Self-tanners are the holy-grail products for everyone striving to get that perfect tanned glow on the skin year-round without the risks of tanning in the sun! Read all the way to the end to find out which are the best self-tanners on the market for every skin tone, as well as for the face!
In this article:
Our Picks of the Best Self-Tanners
Whether you are looking for the ideal self-tanner for the face or body, we have got you covered with our picks below, no matter your skin tone and type.
Best Self-Tanners for Light and Fair Skin
1. Kiehl’s Sun Free Self Tanning Formula
This easy-to-use self-tanner soaks into the skin quickly, providing a light, bronzey glow without splotches or streaks. It is excellent both for the face and body, and it’s perfect for anyone on the paler side, looking for a natural looking tan. The creamy formula is really beginner friendly! Unlike many other self-tanning lotions, this product smells incredible. The lotion is tinted, making the application easier overall. It is available at Nordstrom.
2. St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
St. Tropez has been making self-tanners for a long time, so it’s not surprising that this product is excellent. This self-tanner lasts the longest, often lasting over a week. It applies easily without a mess, although this amazing product does come with a bit of a smell. The classic color is perfect for anyone on the paler side, while those who already have naturally darker skin (or just want a serious dark tan), would prefer the dark shade. Both can be purchased at Ulta.
3. Tarte Brazilliance Maracuja Self Tanner
This sweet scented self-tanner is carefully engineered to avoid any of the pitfalls that occasionally turn what would otherwise be a good self-tanner into an unpleasant experience. It is extra moisturizing, and gives a light, natural tan. It works beautifully on the body, but it also works on the face. You pick it up at Sephora, where it also comes with an applicator mitt.
4. Vita Liberata pHenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Lotion
This lotion is one of the best self-tanners out there, because it is just so friggin’ long lasting. If it’s your first time trying a self-tanner, stay away, because if you don’t like the results… you’re in trouble. The tan it gives is subtle and natural, and the fadeaway is kind. While the price might seem steep, the long-lasting tan more than justifies it. You can buy it at Amazon.
Best Self-Tanners for Medium and Tan Skin
5. L’Oreal Sublime Bronze Tinted Lotion in Deep
This shimmery lotion is a perfect self-tanner for darker skin tones. It soaks in quickly, leaving behind a smooth, dark tan that can also be built up with daily use. The formula has some mica in it, so it’ll give your skin a bit of a glow on top of the tan, which looks instantly beautiful, even before the skin finishes darkening. Pick up this beautiful self-tanner at Ulta.
6. Fake Bake Flawless Darker Self Tan Liquid & Professional Mitt
This is another self-tanning product that comes with a mitt. This liquid spreads into the skin very easily, and sinks in fast. The smell is exotically coconutty, and the final result is dark yet natural. This is not the longest lasting of self-tanners, but it’s so easy to reapply that it is not a real issue. You can buy this self-tanner at Ulta.
7. St. Moriz Instant Self Tanning Mousse in Dark
This luxurious formula boasts an effortless application, and a green tint that guarantees a natural, non-orange tan. This self-tanner is excellent, especially for its price range, with almost no scent, and an even, long-lasting tan. You can pick up this self-tanning mousse at Ulta.
8. Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer in Medium-Tan
A great gradual tan for darker skin is not easy to find, but this formula does it. Even better, it’s a two-in-one, because it moisturizes the skin in addition to darkening it, and it will not break the bank. A few applications in a row, followed by semi weekly maintenance could keep your skin glowing all summer long. You can buy this dark gradual self-tanner from Amazon.
9. Clarins Liquid Bronze Self Tanner
Liquid self-tanner formulas are fantastic for the face, and this one from Clarins is a serious favorite. While the scent is a bit strong, it fades quickly, and is totally worth the natural bronze sheen it provides. This formula is buildable, and it can be very easily applied with a cotton pad, instead of with the hands or gloves. You can buy it from Nordstrom.
10. COOLA Sunless Tan Anti Aging Face Serum
A sunless tan can be organic, and in this case, it can also be an incredible skincare product. It is loaded with anti-aging and hydrating ingredients like vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, and it doesn’t have an icky self-tanner scent. It sinks into the skin easily, and gives an even, buildable tan that does not streak. You can purchase this incredible self-tanning serum from Sephora.
11. Lancome Flash Bronzer Self Tanning Gel for Face
If breakouts are one of your concerns as far as self-tanners go, this might be the perfect one to try. This light, gel formula seldom causes acne, but it still keeps the skin fresh and golden toned. It gives streak-free color, but it might require multiple applications if you’re hoping for a very dark tan. You can purchase this self-tanning gel at Amazon.
12. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pads
If you’ve been following my writing, you know that I adore chemical exfoliants, like glycolic and salicylic acid. We have also already established that exfoliation is super important for an even fake tan. That is why I think these self-tanning pads are so cool – they give a perfect tanned glow to the face, and they also keep dead skin from building up and getting in the way of that gorgeous tan. This product comes in a wipe (20 wipes per box to be precise), so you know that it is super-easy to use. You can pick these up at Sephora.
Self-tanning products come in different formulas, finishes and colors, so take the following aspects into account when shopping for the best pick for your own skin type, tone and needs!
Your Skin Tone
It might seem obvious, but your average Snow White shouldn’t be using the same bronzer as a naturally olive-skinned beauty. For those with pale skin, the wrong self-tanner might make you look blotchy or orange. For those with naturally medium to tan skin, a self-tanner that is too light will simply not do much. That is why many brands have the same self-tanning formula, but at different strengths.
Finding a self-tanner for people of color is a little harder, since the chemical reaction often isn’t strong enough to make a difference. The deeper self-tanner shades, like St. Tropez Dark available at Nordstrom, and L’Oreal Deep from Amazon, both can give a subtle darkening, and a more even skin tone.
Many people with darker skin, however, opt instead for wash-off products, like the NARS Monoi Glow I, from Sephora, which gives already dark skin a beautiful bronzy sheen.
Self-tanners come in a few different forms, and choosing the right one is a simple matter of taste. Once I explain the differences between different kinds of self-tanners, you can decide for yourself which formula is best for you!
These are the most common self-tanners! These creams are quite traditional and self-explanatory. You simply rub the lotion into your skin, and allow it to do its magic.
Self-tanning lotions are usually quite good for beginners, and do not have a learning curve, although they do have the potential to get messy. They can be very moisturizing to the skin, which definitely helps keep a fake tan looking gorgeous.
Self-tanning mousses are not very different from self-tanning lotions, but they have a really lovely texture. Airy and creamy, they are very easy to rub into the skin. Like lotions, they are a great choice for beginners and experts alike.
Liquid self-tanners are a mixed bag. They dry very quickly, which can be good or bad depending on how long it takes you to apply them. For some, they might dry before there’s been a chance to adequately rub them in, but for others, this certainly cuts down on your wait time.
Unlike self-tanning lotions and mousses, they are not nearly as moisturizing, and are much better for those who don’t have dry skin.
Self-tanning sprays are a little harder to use, but they have some serious benefits. If you can get a friend to help, they might be well worth the effort.
Their formula usually dries faster, and once you get over the learning curve, their application is much faster because they don’t require nearly as much rubbing in (if any). Since the spray can get everywhere, it is better to apply it either in a totally enclosed shower that you can rinse clean right after, or to apply it outdoors.
I have a little bit more information on self-tanning towelettes in our guide to self-tanning, but long story short: self-tanning towels are disposable towels soaked in a self-tanning liquid. They are very easy to use, but perhaps a little bit wasteful.
Photos via Sephora, Nordstrom, Instagram