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These Are the 7 Best Self-Tanners on the Market, According to Our Editors Who Tested Them

Yes, you still need sunscreen

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Dasha Burobina for PureWow

I am a self-proclaimed self-tanning expert. Throughout the years, I’ve tried everything from face-tanning drops to various lotions, oils and all of the mousses and mists on the market. That said, I feel qualified to offer my insights on the topic. Whether you’re looking for a deeper tan or just a light, sun-kissed glow, there are so many products out there, so, with the help of my colleagues, we’ll narrow things down for you.

The Self-Tanning Skinny

If you’re a newbie to self-tanner, it’s best to start gradually. Opt for a lighter shade of tanner (no more than one or two shades deeper than your natural skin tone) and make sure to carefully follow the instructions.  Once you get used to things, application is a breeze and you’ll learn your own tricks for making your tan even better. If you’re an everything shower kind of gal like me, this is my favorite night to tan. Freshly shaved legs and a full-body exfoliation leaves you with a smooth canvas for self-tanner. Instead of moisturizing your body before you tan, though, just apply a very light moisturizer over your driest areas like your elbows, knees, ankles and toes to help prevent any patchiness. I also recommend using a daily moisturizer after self-tanning to extend your glow. And while this might be obvious already, please don’t forget your sunscreen! Even with a faux glow or a “base tan,” you still need to protect your skin with ample SPF coverage.

How I Chose the Best Self-Tanners

PureWow editors tested seven popular body self-tanners and did a full wear test to consider the application process, the value of the product, how quickly it dries and of course, how long the tan lasts. It’s important to note that the color of these tanners will react differently with your own skin tone so the result may not look the same on you as pictured.

  • Application Process: 18/20
  • Longevity: 18/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 20/20
  • Scent: 17/20
  • Value: 19/20
  • Total: 92/100

Executive Managing Editor Catrina Yohay is obsessed with how lightweight and quick drying the Lux Unfiltered No. 36 Supernatural Tanning Mousse is. “[I] barely felt it at all! The product is a very light, airy foam, so it absorbed right into the skin without leaving behind any sticky residue,” she says. The golden tan takes about eight hours to fully process and should be applied with the mitt on freshly cleansed and exfoliated skin. The brand also suggests adding moisturizer to dryer areas like ankles, elbows and knees to avoid any orange patches. “I loved that they included helpful tips on the bottle and on their site (like only use two-to-three pumps per limb/area, apply in long strokes then blend in circular motion for the most even tan),” says Yohay.

After day three, Yohay noticed her tan fading lightly accompanied by a bit of patchiness around her ankles and feet. “By day four, I noticed some general fading and patchiness around my ankles/feet/toes as that skin got drier, but it wasn't so bad that I felt like I needed to scrub it off immediately. Overall, I was happy with how long it lasted and pleasantly surprised by how evenly and naturally it faded,” she shares. The scent has a citrusy undertone upon application, according to Yohay, but doesn’t last. “As the tan activates, the scent dissipates pretty quickly to the standard self-tanner smell (IYKYK), which is kind of a necessary evil but isn't my favorite,” she says. It doesn’t come with a mitt, so if you don’t have one already, you’ll want to include that in your purchase. While $48 is moderately pricey for self-tanner, Yohay says it’s worth it. “A little goes a long way…and the quality of the formula is top notch. I'd happily spend more on a product that gives me a seamless tan AND is easy to use,” she says.

Fast Facts

  • Tester: Catrina Yohay, Executive Managing Editor
  • Skin: fair, freckly, yellow undertones
  • Tanner Type: mousse
  • Application Process: 19/20
  • Longevity: 19/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 20/20
  • Scent: 17/20
  • Value: 18/20
  • Total: 93/100

If you’re already a self-tanning pro, try this foam. It applies very dark at first and can be a bit messy because it has a thicker mousse texture, but don’t be afraid of the initial shade. When you start blending, it will rinse right off! “When I first applied it, I was nervous about how it would blend out because the formula looked so dark and dirty on my skin, but after some gentle rubbing, it seamlessly blended out,” assures Associate Fashion Commerce Editor Stephanie Meraz. In fact, the darkness of the foam makes it super easy to see where it’s already been applied and where you’ve missed. The instructions for this tanner are standard, so if you’re used to tanning, you already know the drill: apply the foam with a mitt, right after a shower on freshly exfoliated skin.

