20 Expert-Approved Self-Tanning Products Guaranteed to Give You a Healthy, Natural Glow
No need to spend hours in the sun (or worse, in a tanning bed) to achieve a healthy-looking glow. We asked the experts to share their favorite tanning lotions, oils, moues, and more so you can get the look you want without damaging your skin.
While you may love how you look with a soft, golden tan, you know that long periods of time spent in the sun just isn't good for your skin. Luckily, there are so many self-tanning products on the market that will help you safely develop a natural-looking tan, no sun (or worse, tanning lamps) necessary. With a great self-tanning lotion at your disposal, you can achieve that golden glow all year long.
The trick to choosing a great self-tanner is to look for one that not only imparts color but hydration, too. After all, the secret behind a radiant glow is moisture: Skin always looks its best when it's properly hydrated, not parched, and color never transfers well to dry, dead skin. With this in mind, check any bottles you're considering to make sure they have the right ingredients. A quality self-tanning lotion will be formulated with hyaluronic acid, glycerin, humectants, ceramides, shea butter, and nourishing oils, all of which are known to pump up hydration.
Still, we know there are a number of choices on the market, and no one wants to waste time with a so-so option. That's why we asked a few trusted dermatologists, makeup artists, and tanning experts for their top product picks in the sunless tanning category; we also included a few of our own favorites. Whether you're looking for the best self-tanning lotions, want to experiment with tanning mists, or are ready to give tanning gels and mousses a try, you'll find over a dozen different products worthy of a road test in the slides ahead. Best of all, we've sourced options at all price points so that you're sure to find a complexion-perfecting product whether you shop at the drugstore, department store, or your favorite beauty boutique.
"Jergens Natural Glow is a longtime favorite of so many," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose. "It is the go-to moisturizer and sunless tanner all-in-one that allows you to develop a gradual sun-kissed color while locking in skin hydration. This is important because DHA—the additive that creates the tan—can be drying to the skin. By moisturizing while self-tanning, your tan will stay longer and then fade more evenly."
Shop Now: Jergens Natural Glow Moisturizer, $11.99, cvs.com.
If you are searching for a face-centric formula so you can match your complexion to your body's bronze, scoop up these safe-for-all-skin-types drops, which transforms any moisturizer, serum, or face oil into a customizable self tanner.
Shop Now: Tan-Luxe "THE FACE" Illuminating Self-Tan Drops, $49, sephora.com.
Have a bigger budget for your self-tanning needs? Dr. Murphy-Rose and tanning expert Sophie Evans, a St. Tropez finishing expert, both recommend this luxe product. One of the reasons why it gets a top rating? Evans says it actually incredibly easy to apply. "As long as the tan has covered all the skin, even if your application isn't as even as one would like, it will always develop perfectly even," she says. "The built-in bronzer is there to show you where you have applied or not so all you have to do is make sure the skin has been covered. This will reveal your amazingly seamless tan, which is the best part about this product."
Shop Now: St. Tropez Self Tan Classic Bronzing Lotion, $42, ulta.com.
You will find several Vita Liberata formulas on this list—which is largely due to the fact that the brand makes quality self-tanning products that are natural and free from common skin irritants, including fragrance and alcohols. This mist iteration dries in a flash and deepens into a natural tint over eight hours.
Shop Now: Vita Liberata Fabulous Sunless Tanning Mist, $19.50, ulta.com.
James Reade was a backstage airbrush tanning expert, so when he launched his at-home self-tanning brand in 2012, beauty and skin care lovers took note. "His H20 Tan Mist is a beautiful self-tanning mist that feels like water sprayed on the skin," explains celebrity makeup artist and beauty expert Neil Scibelli. "It has a light rose scent, and leaves a natural-developing tan on the skin. The formula also contains rose water and hyaluronic acid for extra hydration."
Shop Now: James Reade H20 Tan Mist Face, $26, dermstore.com.
If you prefer mousse formulations, bookmark this option from St. Tropez, which is best applied with a glove. Packed with green mandarin water and tropical hibiscus flower extract, this self tanner combats the effects of pollution and environmental aggressors to boot.
Shop Now: St. Tropez "Purity" Bronzing Water Mousse, $42, ulta.com.
