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Even if you don’t have vacation plans on the horizon, you can still look like you had a glorious beach getaway. After all, the only safe tan is one that comes from a bottle, so you can keep your skin healthy while going for the bronze. Tanning formulas have come a long way, so you don’t have to worry about stinky, streaky formulas. To help you get a natural looking, foolproof faux glow, we turned to the ultimate pro, Sophie Evans, St. Tropez Skin Finishing Expert, to answer all your burning questions about the best self-tanners and how to apply them.
The best way to apply self-tanner
The key to a great tan is what you do leading up to application — it’s all about prepping the skin beforehand. “The better condition your skin, the better your tan will look and last,” Evans says. She recommends starting by exfoliating your entire body with a non-oil-based scrub. Avoiding oils is key because they can be left on the skin and prevent self-tan from developing. Make sure all products and old self-tan have been removed so you have fresh skin to work on. Do any waxing 24 hours before tanning to allow your hair pores to settle and prevent a spotty application. Only apply moisturizer to problem areas: the knees, feet, back of the heels, elbows, hands, back of the wrists and any severe dry patches like eczema or psoriasis. These areas have a tendency to develop about seven times darker due to the skin being more transparent, thicker and drier. Never moisturize the whole body, as that will dilute the self-tan.
When you’re ready to get started with the application process, be sure to use a tan applicator mitt to prevent your hands from staining. “I love the St.Tropez Luxe Double Sided Applicator Mitt,” Evans says. “You will find it easier to start tanning the legs first. Apply to the lower leg using about two pumps of a lotion or mousse and glide the self-tan on, stopping at the ankle then blending over the knee, keeping the moisturizer on the knee in place. All you have to do, no matter what formula you use, is make sure the skin is covered. You can never, ever use too much self-tan as the skin can only absorb a certain amount of tanning agent.” It’s always easier to use more than less as you can glide the self-tan over the skin with ease. Lack of product and over rubbing can result in streaks, since you’ll keep lifting the self-tan on and off the skin.
Evans explains that all a self-tan needs to do is sit on top of the skin so the tanning agent can be absorbed and develop evenly. The areas to be more careful with are the hands and the feet. Using the excess tan on your mitt, glide over the feet, ensuring the tan is perfectly blended. Make sure to blend in between the toes, then take a cleansing or baby wipe and clean the nails and cuticles to prevent staining.
Finally, take a pump of moisturizer and blend from the back of the heel up the crease and also over any severe dry patches like calluses; this will ensure your tan is perfect, natural and totally seamless. Next, tan the thighs, bottom, torso and arms, leaving the hands to the very end. Work in sections using a two pump per limb rule. Tan the hands the same as the feet, using the excess to fade from the wrist, blending in between fingers and down the sides. Take a cleansing or baby wipe and wipe all nails and palms. Wait about 60 seconds before applying the mitt to the tanned hand and repeat the process on the other side. To finish, take a little moisturizer and blend from the palm up the crease in the wrist to ensure a perfect seamless result.
How long does self-tanner usually last?
“Traditional self-tans that have to be left on for eight hours before showering or bathing will generally last a little longer than express development tans that you can shower off in as little as one hour,” Evans says. “When you leave self-tan to develop overnight, your body temperature heats up and your pores open, which will allow the self-tan to absorb into the skin and really get to work achieving a deeper, longer lasting result. The better condition and the more hydrated your skin will also allow a self-tan to last longer.”
If you don’t exercise and sweat heavily, moisturize your skin daily, and are very gentle with your skin (not rubbing it after showering or bathing), Evans says you can get a good 10 days or even two weeks out of a self-tan. However, if you exercise daily, go swimming, or wear tight clothing that rubs, you may only get five days out of it. “If you have trouble with your self-tan not lasting as long as you would like, invest in a gradual tan lotion that you can use in between self-tan applications to boost and maintain your tan,” Evans says. “My go-to is St.Tropez’s Gradual Tan Watermelon Infusion Body Lotion. It is as easy to apply as a body lotion — you simply massage into your skin after showering and make sure you wash your hands after application. You can get dressed immediately and your skin will be boosted with hyaluronic acid and a new deeper maintained glow after just a few hours.” If you use a gradual tan you will only have to apply a self-tan once a week or every 10 days, then use your gradual tanner every three to four days to maintain.
