If you’re on the hunt for a just-off-the-beach bronze before summer kicks into full gear, we have some good news. Getting a gorgeous, glowy, and, most importantly, even tone has never been easier thanks to the best self-tanners on the market. With everything from facial tanning drops to gradual lotions and tinted creams that come with buffing mitts for easy applications, there are tons of streak-free formulas that’ll leave you looking like you just hopped back from the beach. When you're done, the only makeup you'll need is a great bronzer to finish the look.
While a perfect tan is the end goal, anyone that’s tried their hand with self-tanner knows that streaks and patchiness can creep up. To help you avoid blotchy color or distinct lines around the wrists and ankles (the worst!), we've consulted tanning expert and celebrity makeup artist Tarryn Feldman for her tips and techniques on getting a summer-worthy glow from the comfort of your own home, not to mention making your tan last. Ahead, we've pored over reviews and put our favorite self-tanners to the test to bring you this ultimate list of the best products the market has to offer. So when you're ready to transform your winter skin, grab one of these vetted formulas and get your glow on.
- Best Overall Self Tanner: St. Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Mousse
- Best Self Tanner for Lighter Skin Tones: L'Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Hydrating Self-Tanning Water Mousse
- Best Self Tanner for Darker Skin Tones: Loving Tan 2 HR Express Self Tanning Mousse Dark
- Best Facial Self Tanner: Clarins Self Tanning Face Booster Drops
- Best Gradual Self Tanner: +Lux Unfiltered N°32 Hydrating Self-Tanning Cream
- Best Express Self Tanner: b. Tan Tanned AF 1 Hour Self Tan Mousse
The Best Self Tanner Deals
Bondi Sands Pure Self Tan Foaming Water Dark,
If you want the deepest tan you can possibly get, Bondi Sands' tanning water is for you. Make sure your skin is exfoliated and prepped before you put a layer allllll over, wait 30 minutes, and then do it all again. Thanks to the hyaluronic acid and vitamin-C infused formula, you'll be left with a deep shade that has a gorgeous glow.
Sephora Collection Self Tanning Body Mousse,
With the "clean at Sephora" label, you have a little peace of mind using this natural origin DHA self tanner. Mousse application can be tricky, so make sure your skin is exfoliated and hydrated before you lather it on. After that, it's pretty foolproof. Use your circular motions and let it dry before you get dressed, and you'll be in good shape. This is also a great option for anyone with skin that needs a little TLC. Aloe is a star ingredient in the formula to provide a soothing feel.
What to Look For in Self-Tanner
Before you grab the first self-tanner you see and get to work, you'll want to make sure that you have the right formula to suit your needs. While mousses and foams may be the first thing that comes to mind with self-tanners, there are plenty of other options available, so consider the effect you're going for and your skin needs before landing on a product.
- Mousses and foams typically produce fast results, but can be tricky to get a streak-free tan 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.
- Then there are tanning drops, which you typically mix in with your favorite moisturizer.
This may sound obvious, but you absolutely need to pay attention to the shade of self-tanner you're using. I'll never forget when I opted for an ultra-dark shade in the dead of winter and ended up looking like I slept in the tanning bed for eight hours. If your skin is on the paler side, start off with a self-tanner that advertises as "light" or "medium" if you want the most natural-looking glow. Remember: you can always add more self-tanner to achieve a darker look, but if you go too dark, then it's tricky to go back. If you have a darker skin tone, opt for a "deep" shade for a more even, glowy look.
The Best Self Tanners
Best Facial Self Tanner
"No matter how magical the self-tanner, I'm just not very good at applying it. Streaks, stained clothes, patchy spots—it's not the self-tanner, it's me," says MC's Director of Content Strategy, Jenny Hollander. "Enter these Clarins self-tanning facial drops, which you just mix with a few drops of moisturizer as the last step of your skincare routine. It's foolproof, proven by the fact I've been using it for years and am yet to see a single streak on my face. The beauty equivalent of working smarter, not harder." (PSA: There's also a body version.)
Pros: Buildable color; Suitable for all skin tones; Provides natural-looking color; Long-lasting; Hydrating formula; Easy to apply; A little goes a long way.
Cons: More product may be needed for darker skin tones.