Tanning foams are ideal for anyone who needs a product that dries fast and creates a seamless tan. "I love this foaming tan water that feels super light, blends seamlessly, and delivers the perfect color," Dr. Murphy-Rose says." It dries quickly without leaving a sticky or tacky feeling. It's one of my absolute favorites!" That said, because it goes on fairly clear, she recommends it for more experienced self-tanners, so as to avoid potential streaking from misapplication.
Shop Now: Vita Liberata "Invisi" Foaming Tan Water, $33, revolve.com.
If you're looking for a more subtle self-tan with less potential for streaking, Evans recommends this St. Tropez product, which gradually builds over time. "The lotion is applied in the same way you would apply a body moisturizer, just wash your hands after to prevent unwanted staining," she says. "I usually apply this lotion in the morning. You can get dressed immediately and feel comfortable wearing it for a full day. You will also notice your skin will feel great due to the product being infused with hydrating hyaluronic acid and watermelon nourishment."
Shop Now: St. Tropez Self Tan "Gradual Tan Watermelon Infusion" Everyday Body Lotion, $25, ulta.com.
Coco & Eve
"Aside from the skin-healthy formula, this one leaves a deep tan on the skin without looking orange or streaky," Scibelli says of this Tarte formula. "Something I like to do is add a drop of moisturizer to it, to sheer it out. It leaves the perfect tan on the skin."
Shop Now: Tarte "Brazilliance PLUS+" Self Tanner, $39, sephora.com.
"COOLA's sunless tanning serum has actually been one of my go to's for a few years, especially when it comes to skin-healthy formulas," Scibelli says. "It's 70 percent organic and can be used morning and night. It leaves this beautiful, natural glow to the skin with the perfect hint of color." It's also formulated with hyaluronic acid, redness-reducing centella asiatica, and hydrating argan oil, which means it's deeply hydrating, too.
Shop Now: COOLA Organic "Sunless Tan" Anti-Aging Face Serum, $54, sephora.com.
SOL by Jergens
"SOL by Jergens Deeper By The Drop is another excellent concentrated tanning serum that works with your skin tone to deliver customized color," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "It easily integrates into your skin care routine by adding a few drops to your favorite face or body moisturizer." Whether you apply it to your face or body, our expert recommends using a tanning mitt for even color.
Shop Now: SOL by Jergens "Deeper By The Drop" Self-Tanning Drops, $17.99, amazon.com.
A self-tanner that acts as an anti-aging agent? Yes, please. According to Scibelli, Vita Liberata's Self Tanning Anti Age Serum helps fight off free radical damage and improve skin's elasticity thanks to being made with marula oil and Matrixyl 3000. "It's great to use as part of your nighttime skin care regimen so that you can wake up with a golden glow," he adds.
Shop Now: Vita Liberata Self Tanning Anti Age Serum, $37.99, dermstore.com.
If easy application is important to you, you can't beat this wet skin formula from Jergens. New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green swears by it. "This brand is an oldie but goodie drugstore brand with comparable results to any high-end tanning formula," she says. "It has zero transfer and it doesn't streak or turn orange—all you're left with is a natural bronze glow."
Shop Now: Jergens Natural Glow "Wet Skin" Moisturizer in Medium/Tan, $8.69, target.com.
It's important to wear sunscreen all year long—yes, even in the winter. To get your SPF and sunless tan in one, Dr. Green loves this option. In addition to protecting your skin from the sun and giving you a natural glow, it also helps against UV and free radical damage.
Shop Now: Supergoop! "Healthy Glow Sunless Tan" Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 40, $48, sephora.com.
Another drugstore tanner you can't go wrong with? Australian Gold's Cheeky Brown Accelerator. "This bronzer not only makes your skin bronze, but it is also formulated with vitamins E and A, which keeps the skin soft and with a healthy glow," Dr. Green says.
Shop Now: Australian Gold "Cheeky Brown Accelerator" Tanning Lotion, $35.99, amazon.com.
"This is my favorite self-tanning spray for the face," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "Somehow it does not seem to darken pores like so many others. Instead, it leaves a light sun-kissed glow." What's more, she says that it's always a good idea to have a face spray on hand because self-tans often fade on the face quicker than on the body.
Shop Now: St. Tropez Self Tan "Purity" Bronzing Water Face Mist, $30, sephora.com.
For a quick-drying option without a hint of orange to it, you can't beat this lotion, which several of our experts recommended.
Shop Now: Clarins Self-Tanning Instant Gel, $40, sephora.com.