20 Best Self-Tanners for a Sun-Free Glow
Nail the bronzy summertime glow, but skip the sun damage.
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Get bronzed without leaving your house
For the sake of your skin health, it’s smart to avoid the sun and wear a super protective sunscreen every day. But you don’t have to give up a gorgeous glow, thanks to the best self-tanners on the market. These new formulations are different than the self-tanners of your youth. Packed with all sorts of good-for-you ingredients, some of them double as skin care and not a single one will leave you looking orange—as long as you choose the right one and know a few smart techniques for a streak-free, natural look.
Priming your skin
“Exfoliating before applying any self-tanner is a must for an even application,” says celebrity makeup artist Charlie Riddle. You’ll want to get well acquainted with the best body scrubs and face scrubs for this reason. “Also, get a good mitt. I love the Yvoier Self Tanning Mitt because it’s a really smooth micro fabric, and it also includes a back applicator, just in case you don’t have anyone to help you apply.”
Once the fresh skin is revealed, moisturize like crazy, especially on the tricky bits. “Always, no matter what, moisturize elbows, knees, hands, feet, and any severe dry patches using a non-oil-based lotion,” advises Sophie Evans, St. Tropez’s spray tan specialist. “These areas can develop six to seven shades darker, so moisturizer is essential to dilute the color and guarantee flawless, even results.” Of course, the best face moisturizers are also important, and you can even choose one with SPF to streamline your beauty routine.
Finding the best self-tanner for you
With so many formulations and shades on the market, how can you possibly choose? Easy—scroll through this list! We got the skinny from makeup artists and very picky online reviewers so you can find the best option for your skin tone, skin needs, and budget. You’ll be a glowing goddess, from head to toe, in no time.
Versa Spa Gradual Tanning Spa Butter
“Exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause your skin to age prematurely, leading to a loss of collagen, as well as to age spots and wrinkles,” says Jamie Greenberg, a makeup artist and self-tanning expert. Even just one sunburn can do serious damage to your skin, so you don’t want to mess around. This Versa Spa self-tanning lotion provides just the right amount of glowy goodness for a solid week without the side effects. The perfect all-over self-tanner for pale skin, it has a luxurious, whipped-butter texture that leaves skin silky soft, thanks to ingredients like green and brown algae and squalane. If you use it daily, your skin will achieve its deepest bronze in a week’s time.
- Rich texture
Loving Tan 2 HR Express Deluxe Bronzing Mousse
“The Loving Tan 2 Hour Express is amazing because not only does it work fast, but it also has a built-in instant bronze that’s really flattering,” says Riddle. “A lot of self-tanners out there look very muddy or olive green, but this one has a warmer hue, so it looks great instantly.” His clients also love how quickly it delivers results and that it’s one of the longer-lasting formulations out there, letting you bask in bronzey goodness for about 10 days. But one word of caution: This mousse can become very dark very quickly, so watching the clock is just as important as applying it evenly. Here are more secrets makeup artists wish you knew.
- Quick drying
- Long lasting
- Darker results
SOL by Jergens Sunless Tanning Water Mousse
Lightweight and foamy, this new self-tanner from beloved drugstore brand Jergens doesn’t disappoint. It’s also on the greener side of things, with tanning actives derived from natural sugars, along with hydrating coconut water and vitamin E. Riddle, who loves that natural glow this product provides, says that “foam formulations are great for the body because they dry very quickly and don’t feel sticky.” Plus, because this mousse is clear, it can be applied at night without the worry of color transfer. Pro tip: If you apply it before bed, the color develops while you sleep (as long as you sleep for more than four hours!), so when you wake up, you’re ready to get up and go. While you’re shopping for affordable beauty essentials, check out these incredible drugstore lipsticks under $10.
- No stickiness
James Read H20 Tan Drops for Face
Ask makeup Lisa Aharon, who has worked with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, if she has a favorite self-tanning product and you’ll receive an emphatic yes! “James Read Tan makes fantastic, easy-to-use products, but I really love his H20 Tan Drops for Face,” Aharon says. “They mix well with your favorite skin care and SPF and allow you to control your color gradually.”
This water-based formula couldn’t be easier to use or to control the level of tan you’re aiming for. Just pop as many drops as you’d like into your moisturizer, swirl it around, and apply as usual. Even better? This formula is packed with skin-boosting ingredients like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid, making it so intensely hydrating that on ultra-warm days, you could skip your moisturizer altogether. In the summer, you’ll also want these sweatproof makeup products for an effortlessly gorgeous look.
- Easy to use
St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
For self-tanning neophytes, Evans heartily recommends this “foolproof” product from St. Tropez, due to its helpful color guide and radically clear instructions. “Beginners should choose a self-tanner that will achieve a light or medium tan tone, because a deep bronze may take a little getting used to, so I recommend keeping it natural at first,” she says. “This Classic Bronzing Mousse features an amazing instant bronze that will adapt to suit every skin tone. You’ll immediately feel at ease because you’ll be able to see where you’re applying.” One of her biggest tips for beginners is to start with the legs to see the final finish because once you see how the tanner settles, it “will give you the confidence to tan everywhere.” That’s just one of the makeup rules you should know by the time you’re 40.
- Great for beginners
- Medium tone
- Comes with a color guide
Coola Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Face Serum
For a hybrid product that you can work easily into your existing skin-care regimen, try this organic anti-aging serum that doubles as a self-tanner. Just like regular face serums, this gel-like formula offers a blend of antioxidant-rich ingredients, including argan oil, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and plant stem cell cultures, for a healthy-looking glow and skin so soft and smooth, you’ll forget this is a self-tanner and not a stand-alone skin-care product.
“Apply a small amount to the palm of your hand and spread evenly onto clean, dry skin,” advises Chris Birchby, founder of Coola. “Allow two to four hours for your tan to fully develop. For a more gradual color, add two to three drops of serum to your moisturizer and apply daily.” Expect the tan to last around three days, though since the formula is so healthy, you can use it daily so you never have to give up a golden glow. Make sure you also check out some of the best body scrubs for the smoothest skin.
- 70 percent organic
- Skin-healthy ingredients
Supergoop! Healthy Glow Sunless Tan Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 40
Makeup artist Desiree Delia understands the power of combining a few products into one. “I like to use this self-tanner by Supergoop! because the built-in SPF is great for summer, even when I don’t have time to lay out and soak up the sun.” She says the formula “gradually deepens to a natural, buildable color,” making it one of the best self-tanners out there because it gives you that enviable faux glow and protects you from the real thing’s harmful rays. It’s also beloved by Aharon, who says it’s one of the best self-tanners for fair skin because the result is “subtle and very natural looking,” giving you a healthy, post-vacation vibe. Plus, it’s free of toxic ingredients like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances.
- Built-in SPF
- Buildable, natural color
- Great for fair skin tones
Cocoa Brown 1 Hour Tan Mousse
With vegetable-derived DHA, the key active ingredient in self-tanners that darkens the skin, you’ll only need to wait 60 minutes after applying this celeb favorite. The rich, foaming mousse formula goes on smoothly—which means no streaks—and it has a floral Tahitian garden fragrance, so there’s none of that fake tan scent left behind on your skin. You can it on longer to get a deeper “tan,” but it’s our go-to in a pinch. It’s also wildly popular: It’s also sold in 23 countries and was the official gifting partner of the Oscars. Here are more products with a cult following that are 100 percent worth it.
- Internationally popular
- Clean, green formula
- Smells fabulous
Kora Organics Gradual Self-Tanning Lotion
“For fair skin types, look for a self-tanner that promises an even application and a formula that is buildable,” suggests Delia. “This will allow you to practice applying the product, as well as understand what shade you prefer on your skin tone.” This nutrient-rich, slow-build tanner goes on like regular lotion, complete with clean, happy-skin ingredients like rosehip oil, seabuckthorn oil, and noni fruit extract, and blended with naturally derived DHA. The first application will provide a light, sun-kissed shade. To build to a deeper color, apply the lotion daily. If you love all things organic, check out these clean beauty brands.
- Clean, green formula
- Easy to control
M-61 PowerGlow Peel Gradual Tan
There are many roads that are best traveled slowly—and mastering a faux tan on your face is one of them. This skin care–packed facial pad adds just a hint of color each time you use it, plus exfoliating and clarifying heavy hitters glycolic and salicylic acid, which improves skin texture for a smooth, even, radiant finish. Not to mention, this easy-to-use peel combines several prep steps into one: cleansing, exfoliating, and then tanning. It’s an excellent choice to extend a tan you already have, as well as for self-tanning beginners, thanks to its do-it-all formula. Depending on your desired bronze hue, it could even replace your regular foundation. “If you’re looking to lightly even out your skin tone, it could work as a substitute,” explains Aharon.
- Powerful exfoliant
- Even application
- Good for beginners
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Glow Pad Self-Tanner for Face
Into the idea of a do-it-all self-tanning facial pad, but not into the idea of smelling like chemicals? Enter Dr. Dennis Gross’ odorless Glow Pad, which has all the power of the brand’s best-selling polishing treatment to banish uneven skin tone, in addition to microencapsulated DHA and soy proteins to leave skin the absolute perfect shade of sun-kissed. And we cannot overstate the importance of exfoliation prior to a self-tan application. “Exfoliating before self-tanning is important to ensure an even and long-lasting tan,” says Delia. “It removes dead skin cells and creates a smooth surface for the tanner. Skipping this step may lead to an uneven and blotchy tan.” Lucky for us, this two-in-one self-tanner makes it impossible to skip this essential preparation.
- Two-in-one treatment
- High-quality ingredients
St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist
A solid choice for all skin types, this super lightweight mist goes on clear, but don’t be fooled—it’s filled with 100 percent natural tanning agents. Its rinse-free formulation can be sprayed under or on top of makeup for a golden tan that subtly develops over the next eight hours. Our favorite part is the intoxicating waft of hibiscus extract infused with green mandarin water, which smells like a tropical vacation in a bottle.
Unlike many other self-tanners, you don’t have to shower after applying this one, but “you will have to avoid water going on the skin for about four to eight hours, so no heavy sweating or swimming until the tanner sets,” says Evans. She adds that since it’s a clear self-tan, there’s no “best time” to apply because it can easily fit into a jam-packed schedule: “It really just depends on what your plans are for that day.”
- No rinse needed
- Smells like vacation
- Excellent for dry skin
Josie Maran Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil
Supermodel Josie Maran knows a thing or two about making skin look luminous, and her self-tanning oil lives up to its “liquid gold” name. Free of synthetic fragrances and parabens, this nourishing blend of hydrating coconut water, calming aloe juice, and pure argan oil dries quickly while building to a medium caramel color over the course of four to eight hours. It comes with a fuzzy mitt, which makes it crazy-easy to apply and also protects hands from extra color deposits.
You can also use it anywhere on your body, including your face. “Oil formulas work best for the face,” says Riddle. “If you don’t want to wear a lot of face makeup, a self-tanner can help even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of dark circles.” If you need a bit more coverage, try these expert-recommended concealers.
- Doubles as makeup
Tan Luxe The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops
If you’re the type who wants to know exactly what shade you’re getting, these self-tanning drops are for you—because you create it yourself. Simply mix two to six drops (more drops equals a deeper tan) with your regular body lotion and apply as usual. “Tan Luxe products have really great ingredients that are very hydrating,” says Riddle, adding that he loves being able to mix a few drops with his favorite moisturizer instead of needing to change up his whole skincare routine. He loves this particular formula because it’s easily buildable and because it softens and firms skin, thanks to hydration boosters like raspberry seed oil, vitamin E, and aloe vera.
- Luxurious feeling
- Easy to integrate into your regular beauty routine
- Best self-tanner and skin care hybrid
Bondi Sands Liquid Gold Aero Aerated Self-Tanning Foam
This pillowy foam is light as air and smells like a freshly cut coconut, but it’s serious about delivering a golden-bronze tan within two hours. It’s touch-dry in 60 seconds flat, so starting with freshly exfoliated skin is key to a long-lasting and streak-free application. “Foams dry very quickly and don’t feel sticky,” says Riddle. “They’re great for the body when you’re putting back on clothes, or if you’re sleeping overnight in self-tanner.”
But heads-up that this product doesn’t come with a mitt, which is an application must, according to Delia. “Not only will this make the application smooth and even,” she notes, “but it will prevent you from staining the palm of your hands.” Don’t miss these other makeup secrets of women who always look put together.
- Nice texture
- Long lasting
- Fast drying
St. Tropez Self Tan Extra Dark Bronzing Mousse
This lightweight St. Tropez mousse is great for deeper skin tones, and you’re in the driver’s seat for how deep and dark you’d like your tan to be. Four hours will give a dark glow, while the full eight hours will provide an extra intense shade. And the best part? Despite being one of the darkest formulations out there, it doesn’t transfer, so your clothes and sheets are totally safe from those giveaway color traces. If you take the tanner a little too far, don’t worry. “An easy way to lighten your self-tan is to moisturize and exfoliate in the shower or soak in a bath,” says Dalia.
- Wide shade range
- Customizable tan
Tarte Cosmetics Brazilliance 2 HR Express Deep Foaming Self-Tanner
Ideal for medium skin tones looking to add a deeper color and dimension to their skin, this quick-acting foam develops into a coffee shade within two hours—max. Jojoba seed and coconut oils not only leave skin looking and feeling supple, but they also help the foam glide seamlessly onto skin, making the application easy-peasy, especially on a toasty summer day. “When it’s hot and humid, mousses and mists dry down in less than 60 seconds,” says Evans. Looking for an even darker shade? Apply it again at night, and then once again the next morning. The fast-drying actives will ensure that you don’t ruin your sheets or your clothes.
- Great for summer
- Quick drying
Clarins Self Tanning Instant Gel
Who couldn’t use a little radiance in the middle of winter? Luckily for us, self-tanning is in style year-round, and this fast-drying tanning gel from Clarins can be used daily to build your desired glow. “Gels and lotions are fantastic for drier, sensitive skin types, and have the ability to really nourish skin, which is perfect during colder, winter months,” explains Evans. With just one layer, you’ll get a natural-looking result, without any of the telltale signs of self tanner, like streaks or a hint of orange. If you need a little more hydration, try these hand creams with nearly perfect reviews.
- Streak-free formula
- Great for sensitive skin
Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Foam
With more than 3,000 five-star reviews on Ulta, this wildly popular foam is so easy to use, it’s nearly foolproof. Airy, tropical-scented, and bursting with all-natural, anti-aging ingredients like mango, fig, cocoa, orange, and lotus flower, it works to deeply hydrate, blur blotchy or uneven textures, and firm skin via the brand’s Cellushape technology. It’s also formulated with a green-gray base to ensure a completely natural-looking tan—no orange hues here!
- Natural shade
- Advanced technology
L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Milk
One of the best things about this classic self-tanner, aside from its unbelievably easy application, is that the texture is so soft, so velvety, and so smooth, you may not believe it’s real. Massage it onto skin one to three times a week, paying special attention to the knee, elbow, and ankle areas, for a gradual tan that is also intensely hydrating, due to heavy dose of vitamin E. Riddle recommends putting lotion on those tricky areas first so “they won’t absorb as much” of the product. Then, after application, “wash your hands, and take a makeup wipe and go back through on the knees, knuckles, and in between fingers” to make sure there aren’t any lingering, stubborn deposits.
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