Best tan accelerators for sunbeds or outdoor tanning to help give you a sun-kissed glow

To optimise the tanning process

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Ellie Davis19 December 2023
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My sun-deprived skin is feeling the effects of (what feels like) a lifetime of winter.

If this drawn-out cold has revealed anything about my personality, it’s that I suffer dramatically from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I need regular bouts of sun exposure to lift my mood and more often than not, London falls short.

Regular jaunts to far-flung sun-soaked destinations may just be the only solution (budget allowing), but if you’re looking to make the most of the vitamin D fix and get real bang for your buck where the holiday glow is concerned, you’ll be interested in what a tan accelerator has to offer.

What is a tan accelerator?

Tan accelerators come in many forms. You have the lotions and potions that you apply while you’re in the sun to maximise the bronzing benefits of the UV rays (all while remaining protected with SPF to prevent the ageing UVA and burning UVB respectively from resulting in premature skin ageing). Or you have the prep or post products that encourage a more long-lasting tan, whether that’s from the beach or the bottle.

How do tan accelerators work

Tan-Luxe founder and CEO, Marc Elrick explains, “There’s an active derived from the carob tree called Tanositol that a lot of people use in sun accelerator products. It increases your melanin production to tan faster”. This ingredient has the ability to activate, intensify and prolong tanning. This makes them ideal for those who struggle to tan naturally with moisturiser-like consistencies to hydrate the skin at the same time.

For fake tanning, tan accelerators prime the skin for the formula that follows, encouraging an even application and a more natural-looking finish. The post products are hydrating to give more longevity, while also ensuring that it fades in much the same way as a real bronzing session would.

Are tan accelerators safe? Can you use tan accelerator with sunscreen?

As is the case with all sun tanning, there’s a risk from ultraviolet radiation. This has been linked to premature skin ageing and, at the most serious end of the spectrum, melanomas. But these products may actually be beneficial if they limit your exposure.

Elrick says “I have mixed feelings on it, because if you’re spending less time in the sun and you get the tan that you want, then great but only if you’re protecting with SPF. I am a big believer in safe sun”.

It is important that tan accelerators are always layered up with SPF if you’re sitting in the sun.

Do tan accelerators work

Specialised ingredients have the ability to build up melanin production to give a natural radiance without the streaks, biscuit aroma or orange hue typically associated with fake tan. That being said, innovation in the faux glow space means that you can get fresh-from-the-beach luminosity without needing to step foot in the sun.

Elrick stresses this, “I just think that self-tanning is safer factually, scientifically, and medically. Obviously, a little bit of vitamin D is great for energy levels and there are so many health benefits, but I believe there is so many mental health benefits associated with self-tan”.

He adds, “You just feel a different energy. I like giving people the confidence they get from holidaying without the damaging effects of the sun and all year round”.

How to use tan accelerator

Most tan accelerators are applied in much the same way as your typical moisturiser. Layer it onto your limbs where the creamy texture is easily blendable. I can’t stress this enough, follow with SPF. To maximise the effects, start using in a couple of weeks before your trip.

Shop the best tan accelerators below

Coco & Eve Tan Activating Body Oil

Coco & Eve

Minimise your sun exposure but maximise your tan with this latest launch from Coco & Eve. The forward-thinking hair and skin label has created this body oil product. Before you conjure up images of factor 3 oils that were all the rage in the 90s and 00s, this takes a different approach, infusing SPF30 to shield against UV damage - but there’s more.

The formula includes a unique tan-boosting peptide complex that boosts bronzing and is set alongside antioxidant-rich ingredients like watermelon seed oil guava, pineapple and vitamin C. It has a delicious mango scent that will have you craving a cocktail as you soak up the sun's rays.

Buy now£28, Cult Beauty

James Read Tan Accelerator

James Read

A cult brand in the fake tanning space (the Sleep Mask Tan Face is one of our holy grail products), James Read is taking it one step further with this formulation. It was created to speed up the natural tanning process with ingredients to stimulate melanin production. The lotion has a deeply hydrating formulation with aloe vera, hyaluronic acid and monk pepper contained within that up the moisture levels to offer lasting power for your post-sun complexion. It can also be used before applying your false tan for a deeper hue.

Buy now£32, Niche-Beauty

Comfort Zone Sun Soul Cream Gel Tan Maximiser

Comfort Zone

You may recognise the typography of this product from your haircare routine. Skincare label Comfort Zone was founded by the same group behind Davines who boast such heroes as the OI Oil Anti frizz oil for dry hair.

This formula has been created in order to optimise your tanning ability. It is made using 85 per cent natural-origin ingredients that are kind to the skin and the planet, imparting moisture to your skin without any nasties or greasy residue. The cream-gel texture quickly absorbs and intensifies tanning with a specialised Biomimetic peptide DNA-defense, anti-ageing Acetyl Tyrosine and protective Acerola extract to counteract premature ageing.

