Beer is replacing tanning oil — TikTok trend gives new meaning to the term 'beer belly'

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published June 28, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Some people are pouring beer over their bodies as a replacement for tanning oil.

  • The hops in beer may have a slight effect on melanin levels, though this should be minor due to the high water content in beer.

  • Dermatologists discourage the trend, and discourage tanning in general without adequate sun protection.

Thanks to TikTok, having a “beer belly” has taken on a new meaning.

Rather than drinking a cold one to beat the summer heat, some people are pouring beer over their bodies instead. Users suggest the process is comparable to lathering-up with tanning oil, but could be a cheaper—albeit bizarre—way to get a summer glow. But does it work? And is it healthy?

Trend could increase your risk of sun damage

According to Peter Bailey, MD, a California dermatologist with more than 10 years of experience treating patients, using beer as tanning oil is unlikely to take your tan to new levels, but could increase risks of sunburn and sun damage, especially if partaking in the trend without other sun protection measures.

“Using beer as some sort of tanning oil and leaving your body exposed to the sun for an extended period of time will result in an increased risk of sunburn, and, in some cases, possibly sun poisoning,” says Dr. Bailey.

Because beer is typically more than 90% water, he adds that it may not significantly affect the skin, but forgoing sunblock will always put the body at risk.

What brewed up this idea?

The “beer tanning” trend comes from the idea that beer is made from hops, which has been found to activate melanin production in some situations.[] It’s unclear whether or not hops can have this effect after the brewing process, but proponents seem to think it’s worth the risk. Dr. Bailey calls the trend “laughable and frankly irresponsible,” albeit not totally baseless.

The rise of this trend potentially reveals that some young adults are desensitized, or unbothered by, the risks of skin tanning. A new study by the American Academy of Dermatology surveyed 1,000 18-25 year olds and found that 40% of respondents were unaware of tanning risks, ​​71% were unfamiliar with sunburn risks, and 59% believed in false claims about tanning, such as tanning is healthy or that a base tan could prevent sunburn.[]

When it comes to sun damage, educate early

These findings were particularly concerning to Jennifer Holman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with U.S. Dermatology Partners. Dr. Holman developed a cancer spot as a young adult, which she says is likely from sun tanning, and later became passionate about debunking tanning myths and educating young people on melanoma risks.

“It’s important for people to know that sun damage is cumulative, meaning that it adds up over time,” says Dr. Holman.

According to AIM at Melanoma Foundation, tanning outdoors or in tanning beds can damage the skin, increasing risks of sunburn in the immediate aftermath and/or skin cancer later in life.[]

People who experience one or more blistering sunburns under the age of 18 have twice the risk of developing melanoma later in life, according to AIM. With blistering risks, harms of accumulation, and more, it may be a good idea for doctors to talk to young patients about future consequences of vying for that summer glow—beer or no beer.

What this means for you

Some people are lathering their bodies in beer—yes, beer—as a new tanning trend. Dermatologists discourage the trend, maintaining that it is important for people to wear sunscreen, avoid extended time in the sun, and be wary of skin cancer risks.

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