You may have heard to lay off the exfoliants when sporting a faux tan, but that’s a myth. “People think you only have to exfoliate to remove your self-tan and when you want to reapply a new layer but unfortunately if you don’t exfoliate regularly, you may find you get dark color buildup or light patches where your tan is not fading evenly,” Evans says. She recommends using a gentle body polisher every two to three days in the shower, concentrating on areas that can become problematic, like in between the breast area, underarms, crease of the arms and the neck (areas that move and fold easily).
Different types of self-tanner
With a range of self-tanner formulas out there — mousse, lotions and sprays, to name a few — how do you know which is best for you? “It all depends on your skin type and lifestyle,” Evans says. She breaks it down by formula.
- Tanning gel or lotion. Best for very dry or sensitive skin, these tend to be more hydrating, keeping skin smoother and nourished. Evans prefers this option in the winter when skin is drier.
- “If you live in a hot climate or have normal to oily skin, you will love a mousse that will dry instantly, feel as light as air, and give you the added advantage to shower off in as little as one hour to achieve your light tan for up to three for your deepest dark glow,” Evans says.
- Tanning sprays and mists. These are great for tanning hard to reach areas like your back and misting the face. “My top tip when using mists and sprays is to place a towel on the floor to catch any overspray and prevent the soles of your feet from staining,” Evans says. “Work in sections, ensuring all areas are covered.”
Spritz, slather and rub these best self-tanners on and you’ll have everyone wondering how you got so sun-kissed.
1. St.Tropez’s Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist
“Hands down the easiest way [to tan your face] is to use a face mist like St.Tropez’s Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Face Mist,” Evans says. “Using a self-tan specifically designed for the face will make your application easier as a good face self-tanner will be formulated with skincare benefits, will not block the pores and will also be formulated a little lighter than your body self-tanner. The skin’s pH is higher in the facial area, so your body self-tanner would develop darker on the face. Simply spritz down your face and you’re done. Faces, unfortunately, do not last as long as the body, so we always need to reapply to the face every two to three days due to the face being exposed to more extreme cleansing and a faster cell turn over than the body.” That’s what makes this pick the best self-tanner for the face.
2. Josie Maran Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil
Both the results and the scent — we’re talking vanilla apricot — will make you feel like you had a tropical getaway. The Josie Maran Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil is infused with the brand’s hero ingredient, 100 percent pure argan oil, to hydrate and nourish the skin for a natural glow. The body oil formula is rounded out with coconut water and aloe for even more skin love. The quick-absorbing oil uses natural DHA to get a medium tan after four to eight hours. For easy, streak-free application, each bottle comes with a mitt.
3. Isle of Paradise Pro Glow Spray Tan Kit
Consider the Isle of Paradise Pro Glow Spray Tan Kit a one stop shop for all your self-tan needs. It comes with the Pro Glow Spray Tan Mister and Self-Tanning Water Refill, so it does the planet a favor by cutting down on plastic. Designed to work with all skin types, it delivers professional results at home. The formula is spiked with coconut oil to soothe and moisturize skin, avocado oil to condition skin with vitamins A and C, and chia seed oil to boost skin barrier function with omega 3 fatty acids.
4. Bondi Sands Self Tanning Foam
If anyone knows a thing or two about the best self-tanner, it’s Australians, so this brand from Down Under is sure to be a great bet. The lightweight foam is a cinch to use for a streak-free application. A coconut scent adds to the experience, plus the formula is enriched with aloe vera and coconut. Color will develop in just six to eight hours.
