Best Self Tanners for a Gorgeous Vacation Glow.

Best Self-Tanners for a Gorgeous Vacation Glow

Whether you want some color before you hit the beach or want to extend that just-back-from-vacation golden glow for long after you've returned to the grind, self-tanner is the answer. It's the safe way to get sun-kissed-looking skin without any of the major consequences that come with the sun's rays: burnt skin, signs of premature aging, like sun spots and wrinkles, and worse, skin cancer. (Of course, you'll still need to use strong sunscreen daily, and with constant reapplications, over your self-tanned skin.) While the risks of self-tanner are significantly softer than those of UV exposure (streaky limbs versus photodamaged skin), you still want to buy the right one for you. No one wants a self-tanner that makes their face the color of a Cheeto or turns their bathroom into an orange crime scene. Ahead, the best self-tanning products for a variety of scenarios and skin types. Lather up and get glowing—no UV damage required.

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Self-Tanner FAQs

How Does Self-Tanner Work?

The active ingredient in nearly all self-tanning products is dihydroxyacetone, or DHA. Found naturally in plant sources like beets and sugar cane, it works by creating a chemical reaction when it hits the amino acids and cells in the surface layer of human skin. The reaction creates pigments called melanoidins, and they make the surface of the skin temporarily appear darker than usual. The effect can start to appear within hours of using self-tanner, and typically begins to fade within a few days, as your skin starts shedding dead cells and producing new ones.

Two sets of legs in the water.

Is Self-Tanner Safe?

The FDA has approved DHA as a color additive. It is far, far safer than spending too much time in the sun without proper protection, when risks include dehydration, heat exhaustion, premature skin aging (sun spots, wrinkles), and skin cancer.

Of course, self-tanner is a skin product, and all skin is different. Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle, and avoid ingestion or application near the eyes. Additionally, when trying out self-tanner for the first time, it’s smart to do a small test patch. Using a cotton pad, rub a little of the product behind your ear, and leave it alone for 24 hours to see if it causes you any irritation or itchiness before you lather up your whole body.

Self Tanner with Organic & Natural Ingredients styled.
How Do You Apply Self-Tanner?

  1. Take a few steps to avoid streaking and staining during application. First, use a scrub or bath mitt to exfoliate all over your body. Gently sloughing off dead skin before self-tanning ensures a smoother application and helps the tan last longer.
  2. Once your skin is completely dry, begin to apply to one section of your body. Using either a tanning mitt or your hands, massage the product into your skin in small, quick, and circular movements. If you’re not using a mitt, wash your hands in between sections in order to avoid too much product sinking into your skin and turning your palms an undesirable shade of mango (a telltale sign of a self-tanning sesh gone wrong).
  3. Stuck trying to evenly apply to your back? There are a few options. You can try a tanning mitt band, a padded back wand, or, if you’re already using a tanning mitt to apply, you can simply attach it to a long wooden kitchen spoon or a long-stemmed loofah.
  4. Knees, ankles, and elbows are other tricky areas, since they tend to absorb more product. Dilute the self-tanner in those areas by gently rubbing a damp washcloth over them just after application. Alternatively, mix the self-tanner with a dab of moisturizer and apply the two together on these areas.
  5. All self-tanning products dry differently, so follow the instructions on the bottle. But in general, it’s smart to wait to put on clothing for 15 minutes following the application. Try not to sweat and avoid tight-fighting, light-colored clothing for about three hours after the application.

The Best Self-Tanners


Best Self-Tanner Overall

Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse ST. TROPEZ.

St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse

St. Tropez's foamy self-tanner checks all the boxes: the lightweight mousse dries quickly without staining, doesn’t stink like self-tanners of yore, provides skin with extra hydration, and lasts for days. If you're looking for a one-and-done self-tanner, make it this one.

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Best Self-Tanner for Beginners

Tan Towel Plus Self-Tan Towelette Half Body Application For Face & Body.

Tan Towel 

First-time tanner intimidated by the possibility of stains and streaks? We hear you. Tan Towel designed the perfect product for self-tan newbies. Just grab one of these product-soaked towelettes, glide it over your body, and watch the radiance turn up. The streak-free formula is buildable, so you can deepen your glow with subsequent applications.

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Best Self-Tanner for Face

St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist.

St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist

Every product in the St. Tropez self-tanning line is a winner—and this light facial mist with natural tanning agents is the gold medalist for giving a healthy, happy glow to your face and chest. As easy, pleasant, and refreshing to use as your favorite rosewater toner, the spritz delivers natural-looking color that develops in a few hours. Apply on moisturized skin for best results, either over or under makeup.

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Best Self-Tanner for Pale Skin


Lancome Flash Bronzer

Despite packaging that looks as bright and shiny as a new penny, this self-tanning body lotion from Lancome gives fair skin a subtle golden tint. In fact, Flash Bronzer works harder at correcting skin tone than it does darkening it—think of it like a foundation/self-tanner combo for the lightest of limbs. Another perk is that the product was specifically designed to stay on skin and not seep onto clothes, sheets, or towels.

