Buying Guide for Self-Tanners
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 have. 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 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 slough off dead and dry skin and ensures a better application.
Our Picks for the Best Self-Tanners
Bondi Sands Dark Self-Tanning Foam
A great self-tanner for medium to olive skin tones.
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 makes it easier to get a streak-free tan. Ingredients like coconut and aloe vera help boost hydration. While some self-tanners may leave a gray or greenish color during application, Bondi Sands dries to a medium tan shade, providing a natural-looking result. It even has a pleasant smell, making the self-tanning experience much more enjoyable. It goes on smoothly and can be easily blended, even if you accidentally miss a spot. It stays on the skin for up to two weeks.
Cons: This self-tanner doesn’t come 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.
Jergens Natural Glow Self- Tanner Face Moisturizer
Ideal for a gradual tan that looks natural while protecting your skin from the sun's harmful rays.
Pros: Jergens Natural Glow Face Moisturizer offers a gradual and subtle tan. It’s ideal for individuals who prefer a more natural and understated glow rather than an artificial or heavily bronzed effect. By using it once daily, users can achieve a natural-looking tan within approximately a week of consistent application. What sets this product apart is the added benefit of SPF 20. With this sun protection factor, Jergens Natural Glow Face Moisturizer helps safeguard your skin against both UVA and UVB rays, providing an extra layer of defense against sun damage. This dual-purpose feature ensures that you can enhance your complexion while simultaneously protecting it from harmful sun exposure. By opting for Jergens Natural Glow Face Moisturizer, you have the advantage of gradually developing a sun-kissed complexion that blends seamlessly with your natural skin tone. The inclusion of SPF 20 makes it a convenient and practical option for everyday use.
Cons: When applying this product on mature skin, users have noted that it may not distribute evenly, particularly if there are sun spots or dark spots present. The formula may have difficulty blending seamlessly into the skin, leading to an uneven or patchy appearance. Additionally, individuals with deeper skin tones have mentioned that the product tends to appear more orange rather than providing a natural bronze effect.
Bottom Line: If you want to deepen the skin tone on your face gradually, this product promises to do so in about seven days and is recommended for people with fair skin.
Beauty by Earth Self-Tanner Tanning Lotion
An easy-to-apply lotion-based tanner that can work on fair to deep skin tones.
Pros: This self-tanning lotion stands out for its ease of use and impressive results. Assuming you exfoliate your skin prior to application, it offers a seamless and hassle-free experience. The lotion formula glides smoothly onto the skin, ensuring even coverage and a streak-free finish. Users appreciate the simplicity of the application process, making it suitable for both beginners and experienced self-tanners. One of the key selling points of this self-tanner is its use of clean ingredients. It is formulated without dyes and toxins, giving peace of mind to those who prioritize clean and safe skincare products. Unlike some self-tanners that can result in an unnatural orange tint, this product delivers a natural-looking tan. The lotion formula is designed to be used on the entire body, including the face. This eliminates the need for separate products and allows for a consistent tan from head to toe. The inclusion of hydrating ingredients like shea butter, aloe vera, and botanical extracts ensures that the skin stays moisturized and nourished throughout the tanning process.
Cons: While this self-tanner offers many appealing features, budget-conscious individuals may find it slightly pricier compared to some other options available on the market. A mitt for application needs to be purchased 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 for self-tanner with colors that accommodate fair to deep skin tones.
b.tan Besties Bundle | Forever & Ever + Tanned Self Tanner Kit
A simple spray formula that allows for an easier application that doesn't require rubbing.
Pros: If you despise self-tanners that require a time-consuming application, look to this single-step spray-on self-tanner from Neutrogena. Just a small amount of product is sufficient to achieve an even glow, making it cost-effective in the long run. The spray application is extra convenient for the face. Ingredients like shea butter, aloe vera, and botanical extracts add to the appeal, providing hydration and nourishment to the skin. It also doesn’t transfer easily to clothing and lasts for a significant amount of time.
Cons: While this self-tanning product is generally well-received, it’s worth noting that there is a noticeable scent associated with it. While many users don’t find the scent unpleasant, it is acknowledged that some individuals may be more sensitive to it.
Bottom Line: This self-tanning spray receives high praise from users for its effectiveness, natural-looking results, lack of orange tint, and pleasant scent. Its ease of use and long-lasting formula makes it a favorite among those seeking a reliable self-tanning solution.
Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops, Dark (Bronzed Glow)
A gentle way to deepen your complexion with customizable drops that work well with your current moisturizer.
Pros: These self-tanning drops from Isle of Paradise let you customize your final results. Add drops to your moisturizer before applying it to your face and body. 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. Use four drops for a sun-kissed glow, eight drops for a golden tan, or twelve drops for a deep bronze without any orange hues. Users appreciate that the drops do not transfer easily to clothing and that the tan lasts for a decent amount of time. Additionally, the absence of a typical self-tanner smell is another positive aspect of these drops. There is no unpleasant scent associated with the product.
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: These drops are a popular choice among self-tanning enthusiasts since you can customize the number of drops you add to your favorite lotion. Plus, they can go on both your face and body.
Self-tanners may not be for everyone, but they’re a safer alternative to lying in the sun or a tanning bed and permanently damaging your skin. Whether you prefer a whole-body tanning product or a customizable solution that lets you adjust your tanning results, there’s a self-tanner with your name on it this summer.