Customer review: "This tanning booster goes on with my regular moisturizer and leaves absolutely no streaking. I swear by this stuff!" — Ulta
Best Overall Self-Tanner
Counting Ashley Graham and Salma Hayek as fans, St. Tropez is easily one of the most well-known and trusted in the business. With their classic bronzing mousse, which won the Allure Best of Beauty award in 2020, you can alternate your glow to suit your mood: subtle for brunch, extra for the beach. The biggest plus? It’s tinted, so you know exactly what real estate you’ve already covered, for a consistent end result. Wash the product off after one hour for a subtle glow, or leave it on for three hours for a deep, dark tan.
Pros: Buildable color; Suitable for all skin tones; Works in as little as one hour; Tinted foam so you can see where you're applying; Vegan; Long-lasting.
Cons: Pump is prone to breaking; Over $40.
Customer review: "This is by far my favourite tan. It’s hard to find one with natural undertones, and this one has done that for me! I also hate wearing tanners for long periods of time, so the express was a game changer. It has great payoff for the short time it’s left on, and is super easy to apply..." — Sephora
Best Gradual Self Tanner
If you’ve accepted the fact that self-tanner wasn’t made for you, this gradual lotion is about to seriously shake up your status quo. The bronze build is *actually* gradual, so you can customize the intensity of the color over the course of a few days. Infused with shea butter, cocoa butter, squalane, and hydrating oils, it doubles as a moisturizer too, making it a one-stop-shop for your post-shower routine. Reviewers especially love this pick for its mess-free application.
Pros: Buildable color; Doubles as moisturizer; Mess-free application; Easy to apply; Scent is subtle; Provides natural-looking color.
Cons: Takes long to dry completely.
Customer review: "I’ve tried so many different tanning lotions. This is the best I’ve found! It smells nice and doesn’t turn into that bad fake tan smell. I can put this on after showering and not have to worry about it smelling later. It gives a natural tan." — Amazon
Best-Smelling Self Tanner
If the smell of self-tanner is your main pain point with the whole process, allow us to introduce you to Miami Gorgeous. Not only does the entire product line deserve a chef’s kiss for its sweet scent, but the fast-absorbing formula makes for the easiest application. Even though it’s a mousse, don’t be afraid to apply the product directly with your hands—just make sure to wash them after the fact. A few pumps are all you need; expect to get around 10 to 12 uses from one bottle.
Pros: Scent is subtle; Dries quickly; Tinted foam so you can see where you're applying; Provides natural-looking color.
Cons: Pump is prone to breaking.
Customer review: "IT DOES NOT SMELL after washing AT ALL!! I was shocked because that’s just what tanner usually smells like. As you can see, when putting on, it’s a beautiful sun kissed color. I was so shocked this actually looked soo good!!" — Amazon
Best Self Tanner Mist
This user-friendly spray pump, which is available in three shades, makes application feel like a breeze. Expect a glowy tan to appear four to six hours post-application. You can even spritz this tanning water on your face for extra glow. Even better? This organic blend is formulated with color-correcting actives that are clinically proven to even your skin tone and brighten your complexion. (Editor’s note: This product works best when exfoliation takes place a full 24 hours ahead of time.)
Pros: Comes in three shades; Dries quickly; Evens your skin tone and brightens over time; Scent is subtle; Suitable for both body and face; Vegan.
Cons: May wear off patchy.
Customer review: "I've been using this product for a few months and love it! Very minimal tan smell and goes on streak free. Can become patchy after a few showers but easily exfoliates off."
The Best Self Tanning Mousse
With the "clean at Sephora" label, you have a little peace of mind using this natural origin DHA self tanner. Mousse application can be tricky, so make sure your skin is exfoliated and hydrated before you lather it on. After that, it's pretty foolproof. Use your circular motions and let it dry before you get dress, and you'll be in good shape. This is also a great option for anyone with skin that needs a little TLC. Aloe is a star ingredient in the formula to provide a soothing feel.
Pros: Soothing; Doesn't pill
Cons: Strong smell
Customer Review: "Seriously amazing, don’t need a sponge to spread, comes out as white foam and leaves no streaks. I hop in the white sheets after and it never leaves a mark. I love love love it. I’ve bought three bottles so far and a bottle of the face self tanner." — Sephora
Best Lightweight Self Tanner
Streaks are a dead giveaway, and a mousse makes application that much easier. You’ll want to use a mitt to spread the product from your ankles to your chest. Just pat any excess on the tops of your hands and feet. The lightweight formula dries fairly quickly, so you won't be staining your couch or favorite sweatpants. This one has a little bit of a greenish tint to it, but don't be alarmed! The slight green shade means your tan won't come out dreadfully orange.
