After 16 hours of research evaluating 110 products, we picked Fake Bake Flawless Self Tanner as our top choice.
A good tan indeed makes everything look better. However, we're all aware of the dangers of tanning beds and too much sun exposure.
According to the CDC, exposure to UV rays while tanning can cause skin cancers, including melanoma. Scary stuff, right?
But thanks to the best self-tanners, you can get that gorgeous glow all-year-long.
You might be wondering: What is self-tanner?
Self-tanner is applied to the entire body to give your skin a naturally sun-kissed glow. Self-tanners vary from light to dark tones and more affordable options to designer brands.
Two things you want to avoid when it comes to self-tanner: looking streaky and orange. So we spent hours testing and researching hundreds of the best self-tanners for your skin.
And, if you want to add some glow to your face, be sure to check out our list of the best bronzers, too.
This Banana Boat self tanner is affordable, easy to apply, and dries quickly. There are two shades so you can find your perfect match.
Unfortunately, this stuff has that awful fake-tanner smell that sticks with you for a couple of showers.
If expensive beauty products aren't your thing, this is the perfect self tanner for you. And, you can find it at any drugstore.
Color: We love that this tanner comes in 2 shades: light/medium and deep/dark. The Banana Boat Summer Color self tanner is made with a self-adjusting color formula that allows you to control the shade of your tan. Want a darker tan? Just apply more lotion. This stuff leaves such a beautiful glow immediately after application and it doesn't streak or look orange. As a bonus, the formula is oil free and enriched with aloe vera and Vitamin E.
Application: The Banana Boat self tanner comes in a traditional squeeze tube 6 ounce bottle. The consistency of the tanner is just like a lotion which means you can apply it with your hands. Simply rub it all over your body as if you were putting on lotion. No fancy mitt or gloves needed. Just make sure and wash your hands afterwards! The color will develop in 2-3 hours and lasts several days.
Price: For the $6 price, you can't find better - it's one of the cheapest self-tanners out there. And, the cheapest one on our list.
A tinted, bronzing mist for fast, easy application that won't break the bank.
The bottle can leak while being used, causing somewhat of a mess.
Color: The Sephora Collection Self-Tanning Body Mist leaves behind a golden, buildable color that will last you close to a week. Because this product is buildable, you can use it no matter what your skin tone may be. Once sprayed, the gorgeous color shows up instantly so it's easy to see where you've applied. And not to worry, this tan is natural-looking and leaves behind no dark areas or orange color. This is the kind of self tanner that makes you look subtly luminous and sun-kissed.
You're probably wondering: What does it smell like? Although it has a hint of that fake-tan smell, it's not as bad as others. This stuff smells like a mix of fake-tan and coconut. So really, it could be worse.
Application: One thing that sets this self-tanner apart is the can, which we definitely have mixed feelings about. The can makes it extremely fast and easy to apply. You shake the can, hold it three inches from you body, and spray. However, some have complained that the can sometimes leaks while being used.
Price: We're not complaining about the $18 price, espeically since getting a spray tan from a salon is a lot more expensive. If you're skeptical about investing in the full size can, there is a travel-size available as well. So, you can try this product out for $5 and really make sure you love it!
A vegan, cruelty-free, all natural self tanner that's safe for pregnant mamas or those with sensitive skin.
The white color of the lotion makes it difficult to see where you have applied.
Color: Who wants to look like an oompa loompa? Not you. This toxic-free tanner will have your friends convinced you went on a trip to Mexico. The Beauty by Earth self tanner gives you a slight bronze after the first application and a deeper tan after the second. Did we mention that we're kind of obsessed with the ingredient list? This formula contains ogranic shea butter, organic coconut oil, organic argan oil, and green tea leaf extract. Your skn will definitely thank you.
Application: The Beauty by Earth self tanner comes in the form of a creamy white lotion that you can apply with either an applicator mitt or your hands. It's recommended that you apply a single layer first. Then you can build your tan one layer at a time to get your ideal level of bronze. Your skin shoud reach your desired color within six hours. If it doesn't, reapply the following day.
Price: At $24, the price of this self tanner is somewhat more affordable than some of its competitors. And, it doesn't take much lotion to cover a large area. Which means this 7.5 ounce bottle should last you a while. The good news is, this product comes with a 1 year, 100% satisfaction guarantee. Which means if at any point over the next year you don't love it, send it back and they'll give you a full refund - no questions asked.
