Some people are born blessed with melanin that can handle the heat, but my fair skin and the summer sun have never gotten along well. My skin simply does not tan, no matter how much I wish it would. That’s why I’ve always been a self-tanner advocate.
With self-tanners, I can have a healthy glow whenever I want, and I don’t have to risk sunburn or skin cancer in the process.
But given my decade (or more, TBH) experience with tanning lotion and self-tanning products, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to get a sunless golden glow.
The first step to nailing a fake tan that will have people wondering which beach you just got back from is finding a quality sunless tanner. And believe me, there are a lot of questionable ones out there that can leave you too dark, orange or with streaks that can take a lot of time to wear off.
Thankfully, the list below has been vetted based on reviews, beauty editor picks or my personal experience. Keep reading for the best sunless tanner and bronzer for your face and body.
The difference between a bronzer and self-tanner
The list below includes both bronzers and self-tanners (some self-tanning products contain bronzers, FYI).
A self-tanner is a product that contains a color additive, usually dihydroxyacetone, aka DHA, an ingredient that reacts with your skin to turn it darker. Because of the nature of the product, you can’t “wash off” the tan.
The color will usually last for about a week, depending on how much you sweat and shower, and if you moisturize.
A bronzer is a product designed to give you a bronze glow, but it does not “tan” your skin and the color is only temporary.
It’s just a layer of color, like makeup, that you apply to your face and body that can wash off.
There are so many reasons why this self-tanning mousse is hands down one of the best products I’ve ever tried. First, I love that the foam contains a bronzer so you can see exactly where you are applying it — and so you don’t get those embarrassing white spots where you missed it.
Second, the foam dries really quickly so you don’t have to wait around forever until you can get dressed. Finally, this self-tanning product works really fast — within hours, but I usually leave it on overnight and wash off the bronzer in the morning. The color looks really good — it’s brown, not orangey, and lasts.
You only have to apply once to get great color, but depending on how dark you want to go, the product is buildable so you can reapply again.
One tip: Be sure to apply the foam with a tanning mitt since it does dry so fast, your hands will also stain quicker. The self-tanner applicator mitt that St. Tropez makes works great for this.
This Tan-Luxe serum is the perfect multitasker for when you want some color, plus hydration, antioxidants and an SPF in one product.
I’ve been using this serum under my moisturizer, and it gives you a natural looking glow and feels great. But don’t just take my word for it — Allure beauty editors said it will give you an “otherworldly glow.”
I love that it contains an SPF so I can put it on before going outside and come back with a glow and no redness. The color is subtle and buildable, so you can wear it every day until you get the result you want.
You can build up the color based on how many drops you use at a time — start with just a few drops and you can build up to 12 drops for a more noticeable result.
Drunk Elephant’s bronzing drops are so much more than a bronzer — they contain a mix of nourishing oils and protective antioxidants. Although the color washes off, it looks so good when you mix it into a tinted moisturizer or even with your foundation for a subtle, bronze shimmer.
Sephora/Isle of Paradise
The Isle of Paradise Self-tanning Water is a top seller at Sephora. The waters come in three different varieties that contain color-correcting active ingredients.
If you have redness, the green water can help counteract that, the peach color can help brighten skin and the violet can help reduce orange tones so you’ll always be your best self.
You apply the spray directly on your face and then blend in with a mitt or your hand (be sure to wash them after!).
Jergens Natural Glow is a classic self tanner that gives a natural looking tan (I used it nearly every day for years) and is a bestseller on Target.com. If you want a tried-and-true, no-fuss self-tanning body lotion, this product is a solid choice.
It’s affordable and the results are not dramatic — perfect for those who are new to sunless tanning and want a gradual tan and a subtle glow. This sunless tanning lotion comes in two shades: medium for fair skin, and medium-tan for medium skin and darker skin tones.
If you’re looking for a similar but more affordable product to St. Tropez tanning foam, Bondi Sands self-tanner is a similar option but for less money.
This foam is on par with sunless tanning mousse. Like the St. Tropez foam, the Bondi Sands foam dries fast and results appear within hours. The longer you leave it on, the more dramatic your results.
You can purchase the Bondi Sands foam in light/medium or dark, and it also sells a self-tanning mitt to help apply it.
Supergoop’s sunless tan is similar to a lotion but sprays on for easy application. You can use it on your face or body, but I prefer to use it on my body, especially when I’m about to go outside. This spray tan product is light but moisturizing and easy to blend in over your legs or arms. It doesn’t contain a bronzer though, so be sure to spray where you want color liberally and also blend well.
The product easily washes off your hands after applying. When I’ve used this spray, I noticed it gave my pale skin a subtle, healthy looking glow. If you’re looking for a more dramatic tan, definitely try the St. Tropez bronzing mousse, but this is great for daily use.
More skin care essentials
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.