Mental checklist for tanning session: At the salon (check), protective eyewear (check), indoor tanning lotion (check). So you're armed and ready to tan, right? Maybe. According to a Tan Responsibly online poll, applying lotion is what tanners want to know more about because, while the eyewear thing is pretty self-explanatory, tanning lotion is sometimes a mystery.

The Basics

Indoor tanning lotion is designed to amplify the effects of ultraviolet rays that a tanner is exposed to in a tanning bed, which enhances a tan and makes it appear faster and darker than it would without use of a lotion. To do so, ingredients in tanning lotions usually promote the production of melanin (the agent that controls skin pigmentation) or increase blood flow to the skin (which increases the amount of melanin that rises to the top layers of the skin).

Similarly, indoor tanning lotions moisturize the skin; helping to offset the drying effect of tanning and providing a skin base that attracts a greater amount of UV penetration.

Tingle lotions contain ingredients that increase blood flow at the skin level and are named for the tingling sensation a user generally feels after applying the lotion. Tingle lotion users tend to experience a slight reddening of the skin as a result of the increased blood flow. The effect of tingle lotions varies according to the user and some may find it uncomfortable, so use sparingly on the first few tries.

Many indoor tanning lotions also contain bronzers that provide immediate color and jump-start the tanning process.

Why Should I Use An Indoor Tanning Lotion?

Hands-down, the key to getting a great tan indoors is moisture—because properly moisturized skin absorbs UV light while dry skin reflects the light, making it harder to tan. Additionally, the properties in an indoor tanning lotion are designed specifically to enhance your tan, giving you faster results than tanning without one.

Can I Use A Generic Tanning Lotion?

Make sure to utilize lotions that are designed for indoor tanning, as they are specifically formulated to meet the needs of every stage of tanning. Similarly, buy those indoor tanning lotions from a professional tanning salon, which guarantees that you are receiving a quality product from a knowledgeable provider. Avoid using old lotions or those purchased from a drug store or unauthorized Web site because they cannot provide a product guarantee.

Additionally, indoor tanning lotions should not be used outdoors, because they offer no protection against the sun and their formulation means that the potential for overexposure is much higher when not used in the regulated environment of a tanning bed.

How Much Do I Need?

Indoor tanning lotions are available in multiple sizes-from sample packets designed for a one or two uses to large bottles that will last a while. Deciding which to buy is completely up to the individual, though it's usually a good idea to start small until you find a product you really like and will continue to use.

Tanning salon staff and skincare specialists are great sources to consult when searching for a lotion. It is their job to know the ins and outs of the products they are selling, which means they will be able to make suggestions about what lotion would be a good match for you and your skin type, at your stage of tanning.

Similarly, as your tan progresses, you will need different lotions (certain formulations are designed to generate a base tan; others work to deepen an existing one; others still are created to extend the life of your tan once you have achieved your desired color). Creating a rapport with salon staff will enable them to tell you when to try a new product and recommend certain lotions based on those you've used and enjoyed in the past.

The average amount of lotion used in one application is about 1 ounce, but this will vary according to your size and how much skin you are tanning. It is suggested that lotion be applied to coat exposed skin thoroughly, so use your judgment.

When Do I Apply?

Most tanners apply their lotion just before entering the tanning bed for the best diffusion of UV light, which helps the light penetrate a wider area of skin.

What If I'm Using Topical And/Or Oral Medications?

Use of indoor tanning lotion is not suggested in combination with some medications like Retinol and Retin-A creams or birth control pills. You should always consult a physician or your salon staff for a list of photosensitizing medications before tanning-indoors or outdoors.

Do I Need A Lotion After I Tan?

Keeping skin moisturized before, during and after tanning is the key to achieving the best results possible when tanning. There are a host of post-tanning products that help lock in moisture and enhance your results. These products are great because of ingredients specifically designed to deepen your tan, ultimately giving you better results.