This year, skip the skin-damaging sun and get your glow the safe way with a faux tan that look so real no one will believe it’s from a bottle. Over the years, self-tanners have improved vastly thanks to advances in product formulation that address issues like orange cast (by using cooler tones and DHA or dihydroxyacetone, which works by temporarily tinting skin), unpleasant scent (helped by superior odor-neutralizing and masking fragrances), and streaking (better formulation bases such as lotions, creams, mousses, wipes, and mists that apply and spread smoother and easier).
The GH Beauty Lab constantly scans the market for the best self-tanners spanning from inexpensive drugstore picks to high-end formulations, including self-tanning drops, lotions and creams, mists, mousses, oils, wipes, and gel formulas. In our most recent test, Beauty Lab scientists distributed products to consumers across the country, who applied self-tanner daily until they reached their desired tone and then observed how the self-tanner wore and faded. Our testers rated the products on everything from ease of application to scent, look and feel on skin, and how well they built up color and faded over time.
In our last test, Beauty Lab pros crunched data from over 2,990 consumer survey questions to find the best self-tanners — below are our top picks, as tested by the GH Beauty Lab and online best-sellers, including the best drugstore self-tanners and beginner-friendly self-tanners for the face and body:
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Best Overall Self-Tanner
The Gradual Illuminating Tan Lotion
GH Beauty Lab testers loved the Tan-Luxe lotion’s scent during application and development, and that their tan looked natural and not blotchy. “I liked the even tone of the color and the way my skin felt,” one said. “I noticed no blotchiness.” For best results, apply it with a tanning mitt since some people said its thin consistency made application more difficult.
- Gradual, even results
- Natural-looking tan
- Thin consistency can be difficult for beginners
BEST VALUE SELF-TANNER
Express Tan Tinted Mousse
Bronze beautifully without breaking the bank using this tinted Ulta Beauty airy mousse formula, which scored top at achieving a “tan” that looked uniform and faded evenly. Testers also rated it highest for easy application, with 90% saying they would continue to use it. It earned the best score for its mousse application method and high marks for not leaving streaks or blotches on skin.
- Consumer favorite in Lab tests
- Easy to apply
- Even, uniform color
Best Drugstore Self-Tanner
Natural Glow Instant Sun Mousse
When the GH Beauty Lab tested the hydrating foam version of the Jergens cult classic gradual tanning moisturizer, it received high scores for going on quickly and giving skin a subtle warmth. “I’ve tried many, and this is my favorite,” one tester said. “I’d pay any price for results like these.”
- Subtle, gradual results
- Improved cult-favorite formula
MOST POPULAR SELF-TANNER ON AMAZON
While we haven’t tested this pick in the Lab, the lotion-based tanner is a best-seller on Amazon for a reason: Reviewers say they liked that they could control how deep their color got by applying the product over the course of 4-7 days — and the fact that they could actually pronounce the ingredients.
- Reviewer favorite
- Hydrating formula with aloe vera and shea butter
BEST NATURAL GLOW SELF-TANNER
Brazilliance 2HR Express Deep Foaming Self-Tanner
For the most true-to-life (or true-to-beach!) faux glow, look no further than Tarte’s fast-acting, long-lasting foam, which scored high at being absorbed quickly and giving skin an even tone testers liked. The tint helps cover all areas and avoid missed spots, the Beauty Lab says, and an impressive 100% of testers reported that the color produced was natural-looking — the top score of all products. This pick also rated well at soaking in fast and giving an even-toned effect without splotches, and had the longest-lasting results.
- Absorbs quickly
- Tinted formula makes for easy application
- Some users noted that it went on dark but faded quickly
BEST SELF-TANNER FOR FACE + BODY
Self Tanning Milky-Lotion
This lightweight Clarins lotion with softening glycerin can be used on both face and body to give skin a flattering warmth testers loved. Evaluations found that it glided on effortlessly with no mess or drying time and GH Beauty Lab testers liked this Clarins gel’s natural-looking and streak-free color. It tied for first at simple and mess-free application, not staining hands, quick absorption and delivering a desired look. One caveat: The results were a tradeoff with the formula’s unpleasant smell during application. A few testers also said the gel left skin feeling tacky and sticky.
- Multifunctional formula
- No mess and short drying time
- Some testers noted streaking when their color developed
BEST SCENTED SELF-TANNER
Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Water Mousse
$9.59 (20% off)
In an almost unheard-of feat for a self-tanner, this watery L’Oréal Paris mousse infused with coconut juice and castor oil collected perfect points for its “pleasant” tropical scent. Plus, it came out on top for being easy to use and tied for cleanest application, being easiest to spread, and getting absorbed fastest. It left skin “buttery soft” after application, one tester marveled.
- Top scores for scent in Lab evaluations
- Simple to use; no-mess, fast-drying formula
- Watery, clear formula can be challenging for beginners
Best Self-Tanner for Face
Alpha Beta Glow Pad Self-Tanner for Face
A best-seller, these Dr. Dennis Gross self-tanner pads for face are a two-in-one self-tanner and skin perfector. Swipe one on to up your glow while also exfoliating, tightening pores, and helping to reduce sun spots, thanks to added alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids. “These allow me to use less face makeup because they even out my skin tone,” a Dermstore reviewer said.
- Exfoliates with AHAs and BHAs in one step
- Foolproof use
- Single-use packaging can be wasteful
Best Self-Tanner for Beginners
Self-Tan Express Bronzing Mist
Grab St. Tropez’s self-tanning mist (and mitt) for a natural-looking tan that’s pretty much foolproof. The mist applicator and blending mitt ensures even coverage, and GH Beauty Lab testers loved that they got their perfect level of color in one application. “I got a beautiful golden tan with just one use,” a fan said. “I’ve kept the tan for four days and it’s still going.” Since it’s an aerosol mist, apply in a well-ventilated area that you don’t mind getting messy.