5. Sephora Collection Gradual Self-Tanning Face Gel
Don’t let the fear of face tanning hold you back! The Sephora Collection Gradual Self-Tanning Face Gel works gradually to give you a golden glow, so you don’t have to stress about overdoing it. Tapping natural DHA, the color builds up after a few applications so you can customize the level. Rose floral water hydrates and soothes skin, plus the formula dries sans any stickiness for an even tan. With the planet in mind, the tube is made of 51 percent plastic from sugar cane residue, the box is made of materials from sustainable forests and decorated with plant-based inks, and 95 percent of the ingredients are of natural origin. That explains why it’s one of the best gradual self-tanners.
6. Tanologist Face + Body Drops
If you’re all about baby steps, the Tanologist Face + Body Drops are your jam since it’s easy to customize the amount you use. Simply add a few drops into your favorite lotions to get glowing. Available in Light, Medium or Dark, you can get the shade that’s just right for your complexion. The good-for-you formula contains aloe vera to moisturize and soothe, pink grapefruit to brighten, goji berry for antioxidants and juniper to even skin tone.
7. Coco & Eve Sunny Honey Bali Bronzing Bundle
In just two hours you’ll get a streak-free tan without any orange tones courtesy of 100% natural DHA with this lightweight mousse. Filled with loads of good stuff, there’s raw virgin coconuts, botanicals and amino acids to moisturize skin. Natural antioxidants—including fig, banana, papaya and cocoa—fight signs of aging. The tropical mango and guava fragrance will transport you to a sunny beach every time you slather it on. Each bottle provides approximately 10 to 20 full-body tanning sessions.
8. Alba Botanica Sunless Tanner Lotion
For a tan you can feel good about, this self-tanning formula is plant-based and cruelty-free. Plus, it doesn’t contain any parabens, phthalates or synthetic fragrances. This self-tanner from Alba Botanica deeply conditions skin while providing a natural-looking tan, thanks to ingredients like shea butter, sweet almond oil and safflower oil. Quick absorbing, it won’t leave any streaks.
9. Neutrogena Micromist Airbrush Sunless Tanning Spray
When you can’t get a professional spray tan, this bottle of one of the best self-tanners is worth trying at home. Neutrogena‘s super light fine mist airbrush spray covers evenly with no rubbing required. Thanks to the one-touch continuous spray, you can get every angle, even tricky spots like your back. Designed to deliver a tan two shades darker than your natural skin tone, this drugstore favorite dries in less than five minutes and won’t clog pores. The oil-free formula is spiked with witch hazel to soothe skin.
10. St. Moriz Professional Self-Tanning Mousse and Applicator Mitt Set
Moisturize with self-tanning mousse! This lightweight option from St. Moriz with olive milk and vitamin E leaves skin glowing. An application mitt is included for a streak-free application. Since the mitt is machine washable, you can use it again and again. The golden tan develops over six to eight hours and will last for days.
11. Beauty by Earth Self Tanner Tanning Lotion
Natural beauty lovers, this is one is for you. As the best natural self-tanner, Beauty by Earth’s self-tanning lotion made exclusively with clean ingredients and never any dyes or toxins. It’s formulated with organic aloe vera, shea butter and loads of botanical extracts with hydrating perks. Delivering a sun kissed glow, it can even be used on the face.
12. Clarins Liquid Bronze Self Tanning
Uneven color is a valid self-tanner fear, but this luxe pick from Clarins is tinted so you can see exactly where you’ve applied it, making it one of the best self-tanners for beginners. You won’t be able to get enough of its silky sensation on your skin. Infused with vitamins, it delivers natural looking results, leaving you with skin that’s delicately bronzed.