After five days of wear, Meraz has yet to see any real fading. “I actually love how it almost develops into more of a natural-looking and deeper tan with each passing day. When I saw my sister over the weekend, she mentioned how tan my legs looked and was shocked to discover that it was fake,” she says. Just note, this formula is very fragrant, so those with sensitive noses should approach with caution.

Fast Facts

  • Tester: Stephanie Meraz, Associate Fashion Commerce Editor
  • Skin: fair, olive and red undertones
  • Tanner Type: mousse
  • Application Process: 20/20
  • Longevity: 18/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 20/20
  • Scent: 18/20
  • Value: 19/20
  • Total: 97/100

Our tester Allie Kukla claims that one of the best things about the St. Tropez Classic Bronzing Mousse is how a little goes a long way. “I usually have to drench myself in tanning mousse to ensure every inch of my body is covered, but with this, I was able to cover my whole leg in pretty much one pump,” she says. Having also used this product myself, I agree—and I’m several inches taller than Kukla.

“I’m a surgical resident, so I don’t have a ton of time for things like self-tanning, but because this dries so quickly, I’m able to pop it on after a shower and throw my clothes on almost immediately,” she says. Kukla mentions there’s the “typical self-tanner scent” with this foam, but that it “doesn’t bother her,” especially since you rinse it off after it’s done developing. This formula has a color guard so you can see it on your skin as you apply it, so you know exactly where you need to add more or touch things up. Note that this is not the color of the actual tan; it will look much better when it’s developed and washed off.

The tanner is made to adjust to your skin tone, so there is only one shade available, and it will deepen according to your natural hue. For the most even application and to avoid staining your fingernails or hands, it’s best to use a mitt when you apply this tanner. You can buy the tanner with the mitt together to start, and then just buy a refill of self-tanner when you run out. “My tan lasted for about four or five days after I first rinsed it off and then it began fading more noticeably. I had a little patchiness in my cleavage as it faded, but other than that, I didn’t experience any streaks or patching,” she says.

Fast Facts

  • Tester: Allie Kukla, PureWow reader
  • Skin: fair, red /pink undertones
  • Tanner Type: mousse
  • Application Process: 19/20
  • Longevity: 18/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 20/20
  • Scent: 17/20
  • Value: 20/20
  • Total: 94/100

This is my all-time favorite tanner for summer. In my experience, many tanning creams can be very patchy, but not this one. It blends like a dream and fades evenly, though it does tend to fade a bit faster than a mousse would. Still, it’s so easy to reapply that it doesn’t really bother me. I can see results within the first five hours, which is great. Ideally you want to apply the lotion before bed because the longer it marinates, the better.

I’ve never experienced any transfer on my sheets or clothing with this formula, too, but when you rinse off in the shower, some color will run down the drain. There are a couple different scents of tanner to choose from. I used the santal scent, and while my husband loves it, I think it’s a little heavy. As a final note, you’ll definitely want to wash your hands immediately after you apply the tanner, as it will set. Pro tip: I like to carefully wash and dry my fingers and palms and then rub the remaining product from my wrists and tops of my hands into my fingers and palms to disperse it more lightly to avoid any orangey hues.

Fast Facts

  • Tester: Olivia Dubyak, Commerce Editor
  • Skin: fair, pink/neutral undertones
  • Tanner Type: lotion
  • Application Process: 17/20
  • Longevity: 18/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 20/20
  • Scent: 17/20
  • Value: 16/20
  • Total: 88/100

These drops give the subtlest glow of the bunch. I’m a pretty fair-skinned person and I don’t expect, nor want, a huge dose of color when I self-tan, but the Tan Luxe drops are almost too light in my opinion. I used the medium/dark shade and diluted it with my moisturizer, as instructed on the bottle, and it left my skin a tiny bit darker. I ended up using it two days in a row to see if a second layer would make a difference and it didn’t do much. I am a fan of drops in general though because I can mix them in with my own moisturizer. If you’re someone who needs a color guard in the application, these may not be the best option for you. Even though the tan is barely perceptible with these drops, I liked how they faded gradually and didn’t leave me looking streaky or patchy. The drops smell quite strong in the bottle, but it settles down a bit when you mix them in with your moisturizer. Though, I do suggest using a fragrance—free moisturizer or you may end up with an interesting scent concoction. The other nice thing about tanning drops, as opposed to a mousse or a lotion, is you can apply them every day or every other day to keep up your color instead of waiting for it to fade, exfoliating and starting fresh. In sum, these drops have a very easy upkeep and are great for beginners or anyone who doesn’t want a ton of color.