Pros: Comes in two shades; Feel lightweight; Dries quickly; Scent is subtle; Works in as little as one hour; Tinted foam so you can see where you're applying.
Cons: Can feel sticky after drying.
Customer review: "This tanner not only smells good but doesn't transfer onto your clothes and sheets, Also it doesn't dry my skin out either and I love the color that it give me, a nice olive tan!!" — Ulta
Best Self Tanner for Beginners
If you're short on time, getting a great facial tan literally couldn’t be easier or faster with these all-in-one pads. One swipe truly does it all in two seconds flat. The glycolic acid-packed formula takes care of the exfoliating skin prep, while gradual pigment simultaneously kicks into gear. The wipe doubles as a foolproof applicator too, so you can get your ears, décolletage and chest bronzed to perfection. Reviewers say these wipes provide a dark tan fast and smooths skin over time. It's a win-win!
Pros: All-in-one product; Works quickly; Includes glycolic and salicylic acid to improve skin tone and reduce pore size;
Cons: Can appear patchy on very dry skin; Can't build color.
Customer review: "Love the feel and smell. It works immediately! After two weeks of using every other day or so my skin looks noticeably better! I'll keep using & highly recommend!" — Amazon
Best Self Tanner for Lighter Skin Tones
There have been plenty of times I've suddenly felt self-conscious before a big event and had to run to the drugstore for a quick fix. But this budget pick did not disappoint. This lightweight formula spreads easily (a little goes a long way) and gives a nice, streak-free glow. I left it on for about 5 hours and was able to achieve a natural-looking tan, but the best part is that this doesn't have that awful tan smell. Plus, it's not tinted so it won't stain your clothes or bedding.
Pros: Under $20; Feels lightweight; Scent is subtle; Provides natural-looking color; Easy to apply; Doesn't transfer; Buildable color.
Cons: Takes long to dry completely.
Customer review: "Love this product!!! I hate to admit how much I have spent on different self tanners. This is definitely the best for the price. I love how you can layer it over time to get a natural darker color." — Target
Best Buildable Self Tanner
Please, we beg you: don’t go wiping your body self-tanner all over your face—it’s a hard no from us. Instead, you’ll want facial tanning drops that are specifically formulated for your face and won’t clog pores. With golden ingredients like hyaluronic acid (hydration!) and niacinamide (redness-reducing!), two to six drops of this St. Tropez formula will have you ditching your bronzer altogether. While you can totally apply the product directly onto freshly washed skin, we’re big fans of mixing this in with a serum or moisturizer.
Pros: Formulated with skincare ingredients; Buildable color; Suitable for all skin tones; Dermatologically-approved; Scent is subtle; Provides natural-looking color.
Cons: Over $40.
Customer review: "Easy to use and fragrant friendly! I used both ways — drops only and drops with moisturizer. A big plus IMO was it did not turn my skin orange — yay! I would definitely purchase again!!!" — Ulta
Best Self Tanner for Darker Skin Tones
Sure, this one may be on the pricier side, but it delivers a professional-grade tan right at home. This formula will have you bronzed and glowy for a full 10 days. While you can leave this easy-to-apply mousse on for two hours for maximum color, having it on for just one will still do the trick. Its olive undertones are best suited for medium to darker skin tones, so anyone on the paler side might want to look into other options. (We also have a guide to the best bronzers for pale skin, FYI.)
Pros: Provides natural-looking color; Works quickly; Long-lasting; A little goes a long way; Tinted foam so you can see where you're applying; Dries quickly; Scent is subtle.
Cons: Over $40; Best suited for darker or olive-toned skin.
Customer review: "I've been using self tanners for years. This is by far the best smelling, most natural color and longest lasting. The price is high but I have yet to find something better. I highly recommend." — Ulta
Best Self Tanner Set
If you don't want to buy a mitt and a brush separately from your self-tanner, this set from Il Makiage has it all in one handy bundle. The small, dense kabuki brush makes hard-to-reach places (like elbows and ankles) and buffing a breeze, plus the foam mitt is a must-have for applying foams like this one. As for the formula? It’s packed with good-for-you ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera to keep skin feeling soft and hydrated.