A lightweight, easy-to-apply mousse that dries quickly with no self tanner smell.
Has an expensive price tag. The applicator matt isn't included.
Color: There's nothing orange or scary about this self tanner. The lightweight mousse will give you an instant bronze glow that dries in 60 seconds. It fully develops after 4-8 hours into a natural-looking tan and will last 3-5 days. Although dark already, if you desire an even deeper tan, simply apply it again the next day. As a bonus, this formula contains 100 percent natural DHA and moisturizes your skin for up to 24 hours. Plus, it has no self tanner smell and even features a coconut sunscreen fragrance.
Application: The St. Tropez self tanner isn't a lotion or a mist, it's a light and airy mousse. And, it's a consistency that we love. The mousse that pumps out of the 8 ounce bottle is very velvety and goes on smooth onto the applicator mitt.
Price: This self tanner is on the high-end at $42 and the most expensive on our list. And unfortunately, the applicator mitt must be purchased separately. Even though this stuff is pricey, you get a lot of applications from the bottle. Most professional spray tans range from $30-$40 for one tan. This product will get you 10 or more.
A best-selling, affordable self-tanner for a natural, sunkissed glow. Perfect for any skin tone - even those with seriously pale skin.
This product doesn't last as long as other products and may leave streaks if exposed to rain.
This self tanner from Fake Bake is the best of the best. We know because we've tested it ourselves. And, it's the number one best-selling self tanner on Amazon. So why do we love this product so much? It's formula is customizable and looks natural on any skin tone.
Color: The thing we love most about the Fake Bake self tanner is its gorgeous bronze color is completely customizable. This means you can apply it multiple times for a deeper, darker tan. It's a perfect product that you can customize to your own liking. The chocolate brown color isn't too dark so even those with pasty-white, unable-to-ever-naturally-tan skin can apply it without ever looking orange. If you want a light glow, apply once. If you want a deep, tropical, just-came-from-Mexico-tan, apply 2-3 more times. As a bonus, it's pleasantly fragranced with a tropical scent.
Application: The Fake Bake self tanner comes in a 6oz spray bottle and includes a soft, velour mitten. This stuff is easy to see where you have applied, and easy to blend. A Faveable tip: wash your mitten between uses. It will prevent leftover solution from leaving darker splotches. Users have also mentioned that the straw in the bottle is too long which can cause the bottle to leak. If this happens to you, simply cut the straw and your problem will be solved.
Price: We think $13 for a best-selling self tanner is a pretty good deal. Not to mention, you don't have to spend extra on the application mitt.
Perfecting a golden glow requires weeks - possibly even months - of sunbathing. Combine that with the terrifying chance that your outdoor lounging might result in skin cancer, and it’s easy to understand how self-tanner became such a popular beauty product.
Applying self-tanner is relatively simple once you know what you’re doing - but let’s be real, many of us don’t. Even celebs aren’t immune to application issues (seriously, check out some pics of celeb self-tanner disasters), and these fake-tan fails still happen with a professional beauty team on call! We don’t want you to end up with unsightly streaks or orange-hued skin, so we’re here to help. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of questions and concerns about self-tanner to help you rock your self-tanning adventures.
Choosing the Best Self Tanner
There are four main factors you should consider when you choose a self-tanner:
It’s also important to consider your budget before you splurge for a high-end product that might not be much better than a drugstore self-tanner. You may also want to look for a self-tanner that smells good since the scent tends to linger for a day or two after you use it.
Some self-tanners use a one-hue-works-for-everyone approach, while others are categorized by how dark the tanner gets. If you have fair skin, you may want to opt for a light hue so that your faux glow looks natural.
Your skin type matters because it affects the shade and formula you choose. Dry skin absorbs color easily (and unevenly), so don’t choose a deep hue unless you’re okay with this. Oily skin works with nearly every formula type, but you may want to dab your face with a towel or blotting paper first.
Consider the application area before you select a self-tanner. Can you access hard-to-reach areas like the middle of your back with a towelette or lotion, or do you need a spray bottle? Do you really want to spray your face with a bottle of self-tanner, or would you do better with a different application formula?