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Best Self-Tanner for Body

Skinerals Californium Self Tanner.

Skinerals Californium Sunless Tanning Mousse

Chock-full of organic ingredients and far more lightweight than many of its competitors, this mousse from Skinerals is for people who want a clean and weightless self-tanner to slather over their limbs (so: everyone). 

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Best Gradual Self-Tanner for Face

COOLA  Sunless Tan Anti-Aging Face Serum.

Coola Sunless Tan Anti-Anging Face Serum

Gotta love a multitasker, right? Coola's tanning facial serum stars ingredients like argan oil, hyaluronic acid, and plant stem cells that work anti-aging wonders when applied as a nightly serum, while naturally-derived DHA gives you a gradual hint of color that will make your face appear a bit brighter and glowier.

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Best Gradual Self-Tanner for Body

TAN-LUXE THE GRADUAL Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion.

Tan Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion

Tan Luxe's streak-free lotion is contender for best self-tanner overall alongside St. Tropez; like our number-one pick, you can’t go wrong with this formula that builds over time so as never to look unnatural or out of place for your office mid-winter. Other perks? Tan Luxe's self-tanner gives dull skin just a touch of brightness, works to firm skin that has lost its bounce, and has zero trace of that distinctive DHA smell.

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Best Self-Tanner with Sunscreen

Australian Gold Spray Gel with Instant Bronzer SPF 30.

Australian Gold Spray Gel with Instant Bronzer SPF 30

We know you’re too smart to douse yourself in oil and head to the beach to cook like a roast chicken. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add a touch of bronze to your sunscreen. Take a cue from the Australians and reach for this easy-to-apply SPF 30 gel. It soothes parched skin and gives it just the right amount of caramel color, so you'll look like a natural on that beach chair. 

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Best Natural Self-Tanner

Beauty by Earth Self Tanner with Organic & Natural Ingredients.

Beauty by Earth Self Tanner

Thousands of online reviewers have heaped the praises on this vegan, cruelty-free, and all-natural self-tanner. With nourishing ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and green tea, it's a shoo-in for green beauty lovers wanting to add a little extra soothing moisture to their new glow.

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Best Self-Tanner Lotion

TAN-LUXE THE BUTTER Illuminating Tanning Butter.

Tan Luxe The Butter

This fan favorite is packed with hydrating products like aloe vera and raspberry seed oil, but it doesn’t just act as a self-tanning moisturizer—a cellutone complex and golden illuminators also help this rich-as-butter self-tanner improve elasticity and reduce the appearance of cellulite. 

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Best Self-Tanning Towelettes

Somerville360° Tanning Towelettes KATE SOMERVILLE®.

Somerville360 Tanning Towelettes

When Kate Somerville announced that the brand was adding self-tanner to its skincare line, beauty lovers the world over let out a collective squeal. The launch was well worth the hype: Kate Somerville's towelettes are extraordinarily easy to use and gentle enough for both face and body—perfect for anyone on-the-go and hoping to look like pure summer.

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Best Self-Tanner Mist/Spray

SEPHORA COLLECTION Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist.

Sephora Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist

Those who use this allover body spray from Sephora are treated to an instant pop of color. It’s formulated as a tint, not a deep tan, so it's a good choice for year-round use—think of it as the glow you might get from an afternoon sunning on the back porch, as opposed to a week lounging on a yacht in Capri. 

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Best Self-Tanning Oil

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops.

Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops

Self-tanning oil drops are the way to gradually get some color on your face without having to ditch your regular serum or moisturizer. These, from Isle of Paradise, come in three different shades: pick peach for a light tan that will enhance your natural rosiness, green for a medium bronze that will offset redness, and violet for a dark tan that will reduce sallow undertones.

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Best Clear Self-Tanner

Tanologist Water Medium Sunless Tanning Treatments - 6.76 fl oz.

Tanologist Express Tan Water Self Tanner

A few spritzes of this clear self-tanner is all it takes to get golden in as little as an hour. Available in three shades from light to dark and infused with vitamins, this vegan spray is made for people worried about staining their bathrobe orange.  

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Best Self-Tanner for Swimming

Vita Liberata Fabulous Self-Tanning Gradual Lotion.

Vita Liberata Fabulous Self-Tanning Gradual Lotion

Chlorine, salt water, and sweat won’t completely erase your self tan, but such elements can wash it out. To combat that fade, use a gradual tanner like this one from Vita Liberata in the days leading up to pool- or beachside fun. The bronze shade looks fabulous on most skin tones, and the lotion's super-hydrating ingredients (aloe, marula oil) make it feel like a moisturizer protecting your skin from sun and salt, rather than a self-tanner.

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Best Drugstore Self-Tanner

Jergens Natural Glow Revitalizing Lotion - 7.5 oz.

Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer

Jergens' tanning lotion has been a drugstore classic since the dawn of self-tanners. It's gentle enough to use daily but effective enough to give you non-streaky, natural-looking color. And like any drugstore gem, it's priced in the single digits—less than what you'll spend on that poolside margarita in your future. 

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