The 23 Best Self Tanners for a Non-Streaky Bronze

Just in time for summer.

two models after applying self-tanner
(Image credit: retailer)

If you’re on the hunt for a just-off-the-beach bronze before summer kicks into full gear, we have some good news. Thanks to the best self tanners on the market, getting a gorgeous, glowy, and—most importantly—even tan has never been easier. From facial tanning drops to gradual lotions and tinted creams that come with buffing mitts for easy application, there are tons of streak-free formulas that’ll leave you looking like you just wandered back from the beach.

"Using a self tanner is considered a better option than traditional tanning methods because it avoids exposing the skin to harmful UV radiation, eliminating the risk of skin cancer and premature aging associated with sunbathing or tanning beds," shares Divya Shokeen, M.D., founder of Ocean Skin and Vein Institute and Oathology. "This approach allows for a bronzed look without compromising skin health."

While a perfect tan is the goal, anyone who’s tried self tanner knows that streaks and patchiness can creep up. To help you avoid blotchy color or distinct lines around the wrists and ankles, we've consulted tanning experts and a celebrity makeup artist for tips and techniques. Plus, we've put our favorite self tanners to the test and included Alix Earle and Miley Cyrus' must-have.

What to Look For in a Self Tanner

  • Formula

Before you grab the first self tanner you see and get to work, you'll want to ensure you have the right formula for your needs. While a mousse-and-mitt combo may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of self tanners, there are plenty of other options available.

Mousses and foams typically produce fast results, but are difficult to apply if you're inexperienced. If your skin is on the drier side or if you're afraid of dramatic color, self tanning lotions may be your best bet, as they offer gradual results with the bonus of added moisture. There are also tanning drops, which you typically mix with your favorite moisturizer. The more drops you use, the more intense your tan will be.

  • Color

Pay attention to the shade of self-tanner you're using for an optimal tan color. I'll never forget when I opted for an ultra-dark shade in the dead of winter and looked like I slept in the tanning bed for eight hours. If your skin is on the paler side, start with a self tanner that advertises as "light" or "medium" for the most natural-looking glow. Remember: you can always add more self tanner to achieve a darker look, but if you go too dark it's difficult to go back. If you have a darker skin tone, opt for a "deep" shade for a more even, glowy look.

  • Maintenance

Once you decided on your favorite self tanner, the trick is keeping the glow up. To do this, you must keep your skin's moisture level at its peak.

"I think once you nail your application, it’s all in the maintenance. I always say to treat your tan like a natural sun tan by keeping your skin hydrated between applications," shares Marc Elrick, founder of Tan-Luxe. "Hydration, hydration, hydration is the secret. This keeps your glow going for longer, and ensures an even, natural fade."

The Best Self Tanners

Also Recommended

How Does Self Tanner Work?

I love a mystery every once in a while, but the science behind self tanner is too interesting to ignore. Most utilize a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to build that magical bronze.

When you apply a self tanner to your skin, the DHA reacts with the amino acids in your dead skin cells, forming what is known as melanoidins, explains Alessandro Mendes, chief innovation officer at Cosmetica Laboratories Inc. "These melanoidins create a brown color on the surface of your skin, mimicking the appearance of a natural tan."

"Self tanners affect our skin by temporarily darkening the surface without altering skin structure or causing direct damage like UV rays," adds Dr. Shokeen. "The DHA in self tanners lasts several days and fades as dead skin cells naturally slough off."

How to Prep Your Skin for Self Tanner

The secret to a faux tan that looks real as can be? The right preparation. “Shaving and exfoliating is the key to an even tan as it flattens and evens the skin’s surface,” Feldman explains. Use a physical scrub in the shower to remove all dead skin cells and create a smooth canvas for self tanner.

Paris Hilton laying in a pink sandy desert wearing a pink and white latex dress.

Paris Hilton's new Tan-Luxe The Future campaign imagines her 40 years in the future. If you're wondering why she looks the same, it's because she's been self tanning—no sun damage here.

(Image credit: TAN-LUXE)

How to Apply Self Tanner

While some easier-to-use formulas (read: gradual tanning lotions or facial drops) are self-explanatory, there are a few tips and tricks for getting a flawless finish with trickier textures like mousses or foams.

Applying the product haphazardly is a no-go—you’ll be covered in streaks. Instead, build up the self-tanner with long, sweeping motions. Feldman recommends patting the formula dry with a tanning mitt, buffing out the product with a big powder brush, and allowing the formula to dry completely before putting on clothes.

As for the tricky areas like the knees and elbows? “Do a layer normally and let it dry. Then, do a layer [with the joint] bent,” says makeup artist, Tarryn Feldman.

Meet the Experts

A doctor with long brown hair smiling at the camera, from the shoulders up.
Divya Shokeen, M.D

Dr. Shokeen went to the University of California, Los Angeles, as an undergraduate and graduated with a major in psychobiology with an interest in biochemistry. She received her medical education on the east coast at the prestigious Drexel University College of Medicine, in Philadelphia, PA. Due to her leadership and scholarly excellence throughout medical school, she was awarded a research opportunity as a dermatology pre-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania during her first and second year of medical school.

Alessandro Mendes Headshot
Alessandro Mendes

With over 20 years of experience in the Cosmetic industry, Alessandro Mendes has developed and deployed new concepts and innovation formulation for companies like Beiersdorf, P&G, and Natura.

Holding a Master degree in Business Administration from FGV, Brazil, he has a Bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering from both the Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg, Germany and from the Escola Politécnica, USP, Brazil.

A black and white photo of a woman from the waist up with her hair down looking into the camera.
Tarryn Feldman

Tarryn Feldman is a Nashville-based celebrity makeup artist and specializes in tanning. Her work includes red carpet hair and makeup, music video hair and makeup, and editorial hair and makeup. She has over 15 years of experience, with clientele including Kelsea Ballerini, Chelsea Handler, Reese Witherspoon, and Kaitlyn Bristow.

A man wearing glasses from the shoulders up smiling off-camera.
Marc Elrick

Tan-Luxe Founder and CEO Marc Elrick identified that clients in his hair salon had great hair, great make-up, but a less than great self tan. So, Marc began researching ways to deliver a natural looking, sunkissed self tan, putting you in total control of your glow.

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 shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.

With contributions from