Think about your self-tanning skills before you choose a quick-drying formula. If you take too long, you’ll end up with uneven splotches of color on your skin.
Self-tanner comes in a wide assortment of formulas, including:
You can buy self-tanner designed specifically for your face or opt for an all-over formula. It comes in different hues, ranging from light bronze to rich brown, so you can easily find one that’s perfect for you. Some brands include an applicator or mitt.
Many self-tanners are scented, so they smell similar to sunscreen or tropical body sprays. Choose an unscented formula if you’re sensitive to fragrances or don’t want anyone to suspect that your tan came from a bottle.
No, unless you’re referring to sunless tanning lotion. Regular tanning lotion helps you darken your skin with help from UV rays. Sunless tanning lotion darkens your skin using a chemical reaction that stains the dead cells on your outer layer of skin. We’ll talk more about that in the next question.
Self-tanner typically contains ingredients that moisturize and darken your skin, as well as fragrances and preservatives. Preservatives can be natural or synthetic, and they keep the self-tanner from developing a rancid odor.
Dihydroxyacetone, commonly called DHA, is an ingredient found in most self-tanners. It’s a sugar (but not the kind you eat!) that reacts with the amino acids in your skin cells. This chemical reaction only darkens the dead cells in the top layer of skin, which partly explains why self-tanner fades quickly. Your body sheds up to 40,000 dead skin cells per day, so your sunless tan can’t last forever.
But wait - why are tattoos permanent when sunless tanner isn’t? Well, it’s because your immune system goes crazy when you get inked and attempts to get rid of the tattoo. This process backfires, resulting in permanent branding (although your ink might fade a bit). The tattoo ends up trapped between your dermis (inner skin) and epidermis (outer skin), whereas self-tanner only affects the epidermis. Remember, the epidermis sheds cells on a daily basis.
Yes, you certainly can - as long as you’re careful. We don’t recommend getting self-tanner in your eyes or nose because the product’s ingredients can irritate these delicate parts. Keep it away from your mouth, too - after all, nobody wants a mouth full of lotion or cream.
Whenever possible, use a sunless tanner specifically designed for your face rather than your entire body. Save the sprays for your back and reach for a gel, lotion, or cream instead.
We’ll give you the lowdown on how to apply self-tanner to your face in the section titled “The Application Process.”
We listed 5 of our favorite self-tanners in the article above, and we 100% feel like Fake Bake Flawless Self Tanner is the best of the best. St. Tropez Self Tan Bronzing Mousse, Beauty by Earth Dye-Free Natural Sunless Self Tanner, SEPHORA COLLECTION Tinted Self-Tanning Body Mist, and Banana Boat Self-Tanning Lotion are the other self-tanners that scored spots on our list of favorites.
Keep in mind that we chose these self-tanners for different reasons, so read our pros and cons for each one before you decide if our favorite should also be your favorite.
The Application Process
It depends on the type of self-tanner. You can apply lotion, cream, oil, and mousse with your hands, a mitt, or a mini spatula-like applicator. When needed, we recommend wearing gloves made of easy-to-clean material, such as latex. Avoid cloth or wool gloves because self-tanner can stain them.
You can spray a bottled formula directly on your skin or apply it to a soft, smooth washcloth and then dab it on your skin. Make sure you’re okay with staining the washcloth; self-tanner can be difficult to remove from fabric.
Loose powder requires a large, fluffy brush for application. Keep your bathroom vent or fan pointed away from you while you apply the powder, so it doesn’t make a mess. You may also want to stand on a towel or in the tub, so the powder doesn’t end up all over the floor.
Start by exfoliating your skin with a loofah or washcloth, but don’t get too rough. You don’t want to apply self-tanner to irritated skin. This can be painful and possibly even cause an infection if you have abrasions in your skin.
Apply a light moisturizer to your skin and let it soak in completely. Give it about an hour or so if you’ve got that much time.
Wipe any remaining residue from the moisturizer off of your hands before you apply the sunless tanner. Oil, lotion, and water can all make sunless tanner streaky.
Gently rub sunless tanner into your skin using a circular motion or spray it evenly across your body. Work in sections, giving each one time to dry before you move to the next one. If you move too quickly, you might accidentally smear some of your self-tanner. Don’t forget to blend it into your elbows and ankles!
