Best Facial Self-Tanners

Updated November 2020
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Buying guide for best facial self-tanners

Lying out in the sun will leave you with a nice tan, but it’s also harmful for your skin. In fact, frequent unprotected sun exposure not only leaves you vulnerable to skin cancer but it’s also the fastest way to age your skin. Skip the sunbathing and tanning beds and opt for a safer alternative to achieving a gorgeous glow. Avoid clogging your pores or looking like an Oompa-Loompa with the right facial self-tanner.

The BestReviews team wants you to feel radiant all year round with a self-tanner that’s right for your skin tone and complexion. Our shopping guide covers everything you need to know about this beauty product, including tips on how to apply.

You can look like you’ve been basking in the sun all day long with the perfect facial self-tanner.

Use less self-tanner than directed. You can always apply more later if you’re unhappy with the results.

Types of facial self-tanners

All self-tanners contain an ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a skin-darkening agent that reacts with dead skin cells for a darker complexion that makes you look like you just returned from an island vacation. This ingredient is also the reason for the pungent odor of many self-tanning products. A DHA-based tan fades away more quickly than a natural tan, but it’s much less damaging to the skin.

There are a variety of facial self-tanner formulas available, and each has advantages and drawbacks. Here’s an overview of the different products you might encounter while shopping.

Spray or mist

These are incredibly easy to apply. A spray enables you to fine-tune your tan because it goes on in thin layers. Getting at hard-to-reach areas is also easier with a spray applicator, but precision will vary depending on the concentration of the spray. Applying facial self-tanner this way is refreshing, and since most sprays and mists are water-based, they’re suitable for oilier complexions.

Cream or lotion

Creams and lotions are useful for targeted application. Some formulas are thicker than others, and some users might not like the heavier consistency. Most creams and lotions offer hydration in addition to the tanning properties, but anyone with oily skin should be wary of using a thick, heavy formula that could clog pores.

Serums

In addition to tanning abilities, serums also feature anti-aging ingredients that help preserve the appearance of skin and reduce wrinkles. Serums are a great two-in-one option for those who don’t want to spend money on multiple products. It’s easy to mix a serum with moisturizer, but it can be used on its own as well.

Wipes

Wipes offer quick and convenient application on the go. These disposable cloths are easy to stuff into a bag or purse, and application takes mere seconds. Wipes typically don’t provide very intense results, so if you’re looking for an instant tan, choose a different type. Wipes are best used for getting a natural glow over a longer period of time.

Face masks

Self-tanning face masks are great for achieving an even application. In most cases, you have to sit down and wear the mask for at least ten minutes, so the application takes a little more time than other methods.

Bronzer powder

For anyone with very oily skin, a bronzer powder is an excellent alternative to the self-tanning options above. The powder is applied like a regular bronzer, but once you wash it off, it leaves behind a beautiful glow. However, it can be messy, and it isn’t for people with very dry skin.

Facial self-tanner factors to consider

Here’s what you should know before you begin your search for the best facial self-tanner.

Skin tone

Most facial self-tanner formulas range from light to dark. Darker formulas contain more DHA than products labeled “light” or “medium.” When you’re in a hurry to get that glam glow, it’s tempting to opt for the dark self-tanner thinking you’ll get faster results. But be careful. Choosing too dark a formula for your skin tone could leave you looking unnatural. If you have very fair skin, avoid products labeled medium and dark. Whatever your skin tone, if you’re new to self-tanning products, start with a thin layer of product. You can always apply more.

Skin type

Shop for self-tanner products according to your skin type.

  • Oily/combination: It’s a good idea to stay away from self-tanners that are thick creams and lotions unless they’re labeled as noncomedogenic.

  • Dry: Look for a self-tanner formula that moisturizes as well as tans. Overnight masks are a good option, too. Be careful when applying a product to patches of dry skin because dry skin soaks up DHA more readily than well-hydrated skin. If the self-tanner is poorly applied, your dry patches could end up looking more orange than tan.

  • Sensitive: Self-tanner serum is a great option for easily irritated skin. Drops of the serum can be combined with your favorite skincare products. Some facial self-tanners are specially formulated for sensitive skin types.
     

Scent

It’s tough to mask the chemical smell of the active ingredient in self-tanners, but some products do a better job of it than others. Pick a scent you can at least tolerate because the smell will linger post-application.

Other ingredients

Some facial self-tanning products offer more than just a glow in a bottle. If you prefer your beauty products to perform more than one job, look for self-tanners with multiple uses. Some have anti-aging properties, while others deliver a subtle shimmer to the skin. Some self-tanners contain SPF, so you get the results of being in the sun without the harm when you’re outdoors.

Facial self-tanner prices

There are plenty of facial self-tanners that cost less than $20, but the brand name will significantly affect the price of this type of product.

Formulas that contain anti-aging ingredients are also pricier than basic self-tanners and will cost upwards of $30 in most cases.

Tips

  • Exfoliate before applying a facial self-tanner. This helps you apply the product evenly.

  • Apply moisturizer to dry skin before applying self-tanner. Patches of dry skin could become darker more quickly. Applying moisturizer first helps prevent a concentration of pigment.

  • Don’t slather it on. Apply facial self-tanner lightly and slowly.

  • Apply self-tanner to places you’d naturally tan. Blend outward from there.

  • Be careful around your eyes. Don’t put self-tanner on your eyelids or eyebrows

  • Scrub your hands thoroughly when you’re done. This will prevent the palms of your hands from turning orange.
For those wanting a more natural hue, look for a formula that works gradually. Your skin will darken slowly as you use the product rather than overnight.

FAQ

Q. How long does the tan from facial self-tanner last?

A. In most cases, expect your bottle tan to last a few days. If correctly applied, some self-tanners can last up to a week depending on the formula.

Q. How often should I reapply facial self-tanner?

A. Applying the product every few days is appropriate for maintaining your beautiful glow.

Q. Should I still use sunscreen while using a self-tanner?

A. Absolutely. Some facial self-tanners include SPF. If the self-tanner is your main facial sunscreen, make sure it’s a product with SPF 30 or higher. A self-tanner is a great alternative to tanning in the sun, but unless it also contains sunscreen, you need to take active steps to protect your skin. If you’re outside all day, you’ll need to reapply sunscreen, too.

Q. Are self-tanners safe?

A. DHA, the active ingredient in self-tanners is FDA-approved. Using a self-tanner is much safer than sunbathing outdoors without sunscreen. Failure to protect your skin from the rays of the sun can cause skin cancer.

Q. Why do I need a different product for my face?

A. The skin on your face is much more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body. Facial self-tanners typically have gentler formulas to prevent skin irritation and adverse reactions.

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