Goes on evenly and dries quickly. Buildable color. Easy to apply. Hydrates for 48 hours after application. Doesn't stain clothing.
Takes a long time to dry. Not everyone likes the oil form.
Not as messy as lotions and mousses. Easy to apply in an even layer. Dries quickly and won't leave your skin feeling greasy. Use on face and body.
May need more than one towelette per use, so the product may not last as long.
Lightweight mousse that is easy to apply. Tan builds up gradually with use for a natural look. Dries rapidly. Applicator mitt included.
A few have complained that it left stains on their clothes.
Rich cream that easily absorbs into skin. Little scent. Natural-looking color. Hydrates your skin. Dries quickly. A little goes a long way.
May stain your clothes and sheets.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
A radiant, sun-kissed complexion doesn't have to come at the cost of healthy skin. If, like most, you’d rather avoid the risk of UV damage, wrinkles, and possibly even cancer, self-tanners can help you achieve a golden glow without solar assistance.
Modern self-tanners have come a long way from their overly orange predecessors and are formulated to deliver a much more convincing effect. And with the dazzling stream of tanning sprays, lotions, creams, and wipes currently flooding the market, application is more convenient than ever. If you’re ready to give your complexion a boost but could use a hand getting started, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ve embarked on a quest for gold and rounded up five of the best self-tanners out there for your convenience. If you’re ready to shop, check out the product list above for a quick selection. Need more information to help you find the right self-tanner? Our in-depth guide below will shed some light on the subject.
Unlike UV rays, self-tanners don't penetrate the epidermis but act only on the outermost layer of the skin. If you’re new to the world of self-tanners, the manner in which they work might just surprise you.
Most self-tanners rely on a natural sugar known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to safely impart a golden hue. Rather than actively staining or dyeing the skin, DHA reacts with the amino acids of dead skin cells on the surface of the epidermis to cause a browning effect. Typical concentrations of DHA range between 2% and 5%, with higher concentrations producing a deeper tan.
Because our skin is constantly renewing itself, the outer layer of the epidermis is routinely sloughed off. For this reason, the effect of a self-tanner generally lasts for only about four to seven days, and it will gradually lighten as your skin sheds dead cells. The overall shelf life of your sunless tan will largely be determined by your skin’s natural exfoliation process.
If you’re worried about applying a full-strength self-tanning lotion to your face, blend it with an equal amount of your regular face moisturizer first, or purchase a self-tanner specifically formulated for the face.
When it comes to selecting a self-tanner, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Today’s options are available in a variety of formulations that are easy to use. As long as a self-tanner suits your skin tone and is applied correctly, any formulation can yield enviable results. Choose a self-tanner that caters to your personal needs and preferences, but don’t forget to give the application method and your level of skill some thought as well.
If you're a beginner, this might just be the best place to start. Tanning moisturizers generally have significantly lower concentrations of DHA, allowing users to gradually build color over the course of a few days. As an added bonus, they also provide hydration for thirsty skin.
Most self-tanning sprays produce a fine mist. These work best for quickly and easily covering larger areas like the torso, legs, and back. When using a spray tanner, remember to hold the bottle about six inches away from your body. You might want to enlist the help of a friend for hard to reach areas like your back.
Most self-tanning lotions and creams are tinted with built-in color guides, allowing you to easily spot any gaps in your initial application. They also take a little longer to dry. While this affords you some extra time to blend and touch up, it also makes them a tad messier.
Soaked in just the right amount of self-tanning solution, towelettes leave little chance that you’ll apply too much. With fuss-free application that’s hard to mess up, self-tanning towelettes work well for touch-ups on the go. These are another good option for beginners, too.
Most mousses and gels have a lightweight consistency that spreads easily and dries quickly. This can make layering and contouring easier for experienced users, but beginners beware – the fast-drying formula gives you a considerably smaller window for blending.
Protect your eyebrows and hairline with a light layer of moisturizer or petroleum jelly to keep them from absorbing color.
Before you go ahead and grab that bottle of liquid gold, be sure to think about the following.
Even the best self-tanners can produce undesirable results if the strength isn't appropriately matched to your natural color. It’s an easy mistake to make – you want a deep tan, so you instinctively reach for the darkest self-tanner. Unfortunately, using a shade that’s worlds apart from your skin tone can produce a noticeably unnatural hue. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to choose a self-tanner that matches your existing skin tone. If your skin is especially fair, mistakes are more likely to stand out in stark contrast to your natural tone. You would do well to opt for a gradual tanner that builds color slowly.