Self-tanner usually takes about 10 minutes to dry, but some formulas take a little longer. These are just general recommendations, so read the instructions on the back of your bottle to make sure you’re using a method specific to your brand.
We’re not going to lie - unless you’re super flexible with long arms, it’s hard to reach the middle of your back! Allure says you should start with the spots you can easily reach, like the back of your neck and your lower back, if you’re using a mousse tanner.
After you coat all the easy-to-reach spots with sunless tanner, secure a mitt to a wooden spoon or long-handled loofah. Add a couple of dollops of sunless tanner to the mitt, and make sure it’s distributed evenly.
Move the mitt around your back, starting from the top and working your way toward the bottom. Don’t forget to move side to side, too. Allure suggests running the mitt across your lower back and hips in large circles until you finish blending everything. You can fix mistakes with a tanning towelette (if you can reach the affected area) or mist.
Now, most of these instructions won’t work with a spray bottle. If you’ve got one of those, stand with your back to a large mirror, such as a wall mirror or the mirror above your bathroom sink. If you have a smaller mirror, hold it in one hand and place the spray bottle in your other hand. Use the smaller mirror to track your progress as you spray your back, coating it in an up-and-down, side-to-side motion.
Like your back, the face is a tricky part to treat with self-tanner. Start with the general tips we detailed above:
After you finish the basics, try these tips to create a natural glow on your face:
We find it helpful to pretend our self-tanner is the foundation. It helps us apply it evenly and remember to smooth it into our neck and decolletage.
You don’t have to wear gloves when you apply sunless tanning lotion, but do we think you should? Yes, definitely!
Sunless tanner is notoriously difficult to remove from hands, especially if your hands are dry. We’re not talking about “I just washed my hands and dried them on a towel” dry, we’re referring to cracked, peeling skin. This type of skin absorbs sunless tanner easily, so it looks darker than it might on other parts of your body.
Plus, we’re guessing you don’t want the whole world to know that you faked your golden glow. Orange-streaked hands will totally give your secret away!
If you forget to wear gloves, wash and exfoliate your hands as soon as you finish applying your self-tanner. The longer you wait, the more time the tanner has to dry and bond to your skin cells.
Self-tanner usually dries in about 10 minutes, but the brand you use might take more (or less) time.
Some people confuse drying time with developing time, but your skin doesn’t automatically become darker after you apply self-tanner. Some brands develop in a few hours, but we’ve heard reports of brands taking up to 12 hours. Check your bottle for specific details regarding this process.
Yikes! If your skin is sun-drenched rather than sun-kissed after experimenting with self-tanner, don’t freak out just yet. You’ve got options!
Start by washing and exfoliating the overly tan areas. If your whole body is too tan, you’ll need to use an exfoliating body wash and then hydrate your skin with oil.
Another option for self-tanning experiences gone wrong is to take a dip in a chlorine pool. Marie Claire claims this helps self-tanner fade quickly.
You can also try wiping down your body with rubbing alcohol. Pour some on a washcloth, then gently rub it across your skin. Rubbing alcohol zaps moisture from your body, so make sure you have some lotion or oil ready when you’re done.
Depending on how desperate you are to remove your faux glow, you can also try a mixture of milk and lemon juice. This curdled liquid allegedly helps fade self-tanner, but it probably won’t get rid of it completely.
If all else fails, grab a bottle of spray tan remover like Sunkissed Dual Purpose Self Tan Remover. Products like this are specifically made to erase the evidence of fake tan.
Maintaining Your Faux Glow
The length of time your spray tan lasts depends on several factors, such as:
In general, we’ve found that most spray tans last between 5 and 10 days. Keep in mind that your tan will begin to fade before the 10-day mark approaches.
You can reapply self-tanner as often as you need to, but we recommend waiting until your first application fades away (either on its own or with help from you). That’s because your faux glow can get streaky and uneven if you continue applying layer after layer after it’s already dried.
Your bottle of self-tanner may have instructions that contradict what we’ve just shared. If that’s the case, follow the guidelines for your product.
Yes, but not right away. We recommend waiting for at least 8 to 10 hours (preferably one day) after you apply self-tanner, especially if you plan to swim in a chlorine pool or a sandy beach. Chlorine and sand are both exfoliators, so they can shorten the lifespan of your tan - especially if it hasn’t fully developed yet.