Buy now£21, Sephora

Gatineau Tan Accelerating Lotion


Preserve the fresh face post-holiday glow for as long as physically possible with this moisturising lotion from Gatineau. It has the tan accelerating effect thanks to the triple action effect of nourishing, soothing and the inclusion of a melanin activator that stimulates the production of the colour-giving pigment.

Moisturisation comes from the trio of vanilla pod extract, grape seed oil and vitamin E, while there’s also a fine line-fighting ingredient known as Mélatogénine - the brand’s signature trademarked component that encourages cell renewal. Apply this before and after sun exposure to protect, hydrate, calm and counteract burning.

Buy now£49, Sephora

Elemis Tan Accelerator Supersize


You can always rely on Elemis to put a luxury twist on your beauty practices. The British label is offering a supersized version of its Tan Accelerator so you’re never without its hydrating, tan-prolonging properties.

There’s a powerhouse combination of shea butter, macadamia nut oil, jojoba oil and tyrosine that is intensely nourishing and so easy to swap in for your traditional body lotion to aid natural tanning. Use all summer long (followed by SPF) to treat your skin to the utmost hydration and leave it soft, supple and primed for a golden glow.

Buy now£55, Elemis

Ultrasun Body Tan Activator SPF 30


Ultrasun is known for its sun-protective products that are created to make the application feel less of a chore with easily absorbed and non-greasy textures. This tan accelerator comes as part of the range and should be a staple part of your warm-weather skincare routine to ensure your limbs are protected with SPF30.

While shielding from potentially harmful rays, the combination of ingredients works to hydrate, counteract sensitivities to the sun and thanks to the inclusion of tan-enabling bronzyl within the formulation, stimulates the production of melanin - by 40 per cent in 10 days according to the brand.

Buy now£28, Space NK

Lancaster Golden Tan Maximizer After Sun Lotion 400ml


This may just be the secret weapon in your tanning arsenal. Luxury SPF label Lancaster’s tan accelerator is made to be used after you’ve lounged in the sun in order to keep your skin in tip-top condition for a rich, golden and enduring tan.

The inclusion of Buriti oil which comes as part of the label’s signature Tan Activator Complex ensures that your bronzed hue is maintained. It’s a milky lotion texture that applies effortlessly all over the body for a soothing effect to counteract peeling and leaves a delicate fragrance behind.

Buy now£35, lookfantastic

Skinny Tan Pre Tan Primer

Skinny Tan

To prepare the skin, whether you’re heading abroad or to the bathroom for a top-up of fake tan, this is an exfoliating formula that smoothes out the skin to get it ready for the glow to follow. It uses walnut shell that buffs away dead skin cells and encourages hydration to be better absorbed. An important step for a flawless finish.

Buy now£19.99, lookfantastic

OUAI St. Barts Scalp and Body Scrub


Incorporating a body scrub into your pre-tanning rituals is a way to give lasting power to your bronzing by creating a smooth, blank canvas. This has not always been a pleasant experience with harsh exfoliants providing microtears in the skin, but no longer.

Jen Atkin, the stylist behind some of the best hair in the biz, is offering this full-body head-to-toe scrub (yes that includes the scalp) that offers a gentle but effective buffing experience using plant sugar. This is set with skin-friendly coconut oil and in this limited edition St Barts iterations, one of the most addictive aromas on the market. The fragrance has notes of dragonfruit, orange blossom, tuberose and baltic amber that bring the holiday feeling, whether you’re home or away.

Buy now£36, Cult Beauty

Isle of Paradise Prep it Self-Tan Priming Spray

Isle of Paradise

The base layer you need to fortify your false tan for the long haul, enter Isle of Paradise’s Priming Spray. The mist is enriched with vitamins that have a pH-balancing effect and provide a radiance boost through light-reflecting particles. Go liberal with the spray and you’ll never look back.

When it comes time to remove the tan, look to the label’s Over It Self-Tan Eraser.

Buy now£14.95, Cult Beauty

Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Tanning Lotion


One of our favourite hacks is to employ a gradual tanning product into your post-holiday care to give it longevity and a more natural appearance. This hydrating formula is one of the best on the market, providing a lightweight lotion that is softening and conditioning for dry limbs but offers a natural-looking glow. It starts to develop in just an hour and due to the moisturising properties is a more fool-proof way to achieve an even, streak-free tan.

Buy now£25, Cult Beauty

St. Tropez Gradual Tan Watermelon Firming Lotion

St. Tropez

Best for: a sun-kissed glow

Skin looking grey, pallid and devoid of any healthy sun-soaked glow? Enter this gradual fake tan from St Tropez. The moisturiser-tan hybrid will help build a natural-looking luminosity to counteract ray-starved complexions - no “you’ve been Tangoed” moments here.

It builds in around four to six hours with a medium colourway that can be deepened with more layers and hydrates at the same time with hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Instead of that traditional biscuit aroma, the luxury tan label has enriched its product with a watermelon scent.

Buy now£18, Cult Beauty