Safer Than Commercial Tanning Oils?

Surprisingly, no. Undiluted natural oils such as olive oil, cocoa butter, and coconut oil, along with petroleum-based baby oils are even more harmful than commercial tanning oils. There are two principal types of sunscreens produced commercially: preparations that contain organic chemical UV absorbers (tanning oils) and those that contain a dispersion of fine, insoluble inorganic particles such as titanium dioxide, which both absorb and scatter UV radiation (opaque sunscreens). It is generally accepted that organic UV filters have little or no effect on UV scattering (1).

Unlike commercial tanning oils and sunscreens, natural oils do not contain SPF (Sun Protection Factor) that protects the skin against UVA/UVB rays. Even if it is just a little amount of SPF 10 or SPF 20, it does provide some protection from the sun.

Conclusion

In this brief article, we answered the question, “does olive oil help you tan?”.We also highlighted the effects of using olive oil to get a tan, the risks and safety issues involved, and how you can use olive oil safely for a tan.

If you have any more questions or comments please let us know.

References 

  1.  Smith, Gerald J., et al. The Effect of UV Absorbing Sunscreens on the Reflectance and the Consequent Protection of Skin. Photochem photobiol, 2002, 75, 122-125.
  2. Mostert, A. Bernardus. Melanin, the what, the why and the how: An introductory review for materials scientists interested in flexible and versatile polymers. Polymers, 2021, 13, 1670.
  3. Garone, Michael, John Howard, and Jordan Fabrikant. A review of common tanning methods. J clin aesthe dermatol, 2015, 8, 43.  
  4. Moreiras, Hugo, et al. Visible light and human skin pigmentation: The importance of skin phototype. Experim Dermatol, 2021, 30, 1324-1331.  
  5. Brenner, Michaela, and Vincent J. Hearing. The protective role of melanin against UV damage in human skin. Photochem photobiol, 84, 539-549.