These 13 Self-Tanners Will Give You a Year-Round Glow
No one will know you've spent the last year cooped up at home.
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Nowadays, we are well aware of the damage the sun can do to our skin (hello, UV rays are responsible for causing over 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and up to 85% of melanoma). With those kinds of stats, gone are the days when it was "cool" to slather yourself in baby oil and fry outside in the name of getting a good tan. Instead, self-tanning products allow us to get that golden bronze glow, without the harmful effects of UV rays. And honestly, they've come a long way from your mother's OG Jergen's lotion (which, by the way, still holds up).
How does self-tanner work?
Self-tanners, which are a safer option for getting that just-stepped-off-the-beach tan, work thanks to an active ingredient called DHA (dihydroxyacetone). "When applied, DHA comes into contact with the amino acids in the surface layer of the skin, creating a pigment or melanoidin," explains Harold Lancer, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist.
Gabriella Baki, Ph.D., a cosmetic scientist and assistant professor of pharmaceutics at The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, explains that the higher the percentage of DHA, the more pronounced the tanning action will be. "Products available in stores usually contain 3% to 5% DHA," she says. "They are usually labeled as light, medium, and dark, which can help consumers pick the right product."
DHA is also the ingredient that gives a lot of products an unpleasant "self-tanner smell," but luckily for us, modern formulas have come a long way in masking it with fragrances such as coconut, aloe, and watermelon.
How long does self-tanner last?
"This skin coloration is temporary, and often only lasts only about one week, as the skin will naturally shed its dead cells," says Dr. Lancer. It's also worth noting that it usually takes anywhere from between eight to 48 hours for the skin to fully develop a tan from the DHA, so if you're in search of a more immediate tan, look for tinted or instant options.
From beginners who just want a subtle glow to those who want to become a full-blown bronze goddess, we rounded up some of the best self-tanners on the market.
Best self-tanners for face:
1. Best self-tanner with SPF:
Get a sunless tan and feel good about it with this two-in-one product. It provides a gradual tan for the face and body while also giving you the daily UV protection you need. It's mitt-free and scentless, giving you buildable, long-lasting color in an easy-to-use, fine mist spray.
2. Best self-tanner serum:
This antioxidant-packed, SPF 30 serum nourishes and protects skin while developing a healthy glow, and the hyaluronic acid in it draws in moisture and delivers all-day hydration. We love it so much, we gave it a 2021 Beauty Crush Award.
3. Best self-tanner towelettes:
Finding the best tanner for your face can be a serious challenge: It can't be too orange, too dark, or too blotchy. That's why tanning towelettes that are specifically designed for your visage are your best bet. These are infused with alpha and beta hydroxy acids to exfoliate your skin and reduce the appearance of pores, leaving you with a bright, evenly tanned face.
4. Best self-tanning mist:
Keep your faux tan looking fresh by spritzing your face with this glow-boosting mist.
5. Best anti-aging self-tanner serum:
These luxurious drops act as an anti-aging serum and tanning formula rolled into one. It helps cut down on skincare steps every morning and night, leaving a believable bronze that will score you tons of compliments.
Best self-tanners for body:
6. Best self-tanning mousse:
Made with coconut, chia seed, and avocado oils, this mousse is deeply nourishing and helps create the ultimate hydrated, natural-looking tan. It took home a 2020 Beauty Crush Award for the Best Expert-Recommended Body Self-Tanner for its quick-drying properties and ability to deliver a believable, golden glow.
7. Best wash-off self-tanner:
Infused with coconut oil, this body bronzer helps to nourish and hydrate the skin while coating it with no-commitment color. Simply apply it where you want your faux-tan, wear it throughout the day, and wash it off at night with soap and water. It's that easy, and that's why we gave it a Beauty Crush Award.
8. Best instant self-tanner:
Kind of like a spray tan in a bottle, you can control the depth of your color with this customizable mist that delivers near instant results. Depending on how long you leave it on before you shower, it will give you either light, medium, or dark color since you determine how long to let the DHA develop. Unlike some of the more gradual formulas, you can achieve a true golden color in just one use—making this one ideal for quick on-the-go tanning.
9. Best quick-dry self-tanner:
This hydrating, lightweight formula is great for building a tan that's natural and subtle without overdoing it. The clear, transparent formula goes on best when applied with a tanning mitt; once it's dry, it won't transfer or stain your clothes. Like most self-tanners, it develops over time, so you'll see a golden bronze in four to eight hours after application.
10. Best moisturizing self-tanner:
Tarte's self-tanner comes with a mess-free mitt for easy application, making it the best self-tanner for avoiding stained hands. It's also formulated with hydrating maracuja oil for smooth, moisturized skin, which will help your overall glow. Even better? This self-tanner is alcohol-free and vegan, so it's nice to your body and animals.
11. Best gradual self-tanner:
Jergens has been around since the very beginning of our self-tanning obsession, and if you love its original, this one is even better. Delivering quicker results in just three days (as opposed to the original, which gradually tans over about a week), this rich, hydrating lotion has antioxidants and vitamin E help to keep skin healthy.
12. Best drugstore body self-tanner:
This lightweight and transparent mousse will give you a natural-looking tan that you can build up with multiple applications. You'll get a vacation-worthy look in 48 hours.
13. Best deep self-tanner:
If you like a super dark bronzed look, this is the product for you. The fast-absorbing and lightweight foam quickly makes you look like you've spent a month in the sun with just one layer.
Now, go get your glow on with the best self-tanners out there.