9 self-tanners that won’t leave fair skin streaky or orange

When it comes to self-tanning, there’s a fine line between getting that perfectly golden, just-stepped-off-the-beach bronze and potentially turning out straight-up Snooki orange. Fair-skinned ladies can probably relate to this fact best, especially since self-tanner formulas are not one-size-fits-all.

The way self-tanners work is through an active ingredient called DHA (dihydroxyacetone). As Harold Lancer, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, explained to HelloGiggles, when DHA is applied, it comes into contact with the amino acids in the surface layer of the skin and creates a pigment, or melanoidin. Different products contain different percentages of DHA, which determines the darkness of the tan.

“A lower percentage of DHA creates a more fair, glow-type tan,” explains Hannah Hatcher, a makeup artist and the global educator for Jane Iredale. “A higher percentage will create a deep, dark tan. However, for those with a more fair or pale skin tones, a lower percentage is usually recommended.”

Tanning products usually distinguish how pronounced the tanning action will be through the labels “light,” “medium,” and “dark.” These labels can help you pick the right product based on your skin color and the type of tan you want to achieve. When it comes to selecting the best self-tanner for fair skin, you ideally want to opt for a product labeled “light,” or one that contains a lower percentage of DHA, for a more natural, buildable color payoff.

If you’re looking for a safe, easy way to boost your natural color—especially since so many of us are staying inside right now to help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19)—here are the best self-tanners for fair skin.

Shop the best self-tanners for fair skin:

1Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops

drunk elephant d-bronzi bronzing serumdrunk elephant d-bronzi bronzing serum

Shop it Sephora

Add a pump or two of this bronzing serum to your favorite moisturizer for a subtle sunkissed glow. It’s great for fair-skinned folks because you can control how deep the bronze is based on how many pumps of the product you use. Bonus points for its antioxidant properties from cocoa extract that help soothe sensitive skin.

2Sol by Jergens Sunless Tanning Water Mousse

sol jergens self tanner water, best self tanner for fair skinsol jergens self tanner water, best self tanner for fair skin

Shop it Target

This light and airy foam works with your unique skin tone to create a natural-looking tan. Though “medium” is the products’s lightest shade, the hydrating, coconut water-infused formula is both buildable and blendable (and doesn’t use any dyes), so you don’t have to worry about it coming out too dark after the first application. Instead, the clear mousse creates a subtle wash of color. Apply a thin layer and wait for the color to develop over 4 hours.  Once the formula dries, it’s non-transferrable. You can reapply a few days in a row for a deeper color.

3 L’Oréal Paris Sublime Bronze Self-Tanning Serum

loreal sublime bronze self tanner serum, best self tanner for fair skinloreal sublime bronze self tanner serum, best self tanner for fair skin

Shop it Walgreen's

Unlike some self-tanning formulas that can be sticky and cumbersome to apply, this silky serum glides onto your body and quickly melts into the skin to provide a long-lasting glow. Its fast-drying, and if you apply at night (after cleansing and exfoliating in the shower) you’ll wake up with a nice bronze that isn’t too dramatic or orange in the morning.

4Coola Sunless Tan Dry Body Oil Mist

coola dry oil sunless self tannercoola dry oil sunless self tanner

Shop it Available at Sephora

Made with a blend of argan oil, vitamin C, hibiscus, and chamomile extract, this nourishing oil is antioxidant-rich, meaning it’s great for promoting healthy, hydrated skin. The micro-mist is fast-drying (so you won’t be left with pesky streaks) and transfer-resistant, and lasts up to three days without washing off. Start with one thin layer and let it develop to see how your skin reacts, then build more for a deeper tan.

5St. Tropez Self Tan Purity Bronzing Water Mousse


Shop it Sephora

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. It’s so good that we gave it a Beauty Crush Award.

6Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer for Fair to Medium Skin Tones

jergens natural glow moisturizer, best self tanner for fair skinjergens natural glow moisturizer, best self tanner for fair skin

Shop it Available at Target

An oldie but goodie, this emollient-rich Jergen’s moisturizer is formulated specifically for people with light to medium skin tones. It’s meant to be used daily—so the maximum depth of color can be achieved gradually, over about a week.

7Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water in Light

isle of paradise self tanning water, best self tanner for fair skinisle of paradise self tanning water, best self tanner for fair skin

Shop it Sephora

Isle of Paradise uses color-corrective technology to target each skin tone with the perfect faux glow—and it’s the company behind everybody on TikTok’s effortless tan. The peachy tones in their “light” formula work to reduce redness and calm the skin while creating a natural tan that’s never orange. It’s also created with avocado, chia seed, and coconut oils for happy, hydrated skin that will extend the life of your tan.

8Tan-Luxe The Gradual Illuminating Gradual Tan Lotion

tan luxe the gradual tanning lotion, best self tanner for fair skintan luxe the gradual tanning lotion, best self tanner for fair skin

Shop it Sephora

A hybrid between a tanning oil and a lotion, this ultra-light, quick-drying formula practically melts into skin, and be used daily for a natural, radiant bronze. Expert self-tanners can even add a few drops of tanning water for a little deeper color.

9m-61 Hydraboost Body Butter Gradual Tan

m61 body butter gradual tan, best self tanner for fair skinm61 body butter gradual tan, best self tanner for fair skin

Shop it Available at Blue Mercury

This tinted body butter builds an effortless, streak-free tan while also firming skin with nourishing peptides. The results are subtle, but you can build on the color by using it daily. Bonus points for the aloe, coconut oil, and shea butter that help soothe, soften, and hydrate.