Pros: Great value; Hydrating formula; Formulated with skincare ingredients; Includes buffing brush and mitt; Dries quickly; Easy to apply; Feels lightweight.
Cons: Only available online.
Customer review: "I have tried many sun Tanning lotions and I was truly skeptical, but it works. I have had this layer on for a week and no peeling or flaking and no fake bake look. It went on great with the applicators and was light weight and didn't feel caked. Really glad I tried it!!" — Il Makiage
Best Self Tanning Moisturizer
Okay, you hit the beach, and you've got a *flawless* base tan. To achieve the same radiance on your face, a subtle daily-use cream is the ideal solution. This little jar is the ultimate multi-tasker for those on the go. The sugar beet-derived DHA helps gradually build and maintain that glow while ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalane, aloe vera, green tea extract hydrate and soften skin. We bet this is the only moisturizer you'll need in the summertime for that extra glowy look.
Pros: Multi-tasking; Formulated with skincare ingredients; Provides natural-looking color; Buildable color; Scent is subtle; Feels lightweight.
Cons: Tricky to apply evenly; Over $40.
Customer review: "Very creamy going on and doesn't feel greasy after application. I think the tanning color provided is not too much, for me anyways. More subtle." — Ulta
Best Luxury Self Tanner
If you hate the tropical scent most self-tanners have, opt for this luxurious lotion. This citrus-scented lotion treats skin while giving it a gradual glow. Plum almond oil improves elasticity while apple pectin makes skin more supple. A little goes a long way with this product, so a pea-sized amount should be all you need for full-face application. Just use a little extra caution around your eyebrows! Most reviewers love this lotion for the face, but it works equally as well across the body, too.
Pros: Suitable for both body and face; Hydrating formula; Provides natural-looking color; Scent is subtle; A little goes a long way; Easy to apply.
Cons: Over $40.
Customer review: "Gives a really lovely, even, streak-free glow without any of the horrible smells you'd normally associate with tan, and looks super natural. I've had lots of compliments!" — Neiman Marcus
Best Gradual Self Tanner for Face
If you, like me, are absolutely terrified of turning oompa loompa orange with face self tanner, allow me to recommend one of Dior's newest launches. It's subtle in the best way possible and completely customizable. One layer of product will give you a little radiance, two layers a sunkissed glow, three layers a definite tint, so on and so forth. It goes on silky smooth and there's no risk of streakiness—it gets my full stamp of approval.
Pros: Easy to use; Gradual; Customizable; Good-for-your-skin ingredients
Cons: Some report breakouts
Customer Review: "I had to try this as soon as I saw and I’m glad I did! This offers gradual tan color with absolutely no fake tan smell! It smells really floral and fresh. This is a gel formula that soaks into skin without any sticky or greasy feeling."
Best Viral Self Tanner Tanning
TikTok has had a field day with this tanning foam, making it nearly impossible to score a bottle. Luckily, it's still in stock at Amazon, so grab it quick. This weightless, easy-to-spread formula actually treats the skin while it absorbs. It helps hydrate and plump the skin so your bikini looks that much cuter. You’ll notice that this foam has a gray-ish hue (as opposed to orange), so rest assured you’ll look au naturale with your fake tan.
Pros: Comes in three shades; Hydrating formula; Easy to apply; Feels lightweight; Provides natural-looking color; Scent is subtle; Works quickly; Buildable color; A little goes a long way.
Cons: May appear too orange on some skin tones.
Customer review: "The best one I’ve tried so far! I’m sold. Smells amazing, makes you so dark, no stickiness, it actually makes your skin feel soft and hydrated." — Amazon
Best Nourishing Self Tanner
Don't be deterred by this treatment's price tag. Reviewers say it's everything you could want in a self-tanner and then some. This supremely hydrating body treatment imparts a sun-kissed color that makes it look like you spent an afternoon lying by the pool (with appropriate sunblock). Because it’s so nourishing, it can also soothe your parched skin after you’ve actually been at the beach. You won't have to worry about smelling like a tanning bed or staining your sheets, either.