13. St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Mousse
St. Tropez is practically synonymous with self-tanners at this point. They’ve nailed a range of formulas and this mousse lives up to its name as a true classic. The lightweight mousse dries quickly and evenly, won’t transfer and will leave you with convincing color in just a single application. Instead of the dreaded faux-tanner smell, it has a nice subtle fragrance and moisturizes skin for up to 24 hours. Free of parabens, sulfates and phthalates, it relies on 100 percent natural DHA to deliver color.
14. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body
A major multitasker, this Dr. Dennis Gross glow pad delivers so much more than just a faux tan. Chock full of skin-friendly ingredients, it has vitamin D for anti-aging and nourishment. The textured towel exfoliates as you use it, boosting cell turnover to ensure smooth skin and a more even tan. The soothing formula fends off irritation and blemishes. Plus, it’ll even reduce the need to shave as frequently by minimizing hair growth, length and texture. Micro-encapsulated DHA and soy proteins team up to bring great color that won’t fade.
15. L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Water Mousse
The fresh scent of coconut will make you feel like you’re on vacation — and so will the tan this super-lightweight L’Oréal mousse gives you. You won’t have to wait to see the results, since the color shows up instantly. The clear formula doesn’t streak or transfer and imparts buildable color, so you can apply it up to three times over the course of 12 to 24 hours for deeper color that will stick around longer. Infused with coconut water and vitamin E, the mousse leaves you with softer, smoother skin that’s beautifully hydrated.
16. Bliss Stay-Cay Glow Gradual Bronzing Overnight Mask
Faux-tanning above the shoulders can seem extra intimidating, but Bliss has your back with one of the best self-tanners for your face. To ensure you get an even and subtle sun-kissed glow, this overnight mask works gradually to release a tiny bit of bronze before every morning. If you’re looking for more color faster, use it two or three nights in a row to pretend you just got back from vacation. The transfer-resistant formula means your pillow will be safe. The mask delivers much more than a tan. Coconut-scented, it’s infused with jojoba oil, squalane and acai fruit for deep hydration, free radial protection and a stronger moisture barrier.
17. Tan-Luxe The Body Illuminating Self-Tan Drops
Simply add a few Tan-Luxe drops into your favorite body butter or moisturizer and this will add color to your skin. Additionally, it tightens skin, tackles dullness and uneven texture, and increases elasticity. Another perk is it brings even more hydration to your moisturizer, thanks to raspberry seed oil, vitamin E and aloe vera. The brand’s Cellutone Complex minimizes cellulite and firms skin. It’s easy to customize your color — just add as many or as few drops as you’d like to get just the right golden glow.
18. Sol by Jergens Sunless Tanning Water Mousse
The airy foam works with your unique skin tone to give color that lasts for days. Coconut water brings on hydration and passionfruit essence will make you feel like you’re sunning under palm trees. The dye-free, colorless formula promises an easy application that develops within four to six hours, with peak color after 24 hours. For the smoothest and most seamless application, use the Sol by Jergens Sunless Tanning Applicator Mitt, which is sold separately.
19. Coola Sunless Tan Dry Body Oil Mist
Eco-certified cosmos organic, this is the best self-tanner for natural beauty lovers. Application doesn’t get any easier than simply spritzing it on. The color is buildable and lasts for as long as three days. Made with a 70 percent organic, antioxidant-packed formula, this Coola mist boasts an ingredient list of argan oil, vitamin C, hibiscus and chamomile extract, so it also evens skin tone, moisturizes, firms and increases elasticity. Quick to dry, it won’t transfer or streak, plus the natural pina-coco aroma adds to the mini vacation experience.
20. Tarte Brazilliance 2HR Express Deep Foaming Self-Tanner
Need color in a hurry? Then this is the best self-tanner for you. You’ll be bronzed in just two hours with Tarte’s express formula, as well as deeply hydrated thanks to the potent ingredients. There’s aloe leaf juice to soothe and moisturize, coconut oil to soften and smooth, and plenty other goodies to nourish skin, including jojoba seed oil, coconut, avocado and vitamin C. Bring on deeper color by layering it.