Oh, and just in case you didn’t know: Self-tanner doesn’t provide protection against UV rays. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the sun, make sure you apply sunscreen over your self-tanner.
You can remove self-tanner if you want - we listed plenty of tips for removing self-tanner above. If you don’t have time to go back and review all the details, here’s a quick summary:
If you don’t actively try to remove your sunless tan, it should fade away in approximately 5 to 10 days.
Yes, it’s okay to moisturize your spray tan even though we advise against using heavy moisturizers prior to the self-tanner application. However, wait until you take your first post-tanning shower to apply moisturizer. Applying it too soon can result in streaks and smudges.
Moisturizing after your tan develops might even help extend its life, says ELLE. Just make sure you don’t use an oil-based moisturizer, as this can have the opposite effect. Use a light, creamy moisturizer immediately after you get out of the shower to lock in hydration.
Self-tanner is generally considered safe but read the ingredients carefully to make sure you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to any of them.
During the application process, make sure you don’t apply the product to open wounds. This can trigger an infection or delay the healing of your wound.
Avoid getting the product in your nose, ears, mouth, or genital region. Sunless tanners usually aren’t suitable for internal use.
There has been some controversy involving DHA, an ingredient found in most self-tanners. The FDA says it’s safe for external use, but some experts believe it can alter your DNA.
Our take? Follow the instructions on your bottle of self-tanner carefully, and keep the potential risks in mind before you fake a golden glow.
If you’ve got acne-prone skin, we’ve got bad news for you: Yes, self-tanners can cause acne.
Will it cause acne on your face, though? That depends.
Before you tan, look for a product made exclusively for the face. It may be noncomedogenic, which basically means it shouldn’t clog your pores. Avoid sunless tanning oils, as these may cause acne on your face.
Also, remember that the pre-tanning process, not the self-tanner itself, might be the culprit behind facial acne. If you have sensitive skin, exfoliation may cause your skin to break out.
But hey, we do have some good news: Self-tanner may help camouflage existing breakouts. It won’t make them disappear, but it can offset some of the redness associated with pimples.
It depends on the fabric and how well you treat the stain. Here’s what you should do if you get self-tanner on your clothes:
If this fails, try OxiClean. Some of the writers at Faveable have personally had good luck with that.
Don’t plop down on that sofa just yet! Well, unless you applied your self-tanner at least 8 to 10 hours ago.
Self-tanner does transfer onto some fabrics, especially if you rub against them before the color fully sets. This is true for furniture, bedding, and even your clothes.
Many men and women use sunless tanning products without experiencing adverse reactions, but that’s not always the case. If you have sensitive skin, you may experience contact dermatitis after applying self-tanner.
Self-tanner can also cause:
In rare cases, you may have trouble breathing. Contact a doctor immediately, and head to the emergency room if breathing becomes increasingly difficult.
Oh, and immediately discontinue the use of any self-tanner that causes a reaction, mild or otherwise.
Self-tanner doesn’t last forever. It’s generally not unsafe to use self-tanner beyond its expiration date (which might be listed as a “best by” date instead), but the product won’t be as effective - if it even works at all.
Over time, the ingredients in self-tanner lose their effectiveness. They also separate from each other, which may give your sunless tanner a different texture or scent.
Well, not every self-tanner results in an orange glow. If you or someone you know have had a bad experience with self-tanner, it was probably due to one of these reasons:
Luckily for you, you aren’t stuck looking like a worker in Willy Wonka’s candy factory forever. If your skin turns orange, gently exfoliate it with a body scrub until the orange fades into a more natural hue.
The American Pregnancy Association says that self-tanner is generally okay for pregnant women, but wait until your first trimester passes. In fact, the agency says that it’s probably safer than soaking up natural sunlight.
Self-tanner is okay if you’re breastfeeding, but make sure you don’t apply any to your breasts. Per the FDA, sunless tanning products are only suitable for external use, so your precious little one might get sick if he accidentally ingests your self-tanner.
Regardless of what the FDA and the American Pregnancy Association say, we suggest talking to your OB/GYN or midwife before you use self-tanner. They might have different recommendations based on your unique needs.