Pros: Doubles as moisturizer; Provides natural-looking color; Doesn't transfer; Scent is subtle; Easy to apply; Buildable color; Dries quickly.
Cons: Over $100.
Customer review: "You get what you pay for and with this self tanner you get exactly what you want and more. Not only is it easy to apply, the colour is good with none of that oompa loompa orange (it's a fabulous bronze), no streaking and no hanging around for ages waiting for it to dry." — Nordstrom
Best Self Tanner Serum
This self-tanning serum does for your body what skincare does for your face. Hyaluronic acid traps moisture so you don't get any of those dry, patchy tanned areas. Caffeine in this serum helps firm your skin, so you can leave your house feeling toned and tan, plus cocoa seed extract protects skin from pollution. All of those skin-loving ingredients along with the perfect amount of DHA combines into a lightweight, ultra-hydrating body treatment.
Pros: Feels lightweight; Formulated with skincare ingredients; Hydrating formula; Buildable color; Dries quickly; Scent is subtle; Vegan.
Cons: Over $40; Light color payoff.
Customer review: "It dries SO quickly and doesn't stain my clothes so I can apply and go about my day with no worries. I am pretty pale and one application gives me a slight glow and two is when I really start to see some color." — Sephora
Best Budget-Friendly Self Tanner
On the days I have a big event, I like to use this self-tanner in the morning to look my best by the evening since theres no real need to rinse off. With a mitt, this foam applies smoothly for a streak-free glow and no stickiness. Since I'm so pale, I can leave this on practically all day and still end up with a natural looking tan. If you're wanting a darker color, simply apply a second coat after the first dries.
Pros: Under $20; Natural-looking color; Comes in two shades; Works quickly; Scent is subtle; Buildable color; Long-lasting; Tinted foam so you can see where you're applying; Hydrating formula.
Cons: May wear off patchy.
Customer review: "It is the best! It doesn't smell or make your body sticky while applying it or even after applying it. It doesn't give that orange tone.. it's the perfect brown tan color." — Ulta
Best Express Self Tanner
Have you ever spent the day before a vacation running errands like crazy only to realize you're as pale as a ghost? I'm sad to admit I've done that a few too many times. So in a blind panic, I raced to Walmart for a solution and saw this express tan mousse—and let me tell you I was pleasantly surprised. Since I was heading to the beach, I applied two coats and got a next-level tan in about 2 hours. No streaks, smelliness, or stickiness in sight. This is definitely the self-tanner I reach for to fake that vacation tan.
Pros: Under $20; Works in as little as an hour; Buildable color; Feels lightweight; Tinted foam so you can see where you're applying.
Cons: Takes long to dry completely.
Customer review: "This is my favorite self-tanner to use at home! It doesn't transfer onto bedding/clothing that I have experienced with other brands. I sleep in it at night and wake up super dark. Super easy product to use." — Ulta
Best Custom Self Tanner
If you want the deepest tan you can possible get, this Bondi Sands tanning water is for you. Make sure you skin is exfoliated and prepped before put a layer allllll over, wait 30 minutes, and then do all again. In around six hours, you're skin will be a different shade—promise. Because of the hyaluronic acid and vitamin-C infused formula, you'll be left with a deep shade that has a gorgeous glow.
Pros: Buildable; Hydrating; Made of recyclable material
Cons: Too dark for some
Customer Review: "I have used the foam in the past but I love that the pure doesn’t transfer onto clothes or sheets. It’s great because you can put it on whenever and go about your day without worrying about washing it off. It gives you the deep summer glow and lasts for several days. Definitely my new go to tanning foam." — Bondi Sands
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.
While any physical exfoliant will get the job done, Feldman is a big fan of the St. Moriz Pro Exfoliating Skin Primer, which is specifically formulated for tanning prep. Plus, it's “gentle for sensitive skin users, and won’t cause breakouts prior to application.”
How to Apply Self Tanner
While some of the easier-to-use formulas (read: gradual tanning lotions or facial drops) are pretty self-explanatory, there are a few tips and tricks for getting a flawless finish with trickier textures like mousses or foams. Haphazardly applying the product is a huge 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,” Feldman advises.
Meet the Expert
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.
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, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Follow her on Instagram @samholender.
- Brooke KnappenbergerEditorial Fellow
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