Choosing a self-tanner that’s easy to use not only increases the probability of beautiful results but also makes those results easier to maintain. Being comfortable with the application method is vital if you want to achieve a consistently golden glow. While some prefer the quick coverage of spray self-tanners, others may appreciate the hands-on control of lotions or creams. Shop around for a self-tanner that works for you.
Many people reach for a self-tanner as a complexion booster when going on holiday or to a special event, and others incorporate the product as part of a regular beauty routine. Either way, we recommend purchasing a quantity that allows for at least two to three reapplications. Having extra self-tanner on hand will enable you to add another layer if necessary, and you’ll be covered should your tan wear off a little more quickly than expected.
Self-tanner prices can fluctuate drastically depending on the quality of the ingredients, the formulation, and even the brand. Costs aside, it’s wise to opt for a reputable tanning brand that’s known for delivering consistent results. On average, expect to pay from about $10 to $40 and more.
Inexpensive: If you’re on a tight budget, it might be tempting to reach for the least expensive self-tanner available, but you might want to take some time to look at user reviews first. Although some inexpensive options produce decent results, many self-tanners priced below $10 take longer to develop or dry, have a strong odor, or contain cheap ingredients that can irritate skin.
Mid-range: Many excellent self-tanners cost between $10 and $25. Often gradually tanning moisturizers cost a little less due to lower concentrations of active coloring ingredients. Provided these deliver most of the essentials you’d look for in a regular daily moisturizer, a lower price isn’t necessarily a negative reflection on quality.
Self-tanners tinted with built-in color guides make it easier to spot any areas you may have missed, but they can also be messy. Remember to protect your sheets and furniture with an old towel when using one of these.
Once you’ve selected the best self-tanner for your needs, it’s up to you to optimize the results. Follow these tips and you’re good to glow!
Read the instructions first. This is crucial even if you’ve applied self-tanner before. Formulations vary from product to product, and some you’re familiar with may change slightly every once in a while.
Exfoliate your skin first. Dry skin tends to absorb more color, which is why heels, elbows, ankles, and knees often end up looking darker. Exfoliate prior to applying a self-tanner and give these problem areas a little extra attention to help prevent dark patches.
Thoroughly dry your skin. To avoid accidental dilution and an uneven finish, thoroughly towel dry your skin and wait another ten minutes to allow any remaining moisture to evaporate.
Moisturize dry spots first. It may seem counterproductive to add moisture after thoroughly drying your skin, but remember those problem areas? Massaging a small amount of lightweight lotion into the skin on your heels, ankles, knees, elbows, and even around your nostrils can keep dry areas from becoming unnaturally dark.
Protect the palms of your hands. Use a mitt or wear latex gloves to keep your hands from absorbing too much color and turning orange. Alternatively, work in sections (legs, torso, arms, face) and wash your hands after each.
Start at the bottom and work your way up. You’ll have to bend over to apply self-tanner to your legs and ankles. By starting at the bottom, there’s no chance of developing darker patches or lines from bending over.
Use a little less self-tanner on your face: For a natural look, use a dime-size amount of tanner and start by dabbing it onto the prominent areas of your face that tan the fastest (chin, bridge of the nose, cheekbones, and forehead). Work your way out, using the leftover tanner on your fingers for the outermost areas rather than adding more. This will create a natural fade.
Q. Are bronzers the same as tanners?
A. Not quite. While both provide a sun-kissed look, bronzers are generally easy to remove while self-tanners offer a more permanent effect. If you’re feeling nervous about using a self-tanner, starting with a wash-off bronzer can help boost your confidence.
Q. Is there anything I can do to fix self-tanner streaks?
A. Sometimes self-tanning streaks happen despite your best efforts. Before you panic, try one of these damage-control methods:
Lemon juice: Lemon juice is a natural lightening agent. If your streaks are light, cut a lemon in half and rub it over the affected area. It might be enough to smooth things out.
Lemon juice and exfoliation: More stubborn streaks may require a bit of scrubbing. Soak an exfoliating mitt in lemon juice and gently rub the streaky areas. The combined acidity of the lemon juice and the roughness of the mitt work to simultaneously lift and even out color.
Lemon juice and baking soda: Baking soda doubles as both an exfoliant and a lightentening agent, and used alongside lemon juice it may work to lift dark patches.
Tan removers: These contain a mild form of bleach and are best reserved for emergencies. If you have exceptionally dark and hard to lift streaks, you might have to resort to using one of these.
Q. Can I shave after applying self-tanner?
A. It generally isn’t a good idea to shave or wax after applying self-tanner. More often than not, this ends up removing color and ruining the effect. Always shave right before applying self-tanner. If you’re waxing, do so at least 48 hours beforehand to avoid irritating the skin.
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