The Best Tanning Drops for a Skin-Safe, Sun-Kissed Glow

Faux tans are where it’s at.

best tanning drops
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I’m the first to admit I feel and look better when I’m tan. As much as I love to be bronzed, I love reducing skin cancer risk a whole lot more. That’s exactly why I choose to be an sunscreen-covered, shade-sitting, UPF-wearing beauty editor. My silver lining: The best tanning drops I've tested allow me to stay safe from the sun’s harmful rays while looking like I spent my weekend sprawled out on a tropical island. 

Mousses and spray self-tanners are great, but I prefer adding a few tanning drops into my moisturizer for an even, customizable glow. There are formulas unique to sensitive skin and acne-prone skin, options that contain skin-supporting nutrients (like vitamins C and E), and even drops that promise a more palatable scent. To bring a little color into your skin no matter the season, read on to shop the best tanning drops recommended by dermatologists and beauty editors.

What Are Tanning Drops?

"Tanning drops are basically a concentrated version of a self tanner that you can add to moisturizer for a gradual and even color boost," explains celebrity makeup artist Judi Gabbay Braha. Just like a self tanning mousse or lotion, self tanning drops contain an active ingredient called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which causes a browning reaction on the skin. The tint happens over the course of a few hours and is customizable in intensity.

While the results are largely welcome, DHA is known to have a certain scent that some find unpleasant. The best tanning drops will seek to minimize the smell, and include additional ingredients that boost skin hydration.

What to Look For

A Non-Comedogenic Formulation 

If you’re prone to breakouts, you know that finding non-comedogenic formulas is key to clear skin. “If you’re acne-prone, look for formulations that are labeled as oil free, so that they don’t clog your pores,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessica Dowling recommends. 

Other Ingredients for Your Skin Type 

While essentially every tanning drop will contain DHA, the ingredient that gives your skin a little bronze hue, you’ll also find a handful of star ingredients on the INCI list. Depending on your skin type, it’s beneficial to pay close attention. “If you have sensitive or eczema-prone skin, I would avoid products with dyes and fragrances,” says Dr. Dowling. If your skin is on the dry side? Seek out hyaluronic acid or niacinamide. For an extra brightening boost, look for vitamin C-infused formulas.

The Best Self Tanning Drops

How to Prep for Tanning Drops

Exfoliating your skin with some form of scrub is the most crucial part of preparation for a self tanner, including tanning drops for your face. Sloughing away dead skin cells helps prevent patchiness or product clumping. "Like any start to glam, a nice light exfoliation is recommended beforehand," Braha recommends. "Don’t go overboard and use abrasive products—the goal is to get an even base so that the color distributes evenly."

Consider using a chemical exfoliant, like a glycolic or lactic acid serum, a day or two before applying your self tanner. If your skin is noticeably flaky or rough, you may want to try a physical exfoliant, such as a micro-fine scrub, to create the softest, smoothest base possible.

How to Apply Self Tanning Drops

Applying self tanning drops to your face is a fairly intuitive and simple process. The directions will differ from product to product (be sure to read the packaging!), but generally, you'll want to apply product to a freshly cleansed face. "For an even application, add a few tanning drops into you moisturizer and buff with a fluffy brush, being mindful of your neck, ears and hairline," advises Braha. Because the moisturizer serves as a delivery system, getting an even tan is relatively easy. If applying moisturizer with a brush isn't for you, use your hands to massage the product directly onto your skin in small circles—just make sure to thoroughly wash your hands after the fact.

Don't expect to see the effects of the tanning drops right away. The color should develop over the course of a few hours.

Do Tanning Drops Work on All Skin Tones?

Tanning drops are not one-size-fits-all, so you won't want to treat them as such. Instead, Braha recommends looking for a line with the same product in various shades. "For fairer skin, you won’t want to go in with a product meant for deeper skin tones and vice versa," she says.

Most products will come in at least three different skin tone variations (light, medium, dark), but other will instruct you to simply use more product to achieve a tanned version of your skin tone. "You can customize the amount of drops used for how much color you’re looking to achieve," Braha adds. "As it's best to apply gradually, start with a minimal amount and see how the product reacts with your skin tone."

How to Make Self Tanning Drops Last Longer

Even the best tanning drops are not designed to last forever—the tint they provide your skin will naturally fade over the course of three to five days. Still, there are a few tips and tricks to squeeze a little extra time out of your faux tan.

The most effective way: Keeping your skin moisturized. "As long as your skin stays hydrated, your tan will last longer," Braha notes. You'll also want to avoid using exfoliating products (chemical and physical) as well as any retinoids while tanning drops are in the mix, as they'll speed up the fading process by revealing a fresh layer of skin.

"If your tan is fading, add more drops to your moisturizer and re-up," Braha recommends. Tanning drops are designed to be layered and buildable, so feel free to reapply product every few days.

Meet the Experts

Judi Braha
Judi Gabbay Braha

Judi started her journey as a makeup artist at the young age of 13 years old. Working summers at a beauty store, she swept floors and did simple inventory all to be a part of the magic of makeup. Finding her passion at a young age enabled her to hone her talents through dedication and the desire to learn. Not so shortly after, Judi was being flown around the world for her talents. She has shot for brands such as BEBE, Catherine Malandrino, Buxom Cosmetics, and English Laundry. She's worked with networks such as Bravo, TLC, ABC, and more. Judi continues to create polished and flawless looks for all of her clientele. 

dr dowling
Dr. Jessica Dowling

Jessica R. Dowling, MD, is a medical and cosmetic dermatologist at the Skin Institute of NewYork (SINY). Dr. Dowling treats both adult and pediatric dermatology patients at SINY’s offices inthe West Village of Manhattan and the Park Slope area of Brooklyn. Furthermore, Dr. Dowling isa committed educator, currently serving as a clinical instructor of Dermatology at NYU, whereshe teaches residents about medical and cosmetic dermatology in weekly clinics.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Vanderbilt University, Dr. Dowling earnedher medical degree from Florida Atlantic University Schmidt College of Medicine. During hertime in medical school, she was inducted into the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha HonorMedical Society. Subsequently, Dr. Dowling completed her dermatology residency at SUNYDownstate in Brooklyn, NY, where she held the position of Chief Resident of CosmeticDermatology and the Estée Lauder Research Fellow. She has presented her research atnumerous national conferences and has multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals.Additionally, she is an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Samantha Holender
Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and keeps up with the latest trends in the beauty space. She has previously written for Us Weekly, Popsugar,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Follow her on Instagram @samholender.