- Easy-to-use aerosol mist and mitt for even coverage and no streaking
- Deepens skin tone in one use
- Mist can be messy; apply in shower or outdoors
Best Mess-Free Self-Tanner
“Clear” self-tanners are all the rage right now because they claim not to ruin your sheets and towels while developing a natural glow. While we haven’t formally tested this formula in the Lab, this formula from Isle of Paradise is a reviewer favorite that looks and feels just like water, and comes in three options for fair, medium, and deep skin tones and results.
- Water formula is easy to apply and stain-free
- 3 levels for various results
Best Streak-Free Self-Tanner
Argan Liquid Gold Self-Tanning Oil
Available in three scents, including mango and apricot vanilla, GH Beauty Lab testers liked scent and the natural color, though some wished it was deeper. The formula was also quick-drying and non-greasy. “It did not streak, spot, or have any orange tan hue to it,” one user reported.
- Gradual, golden results, great for fair skin
- Non-greasy and quick-drying tanning oil
- Smells great
- Some testers wish the color was deeper
Self-Tan Express Advanced Bronzing Mousse
This easy-to-apply formula is the mousse version of one of our Beauty Lab’s top-tested picks. With hundreds of positive reviews, it’s a best-seller at Amazon, Sephora and Ulta. Spread it and leave it on for one to three hours before rinsing to get your perfect bronze. “I’m not the best at applying fake tanners, yet no matter how badly I apply it, it looks great and not patchy,” one Sephora reviewer said.
- Mousse version makes for even, streak-free application
- Express formula works in 1-3 hours
BEST SELF-TANNING DROPS
Dark Self Tanning Drops
Self-tanning drops allow you to turn your favorite standby moisturizer into a fast-acting, mess-free self-tanner. You can add anywhere from three to 12 drops to your skincare for a totally customizable color on face and body. While we haven’t tested this formulation in the Lab, reviewers swear that “a couple of drops into my daily lotion [gives] an amazing glow,” and “haven’t had any problems with streaky-ness or blotchiness.”
- Customizable tan added into existing skincare products
- Clear formula doesn’t transfer
Best Tinted Self-Tanner
Gradual Tan Everyday Tinted Body Lotion
GH Beauty Lab testers thought this tinted gradual-tanning body lotion worked quickly to deliver their perfect color. “The slight tint immediately gave a healthy look to my legs and aided in the application to ensure even coverage,” one user reported. “My skin is quite light and it was extremely realistic, just as a sun-developed tan would occur.” To avoid staining your clothes, make sure skin is completely dry before getting dressed — some users said the rich texture took longer to absorb.
- Tinted for instant results, even before color develops
- Gradual color build-up to the perfect golden tan
- Takes a while to dry; may transfer onto sheets and clothes
Best Self-Tanner for Fair Skin
Sunless Tan Dry Oil Mist
While GH Beauty Lab testers loved that this pick absorbed quickly and left skin feeling great, many thought the mist was harder to control than lotion and left some streaking. Several fans noted, though, that it produced a “natural-looking” tan that “does not look orange or fake.” Pro tip: Keep bathroom floors clean by standing on an old towel or newspaper while applying.
- Natural-looking color for lighter skin tones
- Mist formula makes for fast (but tricky!) application
- Some testers found the tan streaky
Best Self-Tanner for Olive Skin
Sunless Mousse with Instant Color
For both instant bronzing effects and a deep tan that develops over time, look no further than this CosmoSun by Cosmopolitan mousse with a deep color payoff that’s perfect for olive skin tones or darker. The light foam formula will soak into skin quickly, and the tint helps you apply it evenly for no missed spots, streaks, or blotchiness.
- Tinted formula for instant glow
- Deep color payoff
- Easy-to-apply foam
Best Self-Tanner Oil
Quick Tan Self-Tan Dry Oil
$15.74 (48% off)
Self-tanners infamously don’t smell the best, but GH Beauty Lab testers praised the almost undetectable scent of Body Drench’s tinted dry oil with a hint of shimmer. “I liked that this product had a pleasant fragrance throughout the process, with no detectable or underlying ‘chemical’ smell that many others have” one user noted. It gave skin a “nice deep glow,” another said. Shake the bottle before use since it separates over time and put down a towel — some thought the oil’s thin consistency made it messy and hard to apply.
- Great scent
- Gives a deep glow in one use
- Oil can be difficult to apply and messy
Best Natural Self-Tanner
Ten Minute Tan for Face & Body
Made with organic botanicals like rose and orange blossom, GH Beauty Lab testers liked that this Vita Liberata formula for both face and body had a pleasant scent during application. Many noted that they liked the fact that it had virtually “no smell.” The tanning results were subtle, though: Some testers felt it didn’t produce their desired depth of color following the directions provided and that the color achieved faded quickly.
- Subtle, pleasant scent
- Easy-to-apply lotion
- Tan may not be dark or long-lasting enough for some
BEST SELF-TANNER KIT
Ultimate Glow Kit
This collab from self-tanner cult favorite St. Tropez comes with an easy-to-apply, rich-textured mousse and a mitt for easy, streak-free application. Reviewers say the “whipped texture is super smooth to apply, glides really nicely — easy to make sure you don’t miss a spot,” and they love that the formula is low-maintenance and looks natural: “I love that you can leave this product on all day and the bronzer looks so nice right away and doesn’t look over the top once the tan develops.”
- Kit includes self-tanner and mitt for streak-free application
- Leave-on self-tanner for gradual, low-maintenance glow
- Great scent
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