Fast Facts

  • Tester: Olivia Dubyak, Commerce Editor
  • Skin: fair, pink/neutral undertones
  • Tanner Type: drops
  • Application Process: 20/20
  • Longevity: 20/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 20/20
  • Scent: 20/20
  • Value: 18/20
  • Total: 98/100

These vegan tanning drops get a rave review from PureWow Assistant Commerce Editor Natalie LaBarbera. She adds five drops to her moisturizer at night and says she wakes up with a sun-kissed glow. “[I] continued applying it for five days to maintain the color (which it did, and I loved that it didn't keep getting darker, but kept the shade I loved). After the fifth day, I stopped reapplying the drops and the color took about five more days, give or take, to fully fade,” she says. The product is also formulated with hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5 and aloe to further moisturize your skin. Not to mention, these drops are fully vegan and powered by DHA, a natural alternative for self-tanners.  “I like to do it at night after showering so I'd wake up with a nice glow,” says LaBarbera. She notes that there is no transfer to her sheets or clothing and that her skin doesn’t feel sticky afterwards.

Most tanners offer different shades to choose from, but the Suntegrity drops only have one option. Natalie describes her skin as fair with freckles, so if you have a darker or more olive skin tone, the depth of tan may not look as drastic. If you have a sensitive nose, this tanner may be up your alley, too, because Natalie says it barely has a scent to it. If anything, it ends up smelling like whatever moisturizer you decide to mix it with.

 Fast Facts

  • Tester: Natalie LaBarbera, Assistant Commerce Editor
  • Skin: fair, freckly
  • Tanner Type: drops
  • Application Process: 20/20
  • Longevity: 17/20
  • Stickiness/Sheet Transfer: 19/20
  • Scent: 16/20
  • Value: 18/20
  • Total: 90/100

Ideally, a tanning mist sounds like the best way to self-tan, right? Just spritz it on and *poof* you’re tan. Well, it’s almost that easy, especially if you use Iconic London’s Prep Set Tan. Our Senior Editor Dana Dickey loves this mist, but recommends picking up the brand’s  Tan and Buff Brush ($25), too, to make sure everything gets evenly distributed and buffed into your skin. “No tanner ever has to touch your hands! It's way easier than using a mitt, which always end up splattering my countertops when I'm taking it off,” she says. There are two shades of the mist available: Glow and Original. “The Glow shade is buildable and sheer, but even one quick spritz and buff all over evens out my legs. The tanner is tinted, so you see it right away, and it darkens in the next three-to-five hours,” she says. Dickey notes that her tan lasted about a week, but she did some intense workouts that made it fade more quickly because of the sweating; otherwise, it would have likely lasted her around 10 days.

The formula of this tanner is pretty standard as far as vegan self-tanners go, including ingredients like glycerin and DHA, as well as some hydrating and calming ingredients like green tea and cucumber. The mist is meant to leave the skin with a very effortless glow with some light shimmer, too. The mist is best applied at night or when you have the day to let it process because it takes several hours to fully develop. Plus, it has a sticky coating when you apply it. “The tanner takes an hour to lose the initial sticky feeling. I wear loose cotton PJs after applying self-tanner and it didn't rub off on them,” notes Dickey. As far as smell goes, if florals and sweet notes are your thing, you’ll probably love it. “It’s sort of flowery (there's camellia leaf extract in it) and coconutty even, a bit heavy for my preference, but I honestly don't mind it because it fades after a few hours,” says Dickey. The $30 price tag isn’t too hefty, and Dickey says the 2.53-ounce bottle lasts a long time, so in the grand scheme of things, you’re paying for a ton of product.

Fast Facts

  • Tester: Dana Dickey, Senior Editor
  • Skin: olive undertones
  • Tanner Type: mist

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Commerce Editor

Olivia Dubyak is PureWow's Commerce Editor and textbook Capricorn. She studied journalism at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but has gone from New York City to...

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