Anybody else who wants to know the secrets of tanning lotions?

Of course you already  know that you will get a better color when tanning in a solarium (and also outdoors) if you use a lotion than if you are tanning without. But do you really know what you are putting on your skin and what makes a good lotion a good lotion?

Read on and I will reveal to you the secrets of tanning lotions hidden by most lotions-makers. Secrets that will guide you next time you are buying a lotion either for using yourself or for sale in your salon.I am sure you have some time wondered about the huge difference in price between different lotions. And maybe asked the question: Is an expensive lotion really better than a cheap one?

The answer is: YES, but sometimes the difference in price doesn't correspond to the difference in quality.

Let us look at how the price of a lotion is made up and see what secrets of tanning lotions are hidden behind the price tag.

The price of a lotion is decided by the following factors:
1. Cost of Design, Ingredients and manufacturing.
2. Cost of Marketing and Branding
3. Cost of Distribution

And here is the first of the secrets of tanning lotions: The real quality of a lotion is decided only by the first part – Cost of design, ingredients and manufacturing. OK you can always argue that a known brand adds a psychological “quality-value” to the price, but this is only a perceived value, not a real one.

Does this mean that the two other cost-items are without value? – No, of course not. If you are running a tanning business you need a chain of distribution in order to get the lotions to your salon. And you need some marketing in order to make your chosen lotions known among your customers. You just want to feel certain that the marketing and distribution costs outside of your control are optimized for your needs, because I am sure you are not very interested in paying for a large, sometimes world-wide, overhead which doesn't benefit your local business.

Now, let's have a more detailed look at the first part of the costs, the design, ingredients and manufacturing, which, according to experts, makes up not more than about 10% of the total retail price. It is here we will find more secrets of tanning lotions, well protected by most manufacturers.

In order to reveal those secrets, we must look a little bit closer on the list of ingredients. Here are some basic principles:

Regulations in most countries demand the list of ingredients to start with the one that makes up the largest part of the content and finish with the one with the smallest percentage.

Take a look at the list of ingredients on the lotions on your shelf (or in the shelf of any store selling lotions) and you will most likely see “Water (Aqua)” as the first ingredient listed. This means that you are holding in your hand a lotion based on water and – here is another of the secrets of tanning lotions – If “Water” comes first in the ingredient-list there are at least 50% and very often (for cheaper lotions) more than 80% water in the formula! The cheaper the lotion – the more water.

After the water in the list of ingredients, you will probably find a long list of difficult to pronounce chemical names and only towards the very end there will be some words you might recognize from the kingdom of plants. Those are normally the “active” skin- and tan- care ingredients. And here is another of the well-kept secrets of tanning lotions: The percentage of active ingredients in lotions are rarely above 15% and most often below 5%! And again, the cheaper the lotion the less portion of active ingredients.

This leads to the question “What am I really paying for when I buy a lotion?” If you buy a lotion based on water, the answer is – mainly water. You pay only a small part of the total price for the active skin- and tan-care ingredients. Here are some examples:

Lotion 1 (a premium brand professional skincare body-lotion, not optimized for tanning):
Volume:200 ml; Retail price: 82€; Active ingredients:6.45%; price per ml active ingredients:6.36€

Lotion 2 a) (a premium brand tanning lotion from USA), a) (when sold in Europe)
Volume:200 ml; Retail price: 120€; Active ingredients:14%; price per ml active ingredients:5.00€

Lotion 2.b) (same as 2.a but sold in USA) (Here you see the effect of expensive distribution!)
Volume:200 ml; Retail price: 60€; Active ingredients:14%; price per ml active ingredients:2.50€

Lotion 3 (a cheap European tanning lotion)
Volume:200 ml; Retail price:15€; Active ingredients:3%; price per ml active ingredients:2.50€

But, you might now think, if those are the facts for most lotions, from premium as well as low-cost brands, how can I find the best lotions and how can I “see-through” the marketing-hype that surrounds every brand in order to use those secrets of tanning lotions that I just have learned?

To answer that, let's have a look at

Lotion 4 (a premium brand lotion from USA based on Aloe-Vera and with optimal distribution cost):
Volume:200 ml; Retail price: 87€; Active ingredients:62%; price per ml active ingredients:0.70€


Lotion 5 (a less expensive lotion from USA based on Aloe-Vera and with optimal distribution cost):
Volume:200mL; Retail price: 20€; Active ingredients:87%; price per ml active ingredients:<0.12€

So here is another of the secrets of tanning lotions revealed – A really good tanning lotion is based on Aloe-Vera, one of Mother Nature’s best moisturizers. This also means a dramatic difference in the price you pay for active ingredients and turns even a seemingly expensive lotion into a bargain.

As salon-owner you might now say: “This sounds good, but if I and my customers are happy with the lotions I sell today, why should I change?”

Yes, agreed, most people are satisfied with the status quo as long as they haven't tried anything better.

So after having revealed the most important secrets of tanning lotions, let us summarize the options you, as tanning business-owner in Europe, has:

1) A European lotion which contains less than 4% active skin- and tan-care ingredients for some 15€ per bottle (~2.50€ per mL active ingredients). This or a similar kind of lotion is also sold by most of your competitors and doesn’t give you much profit per bottle/packet.

2) An American lotion containing from 5 to 15% active skin- and tan- care ingredients for 30 – 140€ per bottle (~5.00€ per mL active ingredients). Such lotion might be considered very “high-end” in Europe because of a price inflated by an unreasonable high distributor markup, but is, when comparing its price in the USA, not very special. Even if you sell less amount of this lotion you will although make more profit from each sale than from lotions in the first group above. But your profit margin is probably not very high.


3) An American brand of lotions containing more than 60% active skin- and tan- care ingredients for 20 – 86€ per bottle or 2.80 – 6.80€ per packet (less than 0.70€ per mL active ingredients in the bottle). Because of their high quality, those lotions will also feel better to use and to sell than any other lotion. Due to less competition and a large difference between your purchase- and sales-prices, they will also give your salon the best profit.

Obviously, if you and your customers value good skin- and tan- care, choosing the last option ought to be easy.

Now you might ask: “Why should I buy an American lotion when I can buy those made in Europe and maybe even here in my own country, so much cheaper?”

In case this question not already has been answered above, let's look at some other facts.

The market for tanning lotions in the USA is more than 10 times larger than in Europe. Most producers in USA make large volumes and benefits from volume-of-scale cost-savings.

Unfortunately for the European tanners who care about their skin, the markets for tanning lotions in North-America and Europe have developed in two different directions. In USA and Canada, most tanners still demand, and are ready to pay for, lotions with a rather high content of skincare. In Europe on the other hand, lotion-manufacturers are pushing lower and lower prices, which, by default, means less and less amount of good skin-caring ingredients. And that is why no European brand has been really successful in USA.

You are proud of your salon and want to offer the best products but today you offer cheap, low quality lotions. It is like being a Mercedes dealer but only offering accessories made for Trabants or Russian Ladas.

If you see the promotions for cheap European lotions, of course they don’t advertise that their products mainly contain water and that the share of active skin- and tan-care ingredients in most lotions is less than 4%. Instead you see phrases like “With 12 different bronzers!” or “With powerful antioxidants for maximum skincare”, which hopefully is true but you will not see is what ought to be the continuing: “Which makes up only 0.05% of the total amount of ingredients“.

If you break the habit and try a better lotion, you will soon see the difference in results. Skin will be better moisturized and signs of aging reduced. Tan will appear faster and stay longer. After you have put on a good lotion, you will not feel like you immediately want to run to the shower and wash it off. You and your customers will feel the change and if you are a salon-owner, you will attract new satisfied customers and your business will flourish.

This post is also available in: Dutch French German Polish Russian

7 thoughts on “Secrets of tanning lotions revealed”

  1. Lester Kallevig

    Spring is here and I can’t hardly wait to hit the water – that was a great post, drop by for a visit if you get some time.

  2. oh just be careful with tanning lotions because some of them are cancerous too, avoid using chemical based tanning lotions ..

  3. I had no idea how the price of a tanning lotion product can be broken down to such a detailed extent. Thanks for sharing. Jen

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