The Best Self-Tanners

Dosing bronzing lotion or tanning cream from a flask with a doser to a pink tan applicator glove.

Buying Guide for Self-Tanners

A woman's legs with a drop of self-tanning lotion.

Why buy self-tanner?

Self-tanner can be a great way to keep a bronzed glow year-round. It is a skin-safe alternative to baking under the hot sun or in a tanning bed; it can be significantly cheaper than spray tans. Plus, depending on the product you pick, you can gradually deepen your skin tone to look natural rather than forced.

What should you consider when buying a self-tanner?

  • Shade: To nail the perfect undetectable self-tan, you need to pick a shade intended for your current skin tone, not the skin tone you wish to be. Those with paler skin should select paler shades to avoid creating an obvious fake tan. Meanwhile, those with medium to olive skin tones can choose between medium or dark tanners because their natural shade gives them more flexibility.
  • Pigment Quality/Formulation: While user error has much to do with bad at-home tanning jobs, picking a product with inferior pigments is equally problematic. Streaky tans are often the result of poor application, but they’re equally possible if your tanning formula has a lower percentage of DHA. This naturally occurring molecule is crucial for tanning. However, DHA quantities can range from 1 to 15% in self-tanners. The higher the percentage, the stronger the color.
  • Natural vs. Synthetic Pigment: In most cases, brands don’t always disclose how much DHA is in their formula. For peace of mind, focus on sunless tanning brands with ECOCERT certified DHA ingredients. ECOCERT is a third-party agency with oversight that ensures that not only was DHA naturally derived but that it’s not from animal byproducts.
  • Moisturizing Ingredients: Dry skin and self-tanning do not go together. Even though you should always thoroughly exfoliate before performing an at-home tan, focusing on products that incorporate moisturizing ingredients like aloe leaf juice, jojoba oil, and even coconut oil can help moisturize your skin and prevent splotchy or streaky applications.
  • Quantity and Reapplication Frequency: Some sunless tanners are so perfect that all it takes is one application to reach your desired bronze level. But if you want a deep sun-kissed effect, you may need to reapply. So, consider how much product you get in the container versus how much is required to achieve a single level of skin tone shift. Additionally, pay attention to how frequently you can reapply if you want to shift several shades in a short period.

Why is exfoliation important before applying a self-tanner?

When it comes to cosmetic applications, dry skin is never good. Whether applying lipstick on flaky lips or sunless tanner on your skin, dry flakes tend to cause your skin to absorb product unevenly. For tanning, this can lead to splotchy, uneven applications, which are a dead giveaway that your summer glow is fake. Exfoliating helps to slough off dead and dry skin and ensures a better application.

Our Picks for the Best Self-Tanners

Pros: If you’re concerned about the ingredients in self-tanners, you’ll appreciate that this pick is certified vegan and cruelty-free by PETA. The foam formula also allows for more even application helping to reduce the chances of you experiencing streaking. Ingredients like coconut and aloe vera help to boost hydration, another must-have that ensures your tan looks even and natural.

Cons: This self-tanner doesn’t come standard with a mitt to aid in application. While Bondi Sands does offer more universal self-tanners that work for all shades, note that this is in the shade Dark, which means that it’s better suited for people who already have more color or someone with fair skin who’s determined to get a darker glow. Also, note that the color can take six hours to develop.

Bottom Line: Gentle ingredients and a relatively goofproof foam formula make this a solid option for people with medium to deep skin tones or fair people who love a bolder tan.


Pros: Not everyone wants an instant tan that screams, “I did this last night.” Jergens Natural Glow Face Moisturizer is the perfect way to gradually add the look of the sun to your face without advertising your efforts. This pick is designed for fair to medium skin tones and can be used once daily to create a natural tan in about a week. With SPF 20 infused, it helps to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Cons: This product may apply unevenly on mature skin, especially if sun spots or dark spots are present. Likewise, for deeper skin tones, this may appear more orange than bronze.

Bottom Line: If you want to deepen your skin tone on your face gradually, this product promises to do so in about seven days and is recommended for people with fair skin.


Pros: Assuming you exfoliate first, this is a great easy-to-apply self-tanner made from clean ingredients and won’t turn your skin orange. The lotion formula can be used on the entire body, including your face. Along with being free from dyes and toxins, this pick leverages hydrating ingredients like shea butter, aloe vera, and botanical extracts.

Cons: Budget-conscious tan fans may find this a pricier option than some of the other self-tanners in our round-up. This isn’t a kit, so you’ll need to purchase a mitt separately.

Bottom Line: If you want to avoid a streaky application and also want to ensure that you’re using a formula that’s not packed with questionable ingredients, Beauty By Earth is a solid choice with colors that accommodate fair to deep skin tones.


Pros: If you despise self-tanners that require rubbing and application steps, it is no simpler than this single-step spray-on micro-mist self-tanner from Neutrogena. The formula is designed with medium intensity and dries within five minutes of application for a final tan two shades darker than your current skin tone. Because of the spray formula, you’re less likely to experience streaking, and it’s an oil-free, non-comedogenic formula.

Cons: If you want a noticeable tan that shifts your tone significantly, this may not be a good fit, especially if you’re medium to deep before applying. Additionally, it’s packed with synthetic fragrances, which can sometimes be headache-inducing.

Bottom Line: Those seeking a fairly goofproof self-tanner will appreciate this easy-to-use spray-on tanner from Neutrogena that shifts your skin tone to two shades deeper and dries within five minutes.


Pros: Since not all self-tanners can be used on your face, it makes sense that you’ll want to invest in a face tanner that lets you customize your final results. These self-tan drops from L’Oreal do precisely that, thanks to your ability to adjust the number of drops you add to your pump of moisturizer before applying it to your face. Plus, hyaluronic acid in the formula can infuse moisture and prevent streakiness. Choose between a light radiant effect or a deeper bronze, depending on the number of drops you use.

Cons: The customization feature can be a blessing and a curse. It’s easy for a fair skin tone to accidentally shift too suddenly by applying too many drops, especially since this product is intended for repeated use. Those with mature skin may experience hyperpigmentation.

Bottom Line: If you crave customization, the ability to add fewer or more drops to your moisturizer for a gentle or bolder tan is going to be alluring.

Final Thoughts

Self-tanners may not be for everyone, but they’re a safer alternative to laying in the sun or a tanning bed and permanently damaging your skin thanks to harsh UV rays. Whether you prefer a whole body tanning product or a customizing solution that lets you adjust your tanning results, there’s a self-tanner with your name on it.

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