I’m one of those people who want a year-round summer glow because it makes me look healthy, rested, and toned, even when I’m legitimately sleep deprived and haven’t done any strength training for weeks. But of course I want the beautiful bronze with no UV damage, and when I use self-tanner it needs to be as foolproof as it gets. While I have patience and attention to detail for most things, applying self-tan can be time-consuming, tedious, and a little stressful — and losing focus can have unfortunate, orange-tinged consequences.
Thankfully, in recent years there have been a number of innovative formulations that address long-held deficiencies in at-home artificial tanning. The best self-tanners are easier to apply, streak-free, long-lasting—and they don’t transfer to clothes or sheets. And many don’t leave behind that tangerine sting or weird smell that’s so repulsive. With expert guidance, reviews, and lots of personal experience, I’ve rounded up the best self-tanning products for a flawless fake tan.
Best self tanner overall
A classic self-tanner that creates a flawless natural glow
Best self tanner for face
A customizable tan that blends seamlessly into your beauty routine
Best self tanner for the body
A golden tan like you’ve just spent a week at the beach
Best gradual self tanner
An organic, easy-to-apply lotion for a sun-kissed glow
An inexpensive way to achieve a beautiful bronze
The best self tanning towels
An exfoliating self-tanner for streak-free colour
Best anti aging self tanner
A lather that leaves a sunless, youthful glow
Best moisturizing self-tanner
Gorgeous, vibrant color with a hydration boost
Best self tanner for beginners
A dry oil mist for an even tan without spots or streaks
What you should consider when choosing a self-tanner
Self-tanners have different uses, wait times, and undertones, and you should decide what works best for you. Some act quickly while others act gradually; some go clear and others are tinted. Here’s what to look for in the best self-tanner for you.
“Many of the popular self-tanners on the market use sugar molecules to naturally create a tanning response on the skin to mimic a tan,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian of the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “Common ingredients are DHA (dihydroxyacetone) and erythrulose. The higher the concentration, the darker the tan.” Because DHA can have an odor, most formulas use masking agents like coconut or vanilla to mask the somewhat unappealing smell.
Self-tanners are one of the beauty products that can be applied in different ways. Through trial and error, you can decide what works best for you. “You’ll find foams, gels, drops and creams, among other things,” says Nazarian. “I find that the options that use exfoliation as a first step and a glove for easy application generally give nice results with less streaking. Alternatively, those that have a gradual tanning capacity, like drops added to your own lotion, can slowly build up color on a daily basis and give a